Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dane Youngren "arrests decay" in textured stoneware

Sculptor Dane Youngren and stoneware barn

Dane Youngren has a fascination with "decaying structures" that were originally made of wood--barns, trestles, warehouses and other industrial spaces. The Seattle-area ceramics artist shows his respect for the original workmanship in these structures by giving them a type of permanence, through meticulous sculptures of  textured stoneware. Youngren detailed his methods and showed examples of his "stone wood" to a fascinated audience of Contemporary QuiltArt Assn. members at the group's December 14 meeting.

(Top and above) Two of Youngren's barns

Reared on a farm near Stanwood, Washington, Youngren found many examples of early-day wooden structures in the surrounding rural area, including railroad trestles and barns. Yet the idea of creating art in their image didn't come right away. In fact, he began his higher education at Washington State University, Pullman WA, in Agricultural Economics, earning a BS degree. Along the line, however, he added studies in ceramics and spent an additional year at WSU to complete his BFA.
(Top and above) Two of Youngren's earliest  pieces. The solid-looking bases are actually  hollow.

Some of his first pieces were relatively simple, involving small portions of a trestle,  for example, and featured a solid-looking base that was actually hollow. He uses slab construction, first making a base, adding walls, then a succession of hand-carved "sticks" to complete the form. He uses a needle tool to carve texture on all sides of each stick or board, even though the back side might not be visible in the final structure. The 50-square-foot kiln at WSU proved the perfect working environment--literally--for Youngren as he began constructing his architectural units, board by board, inside the kiln itself!

Youngren assembling one of his pieces in the 50-sq.-ft. kiln at WSU

Finding the ideal "working range" of time and moisture in the clay is the holy grail of ceramics, and given the complexity of pieces in Youngren's work, he finds this a constant challenge. He needs the clay to be just moist enough to work with and not so dry as to be brittle. He has sometimes used slips of paper to help hold pieces together during the construction phase, just as a builder might use rebar in concrete. During the firing process the bits of paper fiber burn away, any moisture boils out, and the clay particles bind together. He finds that his clay pieces will shrink anywhere from 10 to 15% in the firing process.

Sometime Youngren works from his charcoal sketches, though finished pieces seldom exactly match the sketches. Other times he simply designs the piece as he goes.

Youngren doesn't use a true glaze on his pieces; rather he applies stains--each of which has some form of metallic component--then wipes down various areas to create highlights, and fires the completed piece. He actually uses two firings, the first being a relatively low temperature just to hold the pieces together, then he applies the stains, and the second firing is at about 2200 degrees F.

Youngren's later, more complex pieces have a greater structure-to-base ratio. This view shows variations in the stains he uses, e.g. down the sides of the base.
Originally much of his work was fired in a natural-gas-fueled kiln, then he began to use a special kiln that included a soda-ash additive. This material created a greater variety of color and surface design from the stains he used. Some of his newer pieces were fired in a kiln using wood as part of the fuel, again altering the action of the stains to produce a wider range of grays, browns and blacks in the finish.

Another of Youngren's more complex pieces. He created the tiny bricks (bottom right) individually.

Part of an exhibit of Youngren's works near the end of his residency at Pottery Northwest in Seattle, 2011
Also for the exhibit at Pottery Northwest, he began creating smaller pieces, some as elements rather than complete structures.

At one point Youngren realized he needed to figure out how his pieces would be transported for exhibition. The answer turned out to be wooden crates he constructed himself. Studying the results, he now thinks of the crates as part of the sculpture, sometimes displaying a piece on top of its crate, sometimes opening up the ends or tops of the crate and only partially removing the stoneware piece. "After all," he says,"the crates are wooden things that are used, or could have been used..."

One of Youngren's earliest hand-made crates, originally for transportation, later included as part of the finished display.
The ends and top of the crate were removed so viewers could see the stoneware trestle from a different vantage point.

He makes it clear that he's not a model builder: "My pieces are not to scale. They're just convincing enough to make sense. I'm responding to the  process of working with clay, to express my interpretation of how things used to be built. My challenge is how to get the right amount of 'randomness' in how the structure would have been decaying."

"Mineshaft 1"
"Mineshaft 2"
Closeup of "Mineshaft 2"

Youngren enjoys combining a bit of whimsy and public interaction in some of his work, with several projects in public spaces centering around Seattle's controversial Alaska Way Viaduct. As part of a ceramics conference in Seattle in the spring of 2012, Youngren, with friends and members of the public, created a raw-clay-and-wood structure--titled "The Bridge--representing the Viaduct that is soon to be dismantled in favor of a tunnel. The piece used 3000 pounds of clay and involved numerous hands to construct. Then, as planned, the clay dried, the famed Seattle rains came, and soon the piece was reduced to its underlying wood armature. (Youngren was quick to point out that the clay was later reused in other works.)

