If you have ever skipped rocks across the river, you know that not just any stone will do. It needs to be flat, smooth, of a particular heft and weight.
Denise Wagner, a Kennewick, WA, artist who specializes in Japanese Wrapped Stones, is well aware of what the perfect rock looks like. The major difference between her and the rock skipper, however, is that the LAST thing she’ll do upon finding that perfect stone is hurl it into the water.
“I like to find stones that are oval and somewhat flat so they will lay well in a display,” Wagner explains.
“The stones I find come from all over. I take walks, bike rides, and strolls around the Columbia and Umatilla Rivers, and that’s where I find my rocks.”
So what, exactly are Japanese Wrapped Stones?
They are rocks, wrapped in natural cane, using Japanese basketry and knotting techniques. These wraps can be extraordinarily complicated or deceptively simple, but the resulting fusion of rock and cane exudes a sense of peace, calm, and tranquility within intricacy of design. Wagner, a licensed home health care provider, first encountered the art form through a “wonderful gentleman” she met while working at an independent living facility.
Wrapped Stones Caught Her Eye
“He noticed my looking at his wrapped rock and was eager to teach me. So we made an appointment for a lesson in the activities room.
“I brought the Starbucks coffee, and he brought his friend and his box of tools and tricks. It was there that I wrapped my first rock.”
And she was hooked. After that first lesson, Wagner went home and practiced on all kinds of wraps, both traditional designs and ones that she thought up on her own. Using natural cane that she either leaves its organic color or dyes to a desired hue, Wagner creates groupings of stones on wooden or ceramic platters. The compendium of shapes, forms, and design synthesize into a coalescent medley of mood.
Again, calm is the word, and it’s an appropriate one. Because in order to wrap rocks in the first place, you have to be calm.
“You need plenty of patience,” Wagner says.
“Setting up, preparing, wrapping, re-wrapping when it comes undone, drying, spraying — it’s a process. In order to fully focus, I need to be free of distractions and in a creative mood.”
Rocks, and People
In many ways, working with the rocks is like working with people, she adds. You simply can’t rush through the process, and if you even try, you’ll lose out on something beautiful.
“As a licensed home care provider, I work with all kinds of seniors.
“Like working with my clients, wrapping stones takes patience. Each stone is unique. Some are smooth and easy to work with, and some are a bit rough around the edges.
“These stones have been around a long time, and I just imagine the stories they could tell. The stones’ stories would be just as interesting as those of my clients, except with my human clients, I DO get to hear the stories!”
Rocks around the Region
Wagner has shown her Japanese Wrapped Stones at the Indigo and Blue Shows at Drewboy Creative and Gallery Aglow at Gallery at the Park, both in Richland; the Serene Abundance Studio in Florence, OR; and the East Benton County Historical Museum in Pasco, WA. Working from her dining room table, she uses the cane itself for tension, tightly grasping the end as she makes the first wrap. The last wrap she tucks into the back, holding down with a bit of glue. The resulting design is sprayed with sealant and left to dry.
It’s very important to keep the finished wrapped stones out of wet or damp places such as outdoors or bathrooms, she says, as the moisture can cause the cane to relax, loosen, and unravel.
For Wagner, rocks, like people, aren’t simply things you pick up and throw away. They’re individual, unique, and capable of becoming works of art. You just have to take the time to look at them, work with them, and see their potential.
Contact Wenaha Gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.