Tales of Tweed
I grew up in a family of artists on Wollochet Bay in Gig Harbor, WA, with the smell of salt water and turpentine. One of the most powerful influences in my life as an artist was my high school art teacher, Don Allyn, a close associate of Morris Graves, leader in the Northwest’s Mystical Painters Movement. My close association with Don, as teacher, mentor, and friend, allowed me to sit in on conversations, to observe his life including incredible gardens and relevant art that signified the Mystical Movement. Don’s influence helped me to form my own ideas about art. I have chosen a more illustrative, colorful, and positive version for myself and have been driven to create art ever since. I am an Impressionist plein-air painter, choosing the adventure of finding and painting the places where nature and humans meet and coexist.
I have evolved into a documentary artist dedicated to preserving—and contributing to—the changing identity of the Pacific Northwest. I have painted from the Hoh Rain Forest, where my parents had a home, all the way around the Olympic Peninsula to my current home on the Key Peninsula, finding the extraordinary in a seemingly ordinary stand of trees, a rushing stream, or the last remaining farms in the Skagit Valley. When that happens, I often pull over with my easel and brushes and begin to paint. It doesn’t matter whether I am wet and freezing in the rain forest or in a crowded corner of a concert hall; I show up, work at my craft, and share the process and results with others. I have pursued my vocation for more than 30 years.
Some of my oil paintings are the size of a notebook; the largest is 16 feet tall. That work in particular, is a portrait of a giant old growth fir tree. This painting is one of my strongest environmental statements and represents a theme that flows through all of my work: viewers viscerally experience the moment, in this case the scale and power of nature. Nature needs to be in on the conversation about whether we use up our natural treasures or work to save them. I believe by documenting an icon like the “Ancient Fir,” we keep its spirit alive and help preserve the beauty and identity of the Puget Sound region.
In 1995 I began going out into the world “unplugged” so to speak, sharing the art of sketching and painting in public. I began with sketching musicians during their live performances at the Friends of the Holidays benefit concert for local families in need at The Swiss in Tacoma, held each December and now in its 17th year. I am pleased to have been involved from the beginning. As I sketch and dance, the images come into existence. The images capture the feel of the milieu and the music and are often used for cover art for the Friends’ CD each year. I’ve done the same type of performance art at the outdoor blues festival in Portland, and I am now the official event painter at Centrum’s Jazz Port Townsend, doing spontaneous sketching and painting of world-class musicians. I also am a regular fixture at the monthly Words and Music house concerts on the Key Peninsula, supporting small intimate venues includes poets and musicians. I am excited to be out showing people what it is to be a painter. Not many people get to see the process behind art. Sharing like this is messy and unpredictable, far removed from the perfection of a structured and orderly studio environment. But I love the immediacy of this style and interpreting other artists at their work. I am a passionate advocate of protecting and preserving, and giving a voice to art, to nature, and to our own natures, painting to document and capture and preserve our shared experiences.
My community on the Key Peninsula has suffered a lot in recent years. Families have lost their homes, many have had to sell off land or timber to make ends meet, other families have been broken beyond repair. Even as our economy improves for some, many are left behind. My response has been to work in our local schools to bring art into our children’s lives. I have introduced them to creating art not for its own sake, and also to show these children they are not casualties of our times but rather a vital part of them, and that they can capture and respond to that through art. We use whatever is at hand and whatever they do gets finished, whether that means using found objects for small sculptures, or the 50-foot mural we painted in the entryway of Minter Creek Elementary. Creating memorable, lasting statements like this not only helps students connect with our environment, but can show them how to shape it and save it, and maybe how to shape and save themselves, too. That to me is social justice in action.
All of my work has come to me out of honoring things I see that perhaps our often commercially driven society does not honor or even notice. These are parts of our collective identity, and the further we get from them the more fractured we become. Art is a soul-making tool and should be accessible as such. It’s not about creating something to sell, it’s about contributing to a culture of beauty and creativity and administering social justice. It’s about the adventure and challenge of discovering the essence of nature inside ourselves. That is environmental action to me. Following in the footsteps of the Impressionists has been my lifelong path, but I have evolved into documenting real life rather than studio models because I feel an urgency to catch what’s rapidly disappearing, whether it is forest or farmland, or something as ephemeral as a poet’s words or a singer’s voice. That is identity to me. It’s all part of who we are, and without it we are lost.