Rob Holmgren seeks grace, beauty, whimsy in his wood sculptures


Rob Holmgren

Rob Holmgren of Bellingham will show his sculptures at the former GB Heron site, 1305 Cornwall Ave., during the monthly Downtown Art Walk, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 and continuing from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2-3.


Rob Holmgren was suggested to me as an Artist Profile subject by my friend Lane Morgan, who schooled me in The Bellingham Herald's arts and entertainment calendar before it became Take Five. So I heed her plugs for folks worthy of mention.

Lane says Rob, a contractor by day, is going to show his sculptures at the former GB Heron site, 1305 Cornwall Ave., during the monthly Downtown Art Walk, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, and continuing from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2-3.

Lane says "you can tell how much he loves - really reveres - wood, in its many stages and incarnations."

Here is Rob's story.

Question: What's your background?

Answer: I was born in 1954 and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a backwater of small towns, wilds and water. I grew up a third-generation carpenter but went to college and became a biologist. Moved to Alaska, worked for government agencies as a builder and in salmon aquaculture.

I moved to Seattle for a master's degree, but plans change. Met a woman, bought a fixer home, fixed it and made some money. Escaped Seattle to Bellingham in 1996. Next thing I know there are two great kids, Haley, 13, and Ben, 15, a life in Whatcom County, and 25 years have slipped by, leaving me a left-leaning Northwester who can enjoy the rain.

Q: How did you become interested in the artistic side of working with wood?

A: An important transition between the two is this: I have been self-employed a good part of my life, so I can appreciate the conservative leanings of our free enterprise system, but I have held tight to the ideals of my youth, which are toward humanism, a just world and honesty.

Q: So how did you pursue that?

A: Back in early college I encountered some great art, mostly of the classical sort in Chicago. I dreamed. My mother became an artist in her later years. I loved watching her develop over time. She painted some of my natural world dreams from a few verbal sentences. I look at them still and fall into those dreamscapes.

Somewhere I determined two things about art; I had an artful (romantic) bent and I intended to make art a part of my later years once I got the life experience to frame "experience."

For me, it started in the wood I have handled daily for 55 years. Even in simple two-by-fours, some feel different - good. I am good at working with wood.

That sounds cliché ..... I get a "sense" a design or project will be or is good.

The rightness appears upfront many times. So when I encounter natural things like a piece of driftwood or a beautiful shape that remains after a needed saw cut, I just get excited.

A prominent and good artist in Seattle was a building client. Often we would discuss the merits of "there is no bad art." I have always had a hard time with this. So much to me instantly feels right or not. Many times the piece I find is not quite as I would want to see it.

So, I change it, guarding the good aspect, to a point it works. Man, that can take time, thought, and can be so frustrating. Sometimes I have a piece and really have to force it, almost totally change it. Other times it starts with an idea and then I search out the material to make it take shape.

Q: How do you describe your art?

A: Much of my art looks at the life of wood from seed to log, lumber, and back to dust. A lot is with spalted or slightly rotted wood. Much is about combining different elements of woodworking with a skewed or whimsical perspective. Then, in the end it gets a classy looking mounting base; most are ebonized hardwood, which is blackened wood with grain.

Q: What inspires you as artist?

A: I'll quote from my artist statement: "Art is everyday life spoken in a language of grace, beauty, and form; to marry a skewed perspective with common things to yield something special; to create a form that can weather the fickle evolution of our culture." I guess my hang-up and inspiration is the grace (plus) beauty (plus) a little whimsy.

Q: How much are your pieces?

A: I want to make art that is accessible everyone in cost and thought. As of now, my sculpture ranges in cost from a $5 buckeye chestnut on a walnut base to "Above the Fray," a Siddhartha inspired piece for $2,000 (I probably don't want to sell it yet).

But I am uncertain about much in the art world, price included. It has been less than a year that I have made the sculptures. Of the 25 or so complete, the average is $100 to $300. I will probably get a better feel after this weekend show.

Q: What's good about living in Bellingham?

A: I love this area. It feels like the small town I grew to love, yet has a touch of big-city class.

When I moved here we lived across Chestnut from the Herald building. In the café downstairs one morning a friend and I had coffee. Of the 10 or so people around there were college people, a farmer, factory folk from GP, and two policemen. I asked the cops about a traffic situation that led to a disagreement about the law. It became a good-natured discussion with all above involved.

This was a place for me - good coffee and good people talking about things that mattered, not the weather.

My scarce free time is spread around. I love mushroom hunting, cooking, fishing, some hunting, road-tripping, reading, some writing, camping, and probably most of all, mentally speculating on the mysteries around me, be it carpentry or the "bizarity" of human behavior. Love to make what I need, be it a tool, an art piece, or a nice meal.

Now I have added artwork into the mix, but I love it. Some evenings it reaches towards midnight and the drive to make this art just won't let up.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or Follow Bellingham Entertainment on Facebook or @bhamentertainme on Twitter.

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