Last Thursday, June 9th, was moving day for my Culture/ Ring Dance #10 that was on display for the City of Olympia Percival Plinth Project.
The sculpture has been holding court on the back stretch of the landing since last July. With help from the kids, we brought it home.
Stephanie Johnson of Olympia's Parks, Arts & Rec Department was on site to help uninstall the work.
Learn more about the project:
Percival Plinth Project
Four new sculptures are hanging around the entry stairs at the Refuge. These pieces continue the “Ring Dance” series. They hold the space vacated by an older piece that just left the grounds for permanent installation in downtown Olympia. While I’ve been focused on other things these last months these intriguing structures have been quietly gestating in the background. I’m still surprised when I see them out there, dancing.
Ring Dance #2/ CORE, which was at the west end of State St. on Percival Landing in 2012, is now mounted permanently in a street-side parklet near the NE corner of Fourth and Franklin Streets in Olympia. In the daytime its shadow walks across the sidewalk and climbs the building to the east. At night the streetlights print two copies of the piece in shadows on the wall. I’m honored to see the piece out on its own in the world.
All the Ring Dance pieces are based on the abstract arrangement of circular elements. They are fabricated using a procedure that avoids pre-thinking what the result will look like. I collaborate with the elements and processes, adding them one by one to the piece, and sometimes in repeating clusters. As an overall thrust surfaces I work to enhance that. The process is unnerving at times. I don’t know how it will come out and that can make me anxious. Continuing anyway leads to final pieces I could never have imagined in advance. So I proceed.
The new pieces, Ring Dance numbers six, seven, eight, and nine, are the result of a series of interwoven creative experiments based on rings made by slicing pipe, and a “staple” form made from a length of heavy channel iron. I wondered what would happen if I introduced the linear, masculine element of the staple, mixing it in with the rings. I also began experimenting with opening the rings so that they could intersect in new ways.
All four pieces developed at once as I played with the elements and connections that fascinated me. At various times I thought it was all moving toward one piece. At other times it was all moving toward more scrap. Finally one piece after another emerged as discreet siblings. Just like us they are made of the same stuff. Through whimsy, chance, and intention, each becomes a unique character.
For Olympia’s 2013 Percival Plinth Sculpture Project I applied with the TINE BALL I put together a year or two ago. The core of the piece is a double spiral made from the half-circle spring-steel tines of a hay rake. I knew that if it was accepted into the exhibition I’d have to come up with a base for the piece, some way to affix it to the plinth and hold it up against the sky.
The TINE BALL was already galvanized and powder-coated silver. When the proposal was accepted, I fabricated two curving rods from a scrap-pile of short 7/8” steel rounds, and cut out some brackets that would allow me to bolt them to two of the 3” spring coils on the tines. Some scraps of 2” angle iron became a base that would fit the design constraints of the plinth.
With the piece all together I realized I wanted it to be red—like OXYGEN (Ring Dance #5)—in order to stand out in the complicated downtown, harbor-front space of Percival Landing. It’s summertime—powder-coating took four weeks. I installed it June 10, on schedule.
To me, part of TINE BALL’s beauty is the delicacy of the form. A breeze can make it shudder. It’s a bit delicate for the “fraternity rules” classically considered for such situations. I knew there was a risk in putting it out where the public can interact with it. The sign says “do not climb”—but eight days after installation someone apparently did just that. My guess is he or she tried to get inside the ball. I know, I’ve thought of that too. Tine points broke loose at each hub.
Now we were only one week from the opening reception. I had to repair and reinforce the piece, and get it coated again (third time’s the charm!) We took it down and over the weekend. I repaired and beefed-up the hubs and added nine more welds to stabilize the belly of the ball.
C T Specialties in Olympia was just as busy as the first time I took it in for powder-coat, but they recognized my plight and had it ready in four days. I tipped them enough to buy everyone a couple of beers, and loaded-up the rebuilt TINE BALL still hot from the oven. We bolted it back on the plinth fifteen minutes before the opening reception began. Unbelievable.