Coating the wooden structure of "Bridge" with raw clay.
The finished "Bridge"...
...and "Bridge" after the drying clay and Seattle rains had their way with it!

The following year Youngren designed a "Viaduct Observation Unit" for Seattle's Pier 62, a portion of which was actually built and used as a working space. He invited the public to use clay to depict how they wanted the waterfront to be once the Viaduct was removed. Part of public participation included creating a "stockpile" of slightly undersized Lincoln Log-type units, out of brown clay and all, that the artist hopes can be used in future public-interaction projects.

Youngren's original plan for the "Viaduct Observation Unit"...
...of which this part actually got built.
Youngren had special signs made for the public-art installation, reflecting much of the viaduct vs. tunnel controversy in Seattle at the time.

Young reports that visitors asked to purchase some of these tongue-in-cheek signs!
As part of the "Viaduct Observation Project," the public was invited to use clay to create what they wanted to see along the waterfront.
Pseudo "Lincoln Logs" were created for use in future public-involvement projects.
Building a stockpile of the "logs" for future use.

Probably the largest structure Youngren has ever made is a 32-foot-long trestle, comprising 13 different units, whose sheer size has limited the opportunities for its display. Thanks to an Artist Trust grant, this installation is now on display this month [December 2013] at the Davidson Gallery in Seattle, along with many of Youngren's other pieces.
Part of Youngren's largest structure, a 13-section trestle 32 feet long, on display at Seattle's Davidson Gallery.
Every Youngren piece exhibits some degree of "decay," representing the destruction-by-nature that is part of the original wooden structures he is portraying, here as a portion of the 32-foot-long trestle now at the Davidson Gallery.

Youngren's works have been included in exhibitions all over the Pacific Northwest, in Houston, TX, and twice in group exhibits in Korea. For more information about him and views of his work, go to

Friday, November 15, 2013

Glass orchids: a passion for artist Debora Moore

Two views of a piece in Debora Moore's "Host" series

Joyce Kilmer wrote that "only God can make a tree," but Seattle artist Debora Moore creates some impressive representations, then decorates them with exquisite orchids--all in glass. CQA members and guests were in awe at the detail and delicacy of Moore's works as viewed at the group's November 12 meeting.

Moore began her artistic journey as a ceramicist but quickly found that clay didn't give her the transparency and fluidity she wanted. Influenced by the works of glass artists in Europe and especially by a collection of lampworked glass flowers at Harvard University, she selected glass as her medium. She began studies at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle, where "I started at the bottom and worked my way up," she said. "I fired the furnaces...I cleaned the studio...I did anything and everything that needed doing!"

Seattle glass artist Debora Moore at CQA meeting

Following her sessions at Pratt she studied and then instructed at the Pilchuck Glass School, and later worked with Pilchuck co-founder Dale Chihuly in setting up the Hilltop Artist in Residence Program in Tacoma. Although situated in one of the city's poorer areas, the program was originally aimed at more affluent children. With Moore's insight and persuasion, the program soon morphed into serving the disadvantaged children in the surrounding area. At first the attendees were typically rowdy, reports Moore, but after experiencing the dangers of working with glowing furnaces and super-hot glass they began to change: they recognized the need for teamwork and responsibility for each other. With pride, Moore recounted that some of these students went on to graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design.

"Lady Slipper" orchid...made of blown glass

One of Moore's pieces in her bamboo series

Moore's own works represent nature, and originally she produced a variety of different flowers in her pieces, including a number of works sold through the venerated Gump's store in San Francisco. But once she began with orchids, then it was orchids full time: "Once you're bitten by the orchid bug, there's no going back!" she said, though she admitted she doesn't try to grow them herself: "I have a terrible habit of examining them to death!"

From Moore's "Nymph" series, inspired by statues at Ephesus
Always interested in travel, she began to travel specifically to regions where orchids occur naturally. First it was Jamaica...but she ended up finding the best display of orchids in a conservatory, not in the wild. Then it was Thailand...and once again she ended up viewing the orchids in a garden setting! But a different theme came from the trip to Thailand: inspired by the bamboo present most everywhere, she returned home to begin her bamboo series. Here, orchids are placed on bamboo trunk sections or sinuous representations of their leaves. A visit to the Roman ruins of Ephesus in Turkey, where the ancient library includes statues of women representing Virtue, Wisdom, Knowledge, etc. inspired her "Nymph" series.

