In 1947 the Bellevue Art Museum held its first ARTSfair, attracting 30,000 people to the then-small town of Bellevue. Over the years, the likes of Chuck Close, Patti Warashina and Dale Chihuly have showed their chefs d’oeuvre at the event. Fast-forward to the last weekend of July 2016: thousands of people flocked to the fair to see the work of over 300 independent artists. Here’s a look at a few of the artists, what inspires them and why they love BAM ARTSfair.
The Creative Technician
Steve Pell, a first-time participant in the BAM ARTSfair, would more readily describe himself as a creative technician than an artist—“Am I am artist? Not sure. More of a technician who likes to do things very well, in a creative manner.” As a past student of geology and minerology, he brings a unique appreciation for nature and respect for the earth to the sharp, modern furniture pieces he crafts for his company Pellican Design, Inc. in Bellingham, Wash.
“I do have friends that indeed inspire one another. Felix M. Solomon is a local Lummi Nation/Coast Salish master carver who brings a unique cultural and traditional element to his work. We have collaborated on numerous projects. David Scherrer is a local photographer who shoots many of my pieces, but his own artwork is stunning.”
“My inspiration has evolved over the years. Almost everything done now is based on some loose form of geologic or scientific origin—predominantly atomic structures and crystal forms of some sort. During a graduate course in optical mineralogy, I was fascinated by how light refracted in various minerals; the resulting images were nature’s pure art.”
“The landscape in Washington is by all means a huge source [of inspiration], from basalt columns in the Columbia Plateau to the weathered sandstone found along the coast.”
“I grew up next to a furniture designer-slash-builder [Ken Emerson] who studied with [Danish woodworker] Tage Frid at the Rhode Island School of Design. That was a major turning point: working under [Emerson] was like having a personal instructor in technique and design. What he produced opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities of almost any material. His mantra was ‘Anyone can learn technique. It takes a great deal more to create something useful, well engineered and interesting to look at.’”
“In my eyes it’s the design [that’s important], not an exotic wood from the rain forest which may never grow back. To be able to use something like bamboo—which is essentially a grass—to create an object with a simple shape but a complex structure is very satisfying from a consumer perspective . . . There is a finite limit to everything in the earth’s crust, so it makes sense to use it wisely.”
Advice for aspiring artists
“Find a mentor or business that will provide you with the necessary knowledge to push yourself to unknown limits. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Most importantly realize we all learn differently, and your creative side may not come until after you gain experience in some entirely different pursuit.”
To view Pell’s art, visit pellicandesigninc.com.
A longtime veteran of the BAM ARTSfair, Vicki Fish enjoys traveling the “relatively short” distance from her home in Bozeman, Montana, to Bellevue each year to display her 3-D mixed-media art. Inspired by the nature and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest, Fish creates wall art out of various materials including wood, metal and objects she finds at antique stores.
“It has a significant reputation; it’s well juried. I keep coming back because I get a lot of repeat customers there and there’s a lot of interest. It’s a pretty savvy crowd there—that’s not the case at all art festivals. Bellevue is a good market for me, and the people seem pretty well-educated [about art].”
“I keep coming back because I do see a lot of people there who keep coming back to visit and that’s pretty nice. And that’s not just customers but also other artists. So that makes my job much more enjoyable.”
“I think [my art] resonates with people in the Northwest . . . It seems like people in the Northwest get what I’m doing and they relate to my work.”
“There’s an awesome community of people out there doing [art festivals], not necessarily in your area. You get like family with these people even though you don’t see them very often. It’s a unique thing to do for a living, and it’s a pretty tight community.”
“There’s a lot of shoptalk that goes around for sure [laughs]. We check out each other’s artwork and we offer suggestions. [The feedback] is meaningful.”
“I find inspiration mostly in nature. I do a lot of animal stuff, human nature and animals. And also I get a lot of inspiration from the stuff that I find. I do a lot mixed media and found objects . . . I’m very often inspired by the story behind the things that I find.”
“Let’s say I go into an antique store and find this photograph. I look at the people and I just think about the history. I think about their life, maybe what they did, why they look how they look. It could be even a coin or something well used, or you can tell it was well loved, I just wonder about who [used] it. I’ll center a piece around that, around the history of that object.”
Pursuing art full-time
“When my son was in high school, I decided I really wanted to make a change and make my living as an artist. In the summer I would load him up and drag him all over to shows, since in the summertime he wasn’t in school. And then when he graduated from high school, I started doing [my art] full-time.”
Advice for aspiring artists
“Keep making [your art], and if you want to make a living as an art festival artist, I would say go to some festivals, talk to some artists and see what you’re in for.”
To view Fish’s art, visit vickifish.com.
Though she is relatively new to the BAM ARTSfair, Amy Fields is no stranger to ceramics. She discovered her love for pottery at 8 years old and studied ceramics at Alfred University in western New York. After a few years spent wishing for someday, she quit her day job to pursue her art full-time. A resident of Portland, Ore., Fields values the natural textures of the Pacific Northwest and loves the chance to get out on the road to attend fairs and meet customers. This year at the fair, Fields was awarded one of 10 Carol Duke Artist Awards of Excellence, earning her a cash prize and a guaranteed spot in next year’s ARTSfair.
“It’s very well organized. The people who put it on just really know how to cater to the artists.”
“Most artists work pretty solitarily, so it’s really nice to get out and meet other artists that are working in different media, because I don’t think I would get the opportunity to really meet them [otherwise].”
Connecting with customers
“It’s really nice to meet the customers who buy my work. There’s pluses and minuses of both: I do like to show work in galleries, but when I actually get to meet the customer who will take home my piece, there’s a little deeper connection there.”
“I think it’s just stunningly beautiful out here. Mostly [what inspires me] is nature, but it’s a little bit more than that. It’s kind of the repetition and the textures that happen. Sometimes you get a little bogged down with work and it gets a little bit stale, and then I go out for a hike and I get all these new ideas. I look specifically at the texture of those barnacles on a rock—they’re just so amazing. Or the way bones fit together. I collect a lot of bones out in the woods, or rocks that have really interesting patterns and textures.”
“[Smooth] pottery tends to be a little bit friendlier to the hand. I’m just always amazed by people who come up to my [barnacle-inspired] spiky pieces and want to touch them. I think, well it will hurt, but you know, it’s wonderful that people want to touch even the spiky things.”
Why she chose ceramics
“It comes back to the tactile nature of it. It just feels very wonderful in the hand. You know, that wet clay is very smooth and sensuous, and you can manipulate it directly with your hands. I’ve never enjoyed drawing very much, but drawing in clay or carving in clay, you can have a little more direct way of going about it.”
Deciding to pursue art full-time
“I had one job for 10 years in which I just kept thinking: soon I’ll be able to make my own work. And then I finally just realized that soon needed to be now. I just kind of took a leap. I just never thought that [I could figure out] how to make it financially worthwhile . . . Life’s too short, you know? You have to do what you want to do. I just think if it’s really something important to you, you make it work.”
To view Fields’ art, visit amyfields.me.