Now, the risk is still there. The piece is stronger but still delicate—you wouldn't see the difference unless I pointed it out. It might be able to withstand another exuberant “return to the womb”—but I hope I don’t find out. Meanwhile, it’s there. Come down and see it.
If you get there during July or August, the city has ballots available in pamphlet-boxes on the landing. Olympia will buy the sculpture that gets the most votes, for their growing collection. Voting ends August 31. Here’s an essential voting tip: your vote won’t count unless you fill in the box that asks what it is you like about the piece you have chosen. The answer is subjective; you can’t get it wrong—so answer the question and be counted!
In other news: Debi of 33 Image Design rebuilt my sculpture and furniture website. It’s now searchable and very slick. I also have a verbal commitment with Gallery IMA in Seattle’s Pioneer Square to begin representing my work soon. I’ll let you know.
Now flowing water sparkles, and sings, strengthened every time it rains. An occluded acre of the place has been opened up. At first it all felt too exposed; there was a sense of vulnerability. Now as the Indian Plum gets into full leaf, and the ferns begin to unfurl, it feels like revelation. Perception carries farther into the depths of the forest; dimension has been somehow doubled. The whole place feels larger—the invisible brought to light.
Olympia's Fall Arts Walk is tomorrow—the evening of Friday October 5—and continues through the afternoon of October 6. Sorry for the late notice.
I’ll have two pieces completed this summer on display along with pieces by other metal workers from the SPSCC welding program. We are showing again at the Euphorium, in the Security Building, at the corner of Fourth Ave. and Washington Street in downtown Olympia.
TINE BALL, a piece composed of twenty recycled (and reconfigured) tines from a dump rake, will be there, along with a galvanized steel table I wrote about in a previous posting, called WINDSWEPT STEEL TABLE. The table base is made from some twisty scraps left over when I bent the rings for Ring Dance #3 & 4.
Thank you to those of you who took the time to vote in Olympia’s Percival Plinth Sculpture Project. The votes are in, and Olympia sculptor Ross Matteson’s bronze and steel piece “Windstar” gathered the people’s choice award with nearly 30% of the votes cast. Congratulations to Ross! You can see more of his well-wrought wildlife bronzes at Matteson Sculpture.
I have not heard how many votes “Ring Dance #2” received, but I continue to hear great response for the piece. You can enjoy it until next June at Percival Landing, and while driving around the corner of State and Water streets in downtown Olympia. The piece is for sale if you wish to continue enjoying it in your home or business landscape. I have three further Ring Dance pieces available, including the musical dyad subtitled “Duet.”
We are having a gorgeous extended September here at the southern tip of the Salish Sea. It’s a bit dry, and the light breezes send a crisp sustaining whisper through the curling leaves still on the trees. Every step on the beach trail crunches with the leaves that have already fallen.
I was moved to make a table for the deck, and with a sculpture about to travel up to the galvanizers, there was added pressure to finish something I could include with the run.
I had a pile of twisty angle iron pieces six to ten inches long that were the end pieces cut off when I made the rings for the latest Ring Dance (DUET). I welded about half of them together into curving forms roughly two feet long.
Riffing on past experience working with curly willow and beaver sticks, I fabricated the twisted linear forms into a chaotic base that flows and dances, and finally seem to cross paws and bow.
I bent another length of angle into a ring for the edge of the top, and cut a circle out of a leftover piece of eighth inch sheet to wrap it around. The outcome is a bit overbuilt, perhaps (at fifty-five pounds) but makes a very stable deck table, big enough for writing, or a couple of glasses of wine and a plate of hors d'oeuvres.
My daughter said it reminded her of those coastal trees that have grown under the pressure of steady winds, so I call it Windswept Table.
Ring Dance #3 and #4 just came back from the galvanizers. There is something delightful about the way the fresh zinc coating shines and throws light around—particularly on this set, which has a sine-wave curve around the circumference of each ring. They will oxidize over time to a more classic industrial gray, but this effect could be maintained with a powder-coat finish on top of the galvanizing.
