Saturday, April 19, 2014

Meet Deloss Webber: sculptor, basket-weaver, gardener...artist!

Deloss Webber addresses the April 12 CQA meeting
Kirkland, WA artist Deloss Webber says that "Most of my successes have been accidental," but it's taken him years of exploring methods, materials and techniques to arrive at those "happy accidents"! Webber's presentation at the April 12 meeting of Contemporary QuiltArt Association (CQA) demonstrated the wide variety of ways he combines nature and art.

Webber never had any art classes, but he grew up learning a craft that itself is something of an art form. His family operated a furniture business of restoring and repairing antiques, and Webber learned the skill of cane weaving from masters in the trade. It's small wonder, then, that some of his first original pieces involved weaving and chairs. "I came to realize that furniture is also an art form when there's collaboration between 'designer' and 'creator,'" he says.

One of Webber's first "woven chairs"
Woven on an old "butterfly chair" frame
From static furniture, he moved on to something that signaled inherent movement: a full-sized (11-12-ft) kayak, woven from ash splint, raffia and found objects! "I wanted to form a narrative of the traveler who used this type of piece," says Webber.

Full-sized kayak woven from ash splints, raffia and found objects

Wood is another natural material that Webber has used to great artistic advantage, and he's not above recycling pieces from broken fences and salvage yards. He created a "herd" of small, blocky, wooden horses from a salvaged deck; then taking the idea into a larger scale, he created horses that were covered in a "painted veneer" of 1/16"-thick pieces taken from discarded fence boards. Any paint that Webber uses (or adds to recycled materials) is bought at garage sales!

"Herd" of small horses from salvaged deck materials

Larger-scale horses, "smoothed" from original blocky design
Reclaimed fence boards with original paint
Horses "veneered" with thin pieces of reclaimed fencing
Closeup of mosaic "veneer" on red horse
Webber's installation of carved wooden balls
Material for this curved wood installation came from a downed fir tree nine feet in diameter.

Much of his subsequent work has combined woven materials with stones. Says Webber, "I may find a stone or object with appeal and then I figure out how to provoke a conversation. Or, alternatively, I have an idea and then wait for the right rock to appear."

Webber needs a jig, templates and a number of tools to work the stone.
Webber often dyes the fibers, using procion dyes.
This piece is about 30" high and weighs about 60 lbs. The stone is black granite; the white circles are abalone shell.

Some of the rocks he works with come from the several commercial stone yards in the area, but he also finds excellent candidates on his own large property east of Lake Washington. And such a large property provides Webber more than just raw materials: "Having the room to work has made a huge difference in my artistic progress," he says. The artist has made a few side trips into whimsy along that journey, including building a wonderful tree house on his land ("It's not a studio, but more of a place to think.") and several "mosaic" figures, created from broken bits of china, wood, stone and fibers, that resonate with viewers.

Webber's tree house "folly"
A whimsical portrait of broken china, pieces of wood, etc.
This pair, created of broken pieces of china, wood and found objects, always attracts interest.

Limestone is a frequently used material. Some pieces he has cut and shaped himself with diamond tools and salt processes, an example being rounded pieces where he's created line and movement from static forms in a Northwest palette and language.

White limestone, shaped by the artist
Black granite is another favorite material. One piece using this material, titled "Give and Take," closely resembles two wrecking balls...he distressed the stone so that the pieces "show their own history."

"Give and Take," distressed black limestone

Webber stresses that presentation of an art work is critical: "The job isn't over when you've created the need to extend the idea into the environment, as this gives a relevance to the body in space."

Webber spends time creating the proper presentation for each piece.

In 1998, Webber happened upon the Kagedo gallery, a private gallery then operating in Seattle. Intrigued by the Japanese style of wrapping and knotting fibers over rocks displayed by the artisans in the gallery, he began to try his hand at it with the gallery owners as mentors. It was a long, long process: "Their philosophy was that it takes 10 years to learn to split bamboo and cane, so my two to three years of struggle was nothing!" Finally, it was samples of Webber's work at this gallery that led, often in "accidental" ways, to exhibitions of his pieces across the US and in London and Paris.

Webber's "wrapped rocks" using traditional Japanese techniques
Webber says he has "about a two-hour attention span," so he's constantly switching from weaving to stone work and vice versa. Even then, he says, "I live in my studio so my work is always on my mind. I keep changing surfaces, sizes, materials and so on, so that  I am always exploring and challenging myself."

Basket woven around a rock "boat" containing small round rocks; driftwood handle.
Webber added pigment over the surface of the weaving to resemble medieval frescoes
The over-painting "adds more intrigue and story"

Even though Webber says it's about how he feels about a piece or installation that matters and not whether or not it sells, he admits that learning how to make art is "just the tip of the iceberg. Marketing your work to galleries is itself an art, and then there's the new avenue of social media..."

A trio representing different designs of weaving
The blue object in the basket is stone; the handle is driftwood.

Webber's works are in a number of private collections, and have been displayed across the US and Canada, and in the UK and Europe. For more information, see