Richard Nevels, who lives on Sand Road near Bellingham, has worked as an editor and a photojournalist, but one of his passions is creating driftwood boxes.
Artwood gallery in Fairhaven is featuring a retrospective of his work through October. After that, Nevels is returning to his passion of photography, as a springboard for a greeting-card company; see richardnevels.com.
Question: How did your penchant for driftwood creations begin?
Answer: Driftwood has always been part of my life. Thanksgiving Day walks with my Dad on the Lake Michigan beach near our home on the south side of Chicago always yielded up some precious little stick that ignited the imagination of this young child of the '50s.
A chunk I cut from of a long-dead, sun-bleached root system protruding out of the water of Otter Lake in northern Wisconsin became my first real art piece. I gave the pine sculpture to my Mom, as any 13-year-old would do. Today it sits on our piano next to a photo of my Mom in her wedding dress.
Q: What's your educational background?
A: The mid-1970s saw a mass exodus of young adults from wherever they were to some place else. I joined the migration in 1975 and headed to Nelson, B.C., to attend Notre Dame University College for my senior year. I graduated with a bachelor's degree in sociology ... and a table base fashioned from a root system found along the shore of Kootenay Lake.
Q: Then what?
A: Flathead Valley of Montana was my next stop in my wanderings. The porch of my cabin on Flathead Lake in Bigfork became the site of my first major collection of driftwood. But how to make a living with it was the question.
The answer came one day shortly after moving to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in 1980. I was out plying my trade one day as associate editor of The Island Record and I happened into the Island Artisans Gallery, the local artists' co-op. There I saw my future ... driftwood boxes!
I became friends with their creator, Michael Moss. He taught me the art and science of band-saw box making. Combining this newfound knowledge, my island driftwood collection and my marketing experience, False Bay Boxes, named after the place we lived, was born. I had become a professional beachcomber.
Q: How did you start making money from your works?
A: Over the ensuing years, my wife and business partner, Kathy, and I would participate in most of the major juried art shows on the West Coast and be represented by 30 high-end shops and fine woodworking galleries. I, along with Kathy and a couple helpers, created over 12,000 boxes during my career ... and sold every one! Plus I was blessed to spend more time on San Juan Island beaches than anyone you can think of.
Q: How would you describe your boxes?
A: The artistic styling of False Bay Boxes has been best described as "rough-and-smooth." My boxes are cut in such a way as to reveal the beautiful grain lying just beneath the surface patina while retaining some measure of the original driftwood.
This interpretation comes from my desire to work with the wood, to listen to it, to find the box hidden in its form. With the "rough-and smooth" style, two worlds are revealed, and all things are in balance.
I first learned this method of seeing the world in balance while I lived in the Flathead and was a photojournalist. My mentor and editor/janitor of the Kalispell Weekly News, George Ostrom, gave me the office camera, a handful of Tri-X, and told me to "Sleep with your camera." I did, and the lens opened my eyes to a different way of interpreting the world. Rod Stewart's lyrics often come to mind - "Every Picture Tells a Story."
I learned to tell stories on film and took that knowledge with me onto the beach.
Q: Now what?
A: I am celebrating my 30th year as a boxmaker with an exhibit at Artwood of select pieces gleaned from my personal archive. Along with my personal collection, I have created a small number of boxes for the Artwood exhibit. This will be the final show of my anniversary year, and because I technically retired False Bay Boxes at the end of 2011, it will be my final show for the foreseeable future.
Personal creativity cannot be locked up in a bottle, or a box. To satisfy my artistic imperative, I am returning to photography as a means of expression. Specifically, I have started a photo greeting card company with national distribution.
Images from my days shooting black-and-white, slides and color negatives are featured, along with the best of my current digital work. The first distillation of my work can be viewed, and cards can be purchased, on my website. I shoot in the photojournalistic style. My goal is to capture every-day moments from an out-of-the-ordinary perspective.
Photography and box making require a lot of time outdoors. Skiing, hiking and beachcombing are my three favorite outdoor activities. Coincidence? I think not!
Reach MARGARET BIKMAN at firstname.lastname@example.org or 715-2273.