Studio tour offers glimpses of artists at work

This year marks the 20th year that dozens of Whatcom County artists have opened their studios and galleries to the public so visitors might see their creations, visit and chat with them, and in many cases, watch demonstrations of how they make their art.

The Whatcom Artist Studio Tour, which is free and self-guided, runs the first two weekends in October, Oct. 4-5 and 11-12, covering not only Bellingham, but Ferndale, Everson and Lynden.

Bellingham potter Chris Moench, who’s been operating his studio on Yew Street Road since 1994, was one of the founders of the tour and has been on the tour since its first run 20 years ago. He says it’s has been a fabulous way to introduce people to his prayer wheels and the process and place of their creation.

Moench has created several hundred prayer wheels over the years; they are meant to contain written scraps of paper with prayers, and when the wheels are spun, they act as spoken prayers. Sometimes the finished creations are sent to special people -- one was sent to President Obama in 2009 -- or used in ceremonies such as weddings or in times of personal meditation.

“I think my visitors find it an intriguing, contemplative and relaxing experience,” says Moench.

His studio will also feature the Karen Ann Bacon and her paintings; and Casey Potzler’s hand-bound books.

Ramona Abbott has been on the tour more years than not since she moved here in 2001, she says. She works in multimedia, with an emphasis in beads and glass. Her signature Wrist Rocks bracelets are red-carpet couture (and have been included in gift bags for Oscars presenters), fashioned from beads, buttons, trinkets, and oddments new, antique and vintage, from all around the world.

Abbott also creates a wider line of jewelry, including some with a steam-punk sensibility. And how to describe her 2-D pieces both abstract and representational, on mirrors? Safest to say that like so many stops on the tour, you may not have ever seen anything quite like these, and that’s what makes the tour so much fun to both be on, and to come out and see, she says. Her studio is on Noon Road, north of Mount Baker Highway.

Andra Millage, head baker for Let Them Eat Cake says that four years ago, she applied for the tour to show people that cake and sugar should be considered valid media for art. She designs her cakes on a personal basis (they range from coffins on Halloween to footballs to animals) and continues to do the tour because it’s fun, she says.

“To have families enjoy the pieces on display, watch the demonstrations and decorate their own cookies reminds me why I have been carving cakes for more than 30 years,” she says.

“It helps them to see that cakes can be fun, beautiful and tasty all at the same time.” Visitors can watch her demonstrate her skills at her home on Eldridge Avenue during the tour.

Mary Ennes Davis creates mixed media wall sculptures she calls “Guardians” out of reclaimed things normally thrown away. She use vintage pieces, game pieces, license plates, old tools and utensils, metal tins and found objects. Her studio is at the end of North Shore Drive.

“It’s worth the drive,” she says, if you like pouring through bins of collections of things or are fascinated with the recreation of thrown away objects.”

She’s been on the studio tour for five years.

She says that tour is an opportunity to meet the hands that create the work and getting to wander into an artist’s studio is almost like peeking into their minds.

“Opening our doors for four days is also a gift for the artists, says Davis.

“ It can be a lonely pursuit to work by yourself for so many hours. Having the public come for a visit is a welcome treat.”

Liane Redpath-Worlund is a silversmith whose specialty is jewelry and have been on the tour since 2005. By going on the tour, she says, one realizes the process of making art is different for every artist.

“The tour gives the public an opportunity to see various creative methods in process since many of us are demonstrating throughout the tour.”

“For example, most people are surprised to learn that all my jewelry starts with a flat sheet of metal and using many tools becomes something totally different and original, versus just seeing the end result.’

Prior to becoming a participating artist, she admits, she was an onlooker who couldn’t wait until October for this annual creative treasure hunt.

Ben Mann, whose Fairhaven studio has been on the tour map for 10 years, says he has loved seeing the tour’s evolution, and its local impact accelerate. Go on the tour, he says. “It’’s like a backstage pass!”