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I’ve recently been tugged again into my past… receiving an email which began:
“I have a white panel that I think was made by you in 1970″………

He described only briefly such qualities as to make it certainly one of the FoamCore relief paintings that I was making at that time in the Downing Street Studio, in Denver.

Quickly I was in Denver, clambering down steep steps into an unlivable basement space at low rent in which I  made my creative mess without tidy inhibitions. Living just up the block, my decorator had a proper playground so he rarely entered those rooms which hosted a variety of spaces. To the right was a paper room with storage, used for drawing. Beyond was a tidier  space with the sofa-bed-collection of cushions de rigueur to free spirits then. To the left, an antique kitchen functioned mostly for clean-up… since the room back of that functioned as a wood shop & the spray booth so necessary to finish these paintings…  I was again wearing & breathing that process… Oh! The MESS!
Well… you see how immediately I slid into that other past…

My sleuth put clues & poor memory into slow realization that the painting he had was recently sold by a friend who has been collecting my work for years… she was the first to commission a piece from me… my first client, now a deep friend… she had mentioned in one of our phone conversations that she was considering letting it go during a downsizing last year. The writer lives in Oakland, as does she. I phoned her & was reminded that it was a quilted “sampler” of techniques I was exploring with the medium.

He further explained that he teaches sculpting & math… ‘wants to show it to his students. He is curious how it was made. Nice compliment!  First, that he chose to acquire it. Further, that he wants to share it as a possible teaching tool… my past moves forward quickly, putting my archivist to work… scanning the only photographs I have of that early work.

This is his painting:

I added the scan to the response I was writing, which I have re-written to accompany the following gallery of of work now digitized. I’m pleased to have been nudged to further secure them in a second format. I can now happily share them without bringing your hands to the actual leather binder in which they have lived for the intervening years.

I made a series of these “paintings” which are really more bas-relief sculpture using a material called “FoamCor”, which I discovered when I was just out of college & working in Larimer Square as a sometime display artist. One store had acquired full 4X8 foot panels of the material on which had been painted enlargements of the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley which had been made for some elaborate society ball.  Beardsly was a favorite of mine then… & still amazes me.

The material is costructed of two layers of paperboard sandwiching a layer of plastic foam. It is often used in displays for signs or support. It is used as well for mounting flat work in framing.

Somehow I discovered that this material could be manipulated by cutting the paper surface & working to gradually compress the foam layer into lower levels, making a relief of light & shadow. I generally accomplished that using boxwood clay modeling tools.

The completed surface had rough edges from cutting the top paper layer & manipulating the crushed foam layer, all supported by the back layer of paper. They could become rather fragile & flexible, so I glued them into frames I made of unfinished stock for further support. That integral assembly was then brushed with numerous coats of heavy latex exterior house paint, nearly “puttied” to fill into those flaws, smoothing the effect, stabilizing & strengthening the surfaces. Finally, several more coats of the heavy house paint were sprayed on to further develop the surface. Still, even though I was using an “airless” sprayer, there was lots of atomized paint splattering about!

I would buy 4X8 foot panels in the 3/8ths inch thickness at a lumberyard, haul them in my van, negotiate them down those steps to cut them into smaller sizes. Most of these were 24 inches square, but I worked others up to 48 inches square.

I discovered “FoamCor” in thicknesses up to 1″ thick, but I discovered, unfortunately rather too late in one design’s construction, that the foam was too resilient to crush into relief.  I’m aware of a variety which can when wet be molded into curved surfaces… but I never experimented with that. I’ve used it as-is for inked calligraphic work. I’ve used gesso to prepare it as a sturdy painting surface. I have constructed three dimensional boxes or objects… I still keep a supply for projects in my current studio.

One early, rather elaborate project was a sign-board built of numerous layers, cut to mimic fancy molding, with lettering… both “carved” & painted, even gold-leafed to mimic antique woodcarving.

I first celebrated the purity of the sculpted white surface, As I explored the material, experimenting with possibilities, I added various drawing techniques or color to others.