I produced Ring Dance #3 & 4 as an interacting set, entitled DUET. They stand alone near one another in such a way that from some angles they flow one into the other. From other angles one stands tall to tower and lean over the other, which nuzzles from a more relaxed horizontal position.
DUET was conceived as a reference to music, and the musical scale. When I was deciding what sizes to make the rings I chose to make seven ring sizes that mimic the frequencies of the A major scale. I started with a 24 inch diameter circle representing 220 hertz. With that as a starting point I could calculate that a 27 inch circle would represent B, at 246.942 hertz, C (261.626 hertz) would be represented with a 28.5 inch ring—and so on. All together DUET is composed of seven “A”s, six “B”s, five “C”s, four “D”s, three “E”s, two “F”s, and one “G”. I haven’t tried arranging that into a musical sequence. Give it a try!
When I began bending the angle iron, the machinery colluded to enhance the musical reference in an unexpected way. I had decided to make an inside bend and as the steel fed into the slip roller, it began to oscillate side to side, forming that sine-wave curve you can see in the photos. It’s not what I imagined would happen—which showed me one more time that the process often has a better imagination than I do.
The two elements of DUET harmonize beautifully. They are holding the ground on the Refuge steps while they await a more permanent stage for their performance. The pieces are available for purchase and installation.
Ring Dance #2/ CORE has been attracting a lot of attention down at Percival Landing in Olympia. You can’t miss it, at the point where State St. going west dog-legs south to join Fourth Ave. The city is conducting a public vote to determine which of this year’s fourteen sculptures to purchase for their permanent collection. If you have been meaning to get down there, you have two more weeks to submit your preference. Voting ends August 31.
You will find ballots in flyer-boxes at eight locations along the Landing. To vote, select your preferred sculpture, fill in your name and where you live, write a few words about WHY you like the sculpture, and turn it in at front desk of the Olympia Center, adjacent to the park at 222 Columbia St. NW. Of course that means you can only complete your vote when the center is open. Open hours are M-F: 8AM to 7:30PM, Saturday 9AM to 4PM. They are closed on Sunday.
Ring Dance #2/ CORE was selected by the City of Olympia for its 2012 Percival Landing Sculpture display. We installed it this week on the plinth at the corner of State and Water streets. That’s the point where one-way State St. doglegs south to join Fourth Ave. Driving west on State you will be looking right at the sculpture, rising up behind the safety barricades that keep you from driving into Budd Inlet. You can’t miss it walking along the landing. The loan is for up to one year. Find a sunny day to get down there—the shadow of the piece adds to the show.
The City will host an opening for the new sculptures on Friday July 20 at the Harbor House on Percival Landing from 5 to 7PM. Come on down and meet the artists.
Last summer, following a month-long popular vote by visitors to the park, the city purchased Dan Klennert’s “King Salmon,” and has moved it to a new location at West Bay Park. You can see more of Dan’s work [by clicking here] or by driving out to his remarkable sculpture garden just west of Ashford on State Route 706, the road to Mt. Rainier National Park. The other dozen sculptures from 2011 have been removed, and returned to the artists. This year the voting begins the day after the opening.
Ring Dance #1/ INCEPTION is currently displayed among the blueberries at my home and studio, The Refuge, and is available for purchase.
Ring Dance #3/ DUET is underway. Looks like it will be a dyad—two independent structures designed to be placed in relationship to one another. The piece is currently in that adolescent stage that resists photographs. I have no doubt that it will rise to graceful maturity over the next month or so.
I was awake at 1AM thinking about what moves me in sculpture. The current RING DANCE series holds me fascinated, and I was wondering what it is about that. The best answer I can come up with is “form and interplay of forms”, or “form and movement.”
When I equate interplay of forms with movement I realize I’m making a distinction that defines movement in a particularly subtle way—a way that excludes mechanical motion. Maybe I should come up with a new word, but I can’t think of one. So let’s talk about movement and experience—about perception.
