Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Imaginative Expressions at BAM

12/10/14 Diamine Chocolate Brown and Pilot Iroshizuku
Take-sumi inks, Caran d'Ache Museum water-soluble
colored pencil, Zig markers, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
Often when I visit art exhibits, I find that even if the works are engaging and interesting, they are not necessarily sketchable. Trying to sketch paintings generally doesn’t work out, and sometimes sculptures are displayed in such a way that it’s difficult to get far enough away to sketch them. The Bellevue Arts Museum currently has several exhibits that are not only visually exciting; almost every piece is remarkably sketchable! In addition, I found myself moved by a number of artist statements I read (not always the case – some statements written by artists are a lot of mumbo-jumbo, in my opinion). Greg and I spent a rainy afternoon today enjoying every show.

First up was “Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works.” Economaki is a former woodworker who developed a severe allergy to wood dust, so the past three decades he has focused on crafting exquisite tools for woodworkers. I didn’t sketch anything from the show, but this quotation from his artist statement really resonated with me:

“Quality is contagious. Nothing is more important to a woodworker than his tools. If you owned a tool chest full of well-crafted tools, how could you possibly justify doing shabby work? You dishonor your tools, you dishonor yourself.”

Next was Jason Walker’s “On the River, Down the Road,” a whimsical yet politically pointed collection of ceramic works about our relationship with nature. Most of the pieces included images of animals and the urban environment. I sketched “Cage-Free Capitalism,” which depicts a hen laying coins.

Glass artist Nick Mount showed a collection of “scent bottles” and other remarkably shaped sculptures, some of which incorporated found objects. Although art making came late to me in life, I’ve always been a crafter, and this statement by Mount spoke to me:

“I identify as a maker and believe ‘work’ is fundamental in the development of identity. This principle extends well beyond those of us that call ourselves ‘craftspeople’ and, for me, the fabric of our community is, to a large extent, determined by the work we do with our hands.”

12/10/14 Museum water-soluble colored pencils, Fuyu-syogun ink
The largest show was the BAM Biennial, “Knock on Wood.” Every two years, BAM focuses on one craft medium – glass, ceramic, fiber, metal, wood – and selects the best work in that medium from the Pacific Northwest. I was blown away by the imaginative works these artists had made from wood! I had several favorites, including the one I sketched, “Cetus,” by Laura Buchan. Carved of wood, it looks like the skeleton of a prehistoric animal but is actually imaginary and based on parts of various real animals.

Another favorite was a collection of wood sculptures by Morse Clary made to look like opened books. Again, the statement for this piece resonated with me as I thought of sketchers’ sketchbooks: “Like a painter’s canvas, pages can contain anything. There is an overwhelming challenge and irresistible opportunity in this that I love.”

The piece I most wanted to take home was an exquisite functional desk that was vaguely modeled on the classic roll-top desk, but the tiny drawers pulled out at various angles. I was imagining putting all my pens and ink bottles in those drawers! Artist Curtis Erpelding had this to say about the piece:

“In a world of cell phones and tablets, I’m not sure a physical desk still has a function or purpose as a writing station. Let it be a pleasing object in its own right, suggestive of a shared cultural past of design and craft, and still useful for storing (and hiding) those special items.”

All of these shows are still open for a few more months – go see (and sketch!) them if you can!


  1. The "Cetus" looks like a kind of fish. That sketch is great and so is the one of the hen! I would have loved to see the desk. It sounds so unusual and fun with all those quirky little drawers.

  2. Great sketches, Tina. Sounds like this is a great exhibit. Hope you make another trip. Bridge City sure makes some nice tools, though I wouldn't have expected them to be on display at a museum :-)

    Cheers --- Larry


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