The first two have weathered much travel with me… hanging now in my studio:

Woven lattice patterns occur in my bells much later than this exploration,  portending the Celtic designs I would explore later. Call it simply LATTICE RAVEL.

Several use arrows suggesting direction inside complex patterns…

Color with ink… perhaps an X-RAY OF A WAVE…

In the current moment I title this ROOTS OF LEO TOYE to note the history of my calligraphic doppleganger about whom I’ve written here
TWIST might be a useful title for this one… reminding me of my mother’s braided rugs.

The egg symbol has long been important for me. In VOYAGE NATAL the egg of a birth seems to be involved with wind & waves.This is a large panel [close to 4 feet in my memory] has several layers of the material cut & stacked in a collage making deeper effects.

Ah… ego… I must now title this IT’S ALL ABOUT ME!

This GILDED LEO also observes that this must have been my gilded age…

This BUTTONED MEDIEVAL HOMAGE is acrylic on a flat panel of FoamCore.

Another flat panel… HONORING A RELATIONSHIP… is a veritable cabinet of symbolism painted specifically to gift my long-time [most of a decade from early college years] part-time employers. Martin’s Jewelry was my introduction to the allure of jewelry design.

Such  paintings as these, technically already dancing on the edge of sculpture, would eventually be abandoned as I began working more fully three-dimensional metal & gemstones. Although my BFA is in painting, I’ve played most of my life as a sculptor.

Carmen & Francis Martin deserve their own posting. This collection of symbols would be a good springboard for such reminiscence. Ummm… I sense the approach of another trip into my past…

I’d not splashed in this particular puddle of my history for a too-long time. I celebrate the transfer of one of these paintings & his contacting me… reminding me to make this excursion, moving me to accomplish more of the archival preservation I want & need. Most of all, I’m pleased to feel complimented about this part of my life’s work. Thanks, Matt!

The Kiva… My First Studio

I recently treated myself to a new scanner which allows me to begin making digital copies from my 35mm slide collection, of which there are several thousand images, many snapshots of people & places, but more importantly those which document the work, mostly as jewelry produced in my studios during the last four decades of the last century. 
The desire to view & share all those images without setting up a screen & projector long ago identified the need to bring my archive into a more usable format. The machine is a document scanner as well, so the first experiment was with a newspaper clipping from 1963 describing the studio I had in high school… the first of numerous working places I had been wanting to write about. 
So I can begin what will become a series describing the list of a dozen or so studios which have been my creative life’s bailiwicks. I intend to treat them one at a time since each represents a period & place with sufficient history to warrant a discreet article.
The summer before my senior year at Colby Community High School in NW Kansas, my grandfather “gave” me the farm’s old well house for a studio. This was a two story building with an 9’X9′ approximate footprint, built of a kind of burned red clay hollow tile/brick which used to be common before “cinder/concrete block” became standard. The exterior of which was stuccoed.The building had no roof because the upper area was filled wall to wall with the redwood  tank which held the water produced by the adjacent windmill. By that time an electric pressure pump system had replaced need of either of these tall structures which were landmark/icons on the flat plains, marking for most of a century, each farmstead.
This was the view going toward my home in Kansas… a dozen years ago ago… the Kiva had been torn down long before that…
[…remember that you may click, & click again, on the images to enlarge them…]
Since I first entered what was to become my inner sanctum by climbing a ladder & scrambling onto the tank’s cover, I whimsically dubbed it “The Kiva”, that being a Hopi word I understood to include meaning entering… what I now know was a more subterranean room, through a hole in the roof… I was a romantic kid who even then made free with words. The name stuck, even when I’d left for college & the building became a play house for younger siblings & cousins who still know it thus.
My kid brother, Gary, helped me begin disassembling the tank which was build rather like a straight sided barrel of tongue & groove staves bound with iron straps. I must assume it had been put together before the walls had been laid up around to enclose its volume. When all had come to pieces again, I sawed a 24″X24″ opening in the floor & built a permanent ladder so I could climb between floors on the inside. He also helped get 3 big [4″X8″] beams lifted into place, but if I recall he didn’t grok  patience for my plans required detailing their use … I remember doing most of that work myself.
My nascent-decorator-self imagined the fancy cut details on the cross members which were thus tapered to construct the coffered effect of the ceiling. I cut into the walls with a masonry saw to open two high windows & began detailing it into a comfortable escape into the privacy I never knew in the too small house full of too much family 50 feet away. I now joke that this was a project fueled by youthful testosterone!
The article, was written by my friend Virginia Theimer, with whom I kept touch until her death a couple years ago. I’ll let it tell more of the story from that perspective. She complimented me on the occasion of our 20th class reunion by calling the one person she said she was curious about… neither of us felt very connected to the class we’d come up with in that rural community which we’d both long outgrown. She was a writer & editor of children’s books, so both of us had made careers from our early interests. There is even a hint toward my interest in bells as I drew a bell I remember buying in an import store in Denver one family vacation… a Japanese wind chime hung from one of those beams under the eaves… fifteen years before making my first bell!
The barn, which was one of my favorite subject for drawing & paintings is seen here in colored chalk as background for the BARN bell which it inspired years later. It too changed when the wonderful gambrel roof was blown off in a straight wind… not one of the cyclones the plains are famous for! The roof was rebuilt as a simple gable & the entire building was covered with corrugated metal, losing all the character I loved.
These mementos  & my memories are all I have left of my first studio. I intend to share more about the spaces I’ve made for my working life, even as I do not have  photographs of many, as I have not always had a camera. This list of GRB studios is an early working tool to help me organise future posts. I need to develop a corresponding time line… my memory is fuzzy about dates for some:

    •    The Kiva… Colby, Kansas [1962-64]
    •    Race Street…. Denver, Colorado [1964-67]
    •    Downing Street One… Denver, Colorado [1967]
    •    The Haunted House… Denver, Colorado [1967-68]
    •    Pearl Street… Denver, Colorado [1968-69]
    •    11th & Downing… Denver, Colorado [1969-70]
    •    The Highlands… Bryant Street, Denver, Colorado [1970-74]
    •    AUm — Tlacquepacque Village, Sedona, Arizona [1974-75]
    •    Copper Bottoms… Sedona
    •    Upwillow… Sedona, Arizona [1977-87]
    •    Studio 3… Sedona, Arizona [1987-88]
    •    The Aerie Garret… Sedona, Arizona [1988-90]
    •    The Bothy… Occidental California [1990-96]
    •    The Cabinet… Seattle, Washington [1996-98]

    •    The Mews… Seattle, Washington [1998-2000]

    •    The Hold at Souncliff… Vashon Island, Washington [Current]

This last scan shares a piece of calligraphy I made for the Sedona Open Studio newspaper, which the artists published monthly for several years to publicise our tour. It fictionally describes Michaelangelo’s studio, seeming a simple celebration of the complexities these places of “study”. Over the years I’ve experienced the wonder & curiosity these places engender in others… & even in myself. They become intrinsic to the mundane work & sometime magic of the artistic processes. I celebrate studios!

Studio Bell Display…

I am completing a project which was years in incubation & several recent weeks in execution. The bells have always been displayed for Open Studio on the same tent cards I take to the American Bell Association’s conventions. It was a temporary solution which worked for more than six years.

Now I have built two new panels which will double the linear space to display the sample line along the concrete walls of the Hold, my studio in the foundations of Soundcliff. While they are simple to the eye, I had numerous complications to build them with my amateur carpentry & my aged tools…

I used common materials from the local small box lumber/hardware place. I danced a Montessori… jigging minimal material into what promises more optimal form for the function of displaying the ever growing collection of bells.

Now many of the cords must be shortened to suit the new format… a process I will continue while enjoying the deep dive I’m making into reorganization &
cleaning the entire studio. I enjoy the spontaneous prescriptions I get from some unknown source which I seem all-the-more to respect, advising me to take another purge of the material effects I have such propensity to collect. I love practicing the yoga of clearity in space. I’ve practiced frequently, over many ages. I’m trusting once more that I can live better without all of those dusty contingencies.

I did save some few of those… again… trusting as well certain wisdom which has grown thus through many such cullings.

This was my sculpture in the pure present which now supports other function…