I’m a card carrying artist with an MFA in gold and silversmithing from the State University of New York, College at New Paltz, New Paltz, New York; Prior to that, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in fine art with Honors from Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, my hometown. I moved to New York City after I received my MFA to work as a goldman in a dental lab on 57th Street and Central Park. It was a move to get myself into the heart of the art scene in NYC, while having a good job to start paying down those student loans. I was selling a line of handmade jewelry at Julie: Artisans Gallery on Madison Avenue along with the lab work.

I didn’t last long at the dental lab and was out on the mean streets of New York City within six months. I stayed in touch with Francois Deschamps, then a professor of photography at New Paltz, who told me of a goldsmith in Camden Maine that was looking for help. I contacted him and he flew me up to Camden for an interview. I got the job and was packing my bags for a new life on the coast of Maine in the idyllic little harbor town of Camden. The goldsmith was Michael Good and he makes a line of  eighteen karat gold jewelry that is based on the hyperbolic paraboloid; all hand hammered from thin gauge gold sheet. I began to explore the Maine woods while living there and was quite taken with some of the wildflowers growing there. I wanted to try and make molds of them and create realistic replicas so I could enjoy their beauty indefinitely. My first attempt was the red trillium which I molded in latex rubber and cast in epoxy resin. I painted it with acrylic paint using an airbrush and it came out pretty well. Next I tried a pink ladyslipper orchid that turned out very well. I was enjoying the flower modelmaking more than the jewelry and decided to switch paths from jewelry to botanical models. I contacted one of my professors from New Paltz, Robert Ebendorf, who I knew had connections with the Smithsonian Institution. He gave me a number to call and at least it got me started.

I was told that the Smithsonian had a small model shop where most of the repairs to the exhibits were done, but their exhibits were not done in-house. Most of the exhibits for the Smithsonian that were for natural history exhibits are done by a handful of companies and I was given the name of Chase Studio in Cedarcreek, Missouri as the most likely to be looking for help. I sent Terry Chase, the director of Chase Studio, slides of the trillium and the ladyslipper. He was interested enough to fly me down to Cedarcreek for an interview. I accepted the job and found myself packing for a new adventure–this time in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. It would take an entire chapter to describe the scope of the work that is done in a studio like this, but I’ll try to sum it up by saying they make everything that you see in the very best Natural History museums like the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. I made botanical models, insect models, sculpted fish and sharks, the list goes on and on. I reached a point where I wanted to incorporate what I had learned from the museum world with my background as an independent artist.

Cedarcreek Missouri is a tiny town in the heart of the Ozark Mountains of southwest Missouri and quite isolated from any sort of art scene. I began looking for an opportunity to get myself to a larger urban area and found an opening in a company that built zoos and aquarium habitats and was looking to expand into museum exhibits. The Larson Company, located in Tucson Arizona, was the birthplace for the artificial rockwork so commonly seen in most zoos today. They flew me to Tucson to interview, put me up in a nice motel close to the airport and lent me a company truck with dual fuel tanks and encouraged me to explore the desert. That got my attention and soon I was packing again for my new digs in the desert. I was hired to head up a new research and development department for the company exploring the use of various materials for use in marine aquariums and zoo environments. My first project was to create artificial soft corals for a new aquarium in Genoa, Italy. Live soft corals can’t be kept in aquariums if fish are also present because they get bored and eat the corals. The real challenge for me was to find a material to cast them in that would be flexible and look life-like and hold up to a salt water environment,  which can be corrosive to most materials.

One of the more interesting projects I was involved with was a traveling exhibit titled “Backyard Monsters”. It was a series of giant, robotic insects set in various garden environments. There was a praying mantis on a rose bush, a giant beetle and a black widow to name a few. The last project I supervised was a series of five dioramas for the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, Georgia. The dioramas depicted life on earth in five distinct eras from Pre-Cambrain to the Missippian Era. I even got to do a couple of botanical models and I went on a collecting trip for the company to the Sequoia  Groves near Yosemite National Park in California. The first spring I moved to Tucson was a record year for the desert wildflowers. It really got me stoked to try doing some botanical models of these beauties. The desert mariposa lily was the first one I tried. I showed it to Ken Stockton, director of exhibits and planning at the Arizon-Sonora Desert Museum. He asked to borrow the model to take to a board meeting at the museum and called back for a bid on sixty four species! When they got my bid, the number was thinned down to thirty or so, but I had a solid contract. From 1992 until 2006 I created an exhibit of desert wildflowers in bloom for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum; fifty species in all are represented.

I moved to Oregon in 2006 to get away from the desert and the drought in the southwest–a hundred eighty degree change. During my time in Tucson I picked up another passion that was, in a way, related to the botanical models. I had to collect most of the material I made models of and keep it alive while the work was being done. This in itself can require quite a bit of horticultural skill and I found small trees to collect while I was collecting for the museum. It was possible to keep bonsai in the desert but it required a LOT of watering and tender loving care. The move to Oregon changed all that–it rains a good deal more here and it’s much less work to keep trees alive in shallow pots. I hope to post lots of before and after work shots of my trees, my recycled artwork and anything else I might find related to where I am in my career at this time on this blog. Thank you for reading about me–please stay tuned as this blog develops and grows.

 

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