Lichen in Antarctica, an inspiration for the "Host" series

Mosses in  Antarctica inspire Moore's "Host" series

Another of Moore's series--"Host"--came about because of a trip to Antarctica. A photographer friend was leaving on a work assignment on the frozen continent, and Moore quickly put together a proposal to research moss and lichens/algae that gained her a spot on the research vessel. The pieces resulting from this venture look totally real; the color, texture and appearance of the mosses are astonishing. On some pieces she uses acid to reduce the natural shine of the glass to a velvet quality.

Realistic mossy "trunks" provide hosts for glass orchids

One of Moore's more sinuous "Host" pieces

The moss looks so soft to the touch...but it's all glass!

And it's in this "Host" series that a number of pieces grew from short sections of "tree trunks" on pedestals to components that can be connected or even spread out to suggest "trees" that span large areas, up to entire walls. One such piece was commissioned by a woman who had a full-wall cabinet built just to display one of Moore's glass trees dotted with orchids. Another piece was intricately planned to fit around a corbel arch.

Moore beginning "tree" installation in custom-built cabinet
Finished tree installation in cabinet
Detailed drawing of piece planned for a corbel arch

All of Moore's work is blown glass, with final pieces created by an assembly process. At first the small components were joined "hot," but now many of the small clusters are so delicate that they need to be attached with silicon glue. "All my techniques I developed by trial and error," said Moore, "and everything is planned out in detail. Nothing can be 'on the fly.'"

Notice striations in the orchid from use of "reactionary" colors of glass

Excellent example of striations from using two "reactionary" colors

Who wouldn't want to own this colorful orchid!
In her design process, Moore creates extremely detailed watercolor drawings with specific numbers for each variation of each color ("nothing is just 'Red'"). Color is added to the molten glass (2150 degrees) with frit or powder; bits of molten glass can be gathered on a pipe and added as the pieces are being assembled. Her assistants bring the component pieces to her for final assembly; it can take four man-hours to produce two flowers. A number of her current pieces display the striations that result from using "reactionary" colors--two colors that react with each other in interesting ways, sometimes drawing away from each other, at other times creating the intricate striping so characteristic of some orchids.

Moore's work has appeared in many museums and exhibitions, and has won recognition and numerous awards for her both in the US and internationally, including working residencies in Tacoma and Murano, Italy. She will be featured in a solo exhibit at Seattle's NW African-American Museum in October, 2014.

Monday, October 21, 2013

“Double-header” CQA/SDA meetings feature Bucknam, Dunnewold

CQA and SDA members join for a pair of meetings
Members of Contemporary QuiltArt Association (CQA) and the Washington chapter of Surface Design Association (SDA) were in for a special treat on October 12, when the two groups arranged back-to-back meetings featuring two stars of the fiber-arts community: Bonnie Bucknam and Jane Dunnewold.

Thanks to CQA members Lorraine Edmond for preparing the following reports on the presentations and Christina Fairley Erickson for the on-scene photos.

Part 1: Bonnie Bucknam and the art in nature

Bonnie Bucknam with her piece "Canopy" on the wall behind her
The October CQA meeting gave us an opportunity to hear from one of our own members, Bonnie Bucknam, who described both her inspiration and the details of her creative process.  The title of Bonnie’s presentation, “Sticks and Stones,” succinctly captured the two diverse threads that have inspired much of her art.

Bonnie majored in anthropology and minored in geology, and recalled always being interested in geology from an early age. She explored the Sierras and Death Valley, both places where the details of the landscape are clearly exposed, as vegetation is sparse.  After moving to Alaska, where she spent over thirty years, those wide-open spaces were an important visual presence as well.  Upon retirement, Bonnie moved to Vancouver, Washington, where, she noted, “the trees are so thick you can barely see the ground.” Trees with complex patterns of limbs inspired work based on the branching forms. These two influences led to her current series, “Geology” and “ Tangle.” 

Bucknam's  piece "Cavern"
She showed images of both series as she explained the evolution of her work and the construction processes she uses.  Bonnie studied with Nancy Crow back in the early’90s and learned to develop one motif from a collection of sketches. Now she may make 20-50 sketches before deciding on one to develop. The motif is stretched and turned as the overall composition is developed.

Detail view of Bucknam's "Reflection"
Sometimes a sub-sample or fragment of a sketch becomes the final motif she works with.  Much of Bonnie’s earlier work was inspired by ethnic arts and crafts. A sketch of a pre-Columbian weaving became a basis of several quilts.

