Roger Thomas’ work could be called experimental: His best pieces usually begin as “test” projects for new fusing techniques, he’s often unable to see what his designs will look like before they’re kiln-fused and he leaves the interpretation to his viewers. Practicing Balance (below), a piece built of glass remnants from another work, is a perfect example. “Practicing Balance is one of my best accidents and definitely one of my favorite pieces,” he says. “When you look at it, you think it’s a landscape until you start looking for the usual signals of what a landscape is,” he says. “They’re here, but none of them quite make sense. Vertical lines trigger your brain to think, Oh, those are trees! I’m providing you with so little information that your mind is doing all the work in this piece. And that’s what I want: for my pieces to be abstract until you decide they’re a landscape.”
Think tile is boring (like sterile white shower tiles or machine-made floor squares)? Think again. Bob and Iris Jewett, the creative forces behind Wilburton Pottery, a Bellevue, Wash., ceramics company, hand-make tiles that could (and often do) double as works of art. With more than 500 designs (including people, animals, fruit, fairies and regional natural features such as Mount Hood) and hundreds of border options, these tiles are truly treasures. “Because all of our tiles are handmade, no two are exactly alike,” says Iris. “And we’re interested in so many different things that we’re always getting new design ideas—from art books, customer requests and from nature. We live across the street from a 100-acre park, and Bob goes there to sketch.”
Spokane, Wash., painter Lanny DeVuono’s pieces are a twist on traditional landscapes: She uses boxes as canvases, wrapping the painting over five sides, and chooses industrial scenes (think powerlines and factories) rather than bucolic ones. But she does have a common thread with the original landscape painters. “In the 19th century, painting landscapes was a way to romanticize the loss of nature to the Industrial Revolution,” says DeVuono. “That’s relevant today. When I drive to work every day, I see development eating up land.”
Sure, Barbara Chen’s smiling, dancing women are plump and cast of heavy bronze, but these fleshy figures look decidedly light-stepping. The Richland, Wash., sculptor credits that to a freewheeling imagination (she pictures poses in her mind rather than using plus-sized models) and a constant stream of music (“I listen to everything from ballet to reggae, world music to opera, and that inspires the feel of their poses,” she says). But more than anything, Chen’s work is a product of happiness. “For me, making art is like making music,” she says. “I want it to be something that I enjoy and that other people can enjoy.”
Christine Clark’s metal-and-concrete sculptures are indescribably intriguing: Their materials are both solid and soft; the curved shapes seem somewhat familiar yet are unrecognizable; a small blip of color catches your eye. And that’s exactly what the Portland sculptor intended.
Douglas Smith makes a living painting places and people he’s never seen. The 30-year-old travels the globe via the Internet, falling in love with imagery from foreign cultures that he reinterprets and incorporates into his canvases. First Thursday-goers, for example, are familiar with the vibrant paintings of monks smoking or skipping that the prolific painter sells for no more than $20 in his booth. (“I want to give everybody the chance to buy original artwork at an affordable price,” he says.)