There are several threads that weave through them all. Rings, of course, but also a ritual, exploratory process that put me in collaboration with the materials and fabrication in a quest to discover (and be surprised by) the eventual form.
As the process evolved they became more complex and dense, varying from complete chaos to ideas of order, from an assembly of iterations of one element to a complex that involved five or six different shapes, and from fourteen elements overall to too many to count.
Each of the final pieces has its grace and strengths; they each exist as individuals and as generations of kin—as dependent on one another as they are each freed from those that came before.
When ten were complete I looked back to the original, the great grandmother of them all, and wondered what it was that I found so singularly compelling about that first.
Besides the pure clarity of being the first, I realized it was also the most simple.
It had the fewest parts, as well as the fewest rules of engagement. These details give it an open, uncomplicated stance I appreciate. Simplicity is its strength. Over the next few weeks the idea for the ultimate Ring Dance, #11, took form.
The New Teamwork
How We Work Together Now
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 paired elements of DUET, Ring Dance #3 & 4, harmonize beautifully. Since they were completed they have become part of the Refuge landscape, welcoming visitors near the entrance, among the blueberry bushes.