Bonnie’s quilts are constructed with one of three processes. Some smaller pieces are free cut based on a sketch. When a piece is so large that doesn’t work, she will make a pattern from the sketch instead, after having the final sketch enlarged at a copy service with a wide printer. The third process involves improvisation directly on the design wall.

Bucknam's piece "Crater"
She takes numerous photos of her work in progress; this allowed her to show us her process in some detail. Decisions were made and some were re-made. Lines were added and subtracted, colors were auditioned and sometimes removed. Sometimes the whole piece would be re-oriented late in the design process. We also had the benefit of seeing some of the final resulting quilts, visually stunning in their combination of simplicity and intricacy.

Bucknam's "Canopy"
Bonnie bought a long-arm quilting machine after she moved to Vancouver, and that helped her make larger work--especially important since her quilts are very densely quilted. It may take her 6-10 days to quilt a large piece, working on it 3-4 hours a day.

Her final message for the group was “Persistence Pays!” She has been quilting for 44 years now.  Back in 1987, a friend suggested she enter a piece in Quilt National. “Quilt what?” she responded. She ended up getting accepted that very first time. Then she entered for many more years, but it was 2009 before she was accepted again, and in 2011 she won Best of Show. She closed her talk with urging the audience just to “Keep Quilting!”

Attendees study Bucknam's samples following the presentation
For more information about Bonnie and her work, go to

Part 2: Jane Dunnewold and “the psychology of doing art”                        

Jane Dunnewold, left, is introduced by Barbara Matthews of  SDA Washington

Immediately following October’s regular CQA meeting, many members stayed in their seats as the Washington State chapter of the Surface Design Association was treated to a visit from the national SDA president, Jane Dunnewold. Jane has been a teacher and mentor to numerous members of the CQA community for years, but this was her first visit in her new role.  Known in the wider world as a textile artist who literally “wrote the book” on surface design (Complex Cloth), Jane also teaches and lectures widely on other topics related to creativity in a more general sense.

Interestingly, Jane doesn’t refer to her work as textile work. She wants the focus to be on the art rather than the media. When asked, she calls herself a mixed media textile artist, even if the piece is a quilt. For this presentation, although she showed us many lovely and inspiring images of her work and her new studio and teaching facility in San Antonio, Jane chose to talk primarily about what she called “the psychology of doing art.”

Dunnewold's new "wet" studio

Dunnewold's new "dry" studio

She asked the audience to consider the question “What inspired you to think of yourself as an artist?”  She noted our common beginnings: “We’re all seduced by color, but after the initial burst of enthusiasm the analyzing begins. We acquire workshops, teachers, supplies. There are so many things at our disposal, we don’t experience limitations or boundaries.”

Of course we are engaged by the world and by our senses, but a time arises to become more interior. Jane advised us to sit carefully and quietly as we consider what our best path is.  She believes that we area seeking is alignment—that blissful state where what you love to do is what you’re good at.

You can be good at something and hate it, which can make it hard to leave it behind.  Conversely, you can love something and not be good at it.  In that case, practice is needed, but daunting.  We start out wanting to play, and not wanting judgment of our work. By the time we understand what we’re doing, we’re invested in being good at it, and then it becomes more rewarding than when it was merely play. But how to get there? That’s elusive!

"Degredation" by  Dunnewold
Jane advises that we first have to drop some old ideas. First, “the talent question.” We all have different gifts, but it isn’t helpful to focus on where you are on the continuum. Second, the “busy, crazy life” that gets in the way. Everyone has that. Third, and maybe most important, “The Committee.” The Committee lives in your head and it may be your own voice or that of a parent, or your first art teacher, or even Nancy Crow. Your Committee is all the people you want to please. When you realize who is on your Committee, you can dismantle it, and then have a new kind of freedom.

"Tender Heart" by  Dunnewold
The next thing to work on is something Jane calls “Creative Stamina.” Stamina develops as a result of strength training, and Creative Stamina develops as a result of Creative Strength Training; and furthermore, it needs to be the equivalent of Cross Training.  This might include what Jane referred to as “cultivated looking.” It might include something similar to her year-long daily photography blog. Jane credits that daily photography practice with making her a better artist as she learned to see the world in a richer way—closer, and in more detail. Other approaches might include writing (asking yourself questions and writing the responses) or doing timed free-association exercises and noting the visual images that emerge from that. It’s important both to cultivate curiosity and to keep track of the things you’re curious about.

Jane’s final words of wisdom included the following: “It’s OK to screw things up. If you haven’t, you’re not trying.”  And last, but probably most important for many of us, those words that need to be printed as a giant poster: “Go back to the studio and stay there.”

For more information about Jane and her work, go to