Have you been to a sculpture park that includes a piece or two that catches the wind to create motion, or is motorized to rotate, or operate—repeating some cycle of motion? We do notice it immediately. That’s because the brain is wired to notice and assess motion very quickly. It’s a survival instinct, at the deepest levels of perception. Something moving might be a rock aimed at my head; I need to know about that as soon as possible.
Motion might also indicate running water, or a food source. As hunters living in the earth environment we have developed senses and sense reactions that assist in survival here. The tendency to quickly notice when a new motion comes into our field of view comes in handy crossing the street, and it’s very useful to advertisers. Ever wonder why those youths on the street corner are frantically waving signs for cheap mattress stores? Just as when there’s a TV on at the bar, or you are near the flickering flames of a fire—you can’t NOT notice it. Motion—particularly new motion—draws our attention.
Intriguingly, the same hard-wired feature causes us to dismiss movement that repeats. Once it’s no longer novel the brain begins to rule it out, or see past it—so that we won’t miss the newer motion that could arrive at any second. This explains what happens with those enjoyable pinwheels and other whirly-gigs at the farmer’s market. Very attractive at first, so we buy them. But with familiarity we stop noticing. It’s a good trick, you might say a cheap trick. That kind of motion doesn’t interest me in sculpture. I’m looking for forms that move us in more resilient ways.
The movement that I look for in sculpture is more closely related to the experience of walking through a landscape. The observer moves, and as the observer moves the perspective flows, lining up different features of the landscape in a constantly shifting dance of perceived relationships. In the forest, various trees line up then move apart; as the angles and curves play in the eye you experience a flow of perception. Same with walking through a redrock canyon, or in a cityscape of various building-forms, separated by streetscapes. It’s the perceptual movement that interests me, the observer’s interaction with form.
So I look for elements or collections of elements that offer opportunities for interplay with the passing eye. Sometimes a perspective stops me cold, and I want to consider the pleasing arrangement that has come together—I might even come back again and again to watch it line up in just that way. Then I move a little, and another surprise coalesces, from a different perspective. That’s the movement I’m talking about. I’m not always sure what will make it happen, but I love it when I find that it has.
RING DANCE #1—INCEPTION came back from the galvanizers this week. It still shouts a little loud with the fresh hot-dip zinc coating, but will quiet with exposure to sunshine and rain. I have been enjoying the sense of play and motion that the piece embodies.
I didn’t know in advance what the piece would look like. I made the rings, of various sizes, but then deliberately avoided any planning of how they would be arranged to form the final sculpture. I find that a piece like this has more life when I let it accrue on its own. I just started sticking the rings together, one by one.
I think of this process as being divinitory. By that I mean I let the piece form itself, while I engage in a ritual sort of play with the elements involved. I apply a loose, fluid set of guidelines as to how I will proceed. The piece is thereby “played” into existence. I discover the final form of the piece by playing with the elements rather than by developing a set design and then forcing materials into the form of the preconceived vision. I wonder what will happen; then I find out.
For guidelines, in this case, I paid attention to attaching each ring firmly to at least two others, considered how to make the piece fully three dimensional—with no front, side, or back—and tried to avoid placing any ring on the same plane with, or parallel to, any other. I didn’t even settle on what would be up or down until I came to the last few rings.
The advantage of this open-ended play is that the resulting piece arrives from a place beyond my own imagination, from a crossroads of play and purpose, a mix of the limits of material and process, one decision dependent on the results of the last. I arrive in a new territory, not quite sure how I got there. Then I look around.
RING DANCE #1 is available for purchase, and will be on display at Olympia’s spring Artswalk, April 27 and 28. I’ll be showing with the other “Fire Art” welders from South Puget Sound Community College. We will be on the southeast corner of Fourth and Washington, downtown Olympia.
Art and Practice
Don Freas is an artist, writer, poet, and Trillium Awakening Interning Teacher in Olympia, Washington.