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Interview with NW Stone Sculptors Association - nwssa.org

Describe your background.
I grew up in Norway, which is almost all granite. Carving has a strong and long tradition. There are public sculptures on every other street corner; children get to sit in bronze laps and ride fairytale bears. My favorite was the Gustav Vigeland Park in Oslo, climbing around the old, naked granite-people and wondering at the conversation they seemed to be having, and why some of them were so silent.

What is your life history as related to being an artist? Why did you become an artist? Etc.
I was expected to become a history professor or a writer. I did study history, then philosophy and religion. At the same time I was working with children and adolescents, people who were genuinely disadvantaged. The disparity between the theories I studied and the reality of the people I was working with, left me very uneasy. I was also working in the European women's movement to encourage understanding for the needs and experiences of women in other cultures, and I began to see that so many of the significant experiences and ways of communicating that women have were elusive, they couldn't fit into language, couldn't be measured, only shared through the 'tacit understanding' of a glance or a sense in the air. Subtleties and complexities were always fascinating to me, and led naturally to an interest in the arts, especially art by women. And I needed to describe somehow the reality of the people I knew and worked with, to make them understandable to others, but for all the programs and politics, I couldn't do it just with words. I needed to express how I felt about them, and the many changes we all go through, and felt mute.

I went on to write and teach, and one day I picked up oil paints and brushes. The concepts and theories had come to feel constrictive, I was just sick of words. Painting felt real in a different way: starting from an unnamable place, working without reasoning or any predictable outcome. Then I got some Italian rasps and chisels on sale, and found myself alone with a white marble baby headstone. It sat on a chair in the kitchen and I banged away at it, chips everywhere, and was happy!

Later, when I lived next-door to a marble quarry in Sweden, a local sculptor dumped a few hundred pounds of raw clay in my barn studio, and said it was time to try modeling.

I was fortunate to be taken in at Ken Lundemo's studio when I first moved to the Northwest in 1991. He needed an assistant and I needed a place to apprentice, a studio to work in and fire my pieces. We cast bronze with brass fittings from the Navy dump, -- we had a lot of fun.

In 1994 I got in touch with NWSSA, and spent one day at the Symposium at Camp Brotherhood. It was like coming home; the welcome from like-minded people, that sense of abandonment to something that you just love - stone. Many things changed for me through the friendships and the many Symposia I've attended, like feeling that you are growing up as an artist in a family that is changing, too, -- whose turn is it this year to reach that maturity and command in their art, to actualize themselves through their work? I am very grateful to the Association and the people who keep working to make each event happen.

Because sculpture was such a personal and inner, non-mental, process, it took me a while to accept it as a "job." I fought the worldly, commercial aspect of it, and had a lot of friction about the backbreaking heavy labor, how dirty it is, how fickle the rewards are, until I just accepted how much I love it. There is peace in knowing that loving it is enough. I trust the kind of sculptor I am, and trust in what I want to do, the skills and the tools as I get better at it, and the process of it.

These days I work almost full-time at sculpture. I do portraits; my own work in stone or clay depending on the season; I take part in some shows; give workshops in portraiture and teach students in my studio. Part of my workday is in writing, since the love of language came back with the clarity of sculpture, and the rest of my time is devoted to my fantastic daughter, who is almost 4 now.

What do you try to do in your work?
To discover what's inside, and to share what I love. That's describing it simply, trite as it may sound. In a portrait, of course, I seek to express that essential something that is that person. In my own work it's about a feeling, whether subtle or stark, a mood, a motion; or a complexity of feelings to contain what I feel about Bosnia, for example, or hunger, or Tibetan nuns; -- to follow that feeling through, to show it as clearly and cleanly as possible. I love the materials and the tools, yet it's the process that makes it all worthwhile, the process of discovery. If I knew what it was about, then I could write it and save myself backache. The final product and whoever will see it aren't important until after the sculpture has reached that stage where it feels true, and can stand on its own, -- or not. Some times you just have to give it free and try again.

Describe a recent piece.
I was working on an indolent, fleshy, young woman in Texas limestone, when she changed on me. Her hands fisted up, and her body became angular and twisted into a bitter, angry stance of powerlessness, painful inevitability. She reminded me of Kathe Kollwitz, so I named her "Eine Mutter," a mother. I thought she might be too emotional, too crass and ugly, too European, but there were several people who connected strongly to her and she sold right away. It confirmed to me that we can let the process dictate, allow the "truth" of the piece to stand by itself, and not censure our work so.

Has any sculptor influenced you?
I feel a close affinity to the Central-European sculptors who created in the first part of the 20th century; expressionist, even symbolist, artists like Kathe Kollwitz, Ivan Mestrovic, Ernst Barlach, Franticek Bilek. I adore the works of Jean Arp, and admire the American sculptor Malvina Hoffman around the same period, for her decency in art, and her commitment when portraying people of different races, some of which are extinct now.

What kind of stone do you sculpt?
I work with softer stone, and only carve pieces that I can carry. It could be fun to carve in a larger scale, getting into winches and hydraulics, but at this point I am happy with just the size and medium of what I do right now.

Describe your studio.
The studio is the best I've ever had; it has an outdoor, covered carving space overlooking the Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains, with eagles sitting in the trees around me (when I'm not using power tools.) It also has plenty of space indoors for modeling and the kiln and students, and all the stuff we always seem to need.

What do you look forward to as a sculptor?
I only want to get better, to continue to understand human anatomy, to do larger pieces and learn more about expressing motion. My pieces are already founded in expressing "the human condition," I'd like to do that even truer and on a larger scale.