In the world of dangerous work, “professional artist” doesn’t rank up there with “loggers,” “deep-sea fishermen,” or “commercial airline pilots,” but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its moments.
“I’ve been stalked by cougars, I’ve had bears come up to me and the people around me freak out,” says Andy de la Maza, a Walla Walla sculptor who works in bronze, metal, and stone. Lest one wonder just what kind of studio de la Maza inhabits, he was in the field at the time. Wilderness hiking plays a major part in his collecting specimens to be used in his art, which incorporates petrified wood, geodes, stone, bone, and one of de la Maza’s favorites, mushrooms.
“I love mushroom hunting,” de la Maza says, adding that he — like many people the world over — relishes the quest, one he has been avidly pursuing for more than ten years. So enamored is he of the shape, form, variety, and beauty of the humble fungus that he “immortalizes them” by casting them, at Walla Walla’s T. Hunter Bronze, into life-size metal sculpture, exquisite for detail and accuracy of replication.
“It’s hard to get a casting of mushrooms; they are so delicate,” de la Maza explains. “It’s taken a lot of knowledge of the mushroom’s unique characteristics, as well as practice in casting it, with a good dose of luck on my side.”
Some of that luck has to do with more than figuring out how to capture the essence of a fragile organic item without mutilating it in the process. Like most mushroom hunters, de la Maza enjoys eating what he finds, and is acutely aware that there are risk factors to the activity. Indeed, an old Czech adage observes:
All mushrooms are edible. Some of them only once.
In his personal experience, de la Maza concurs.
“I poisoned myself several years ago eating a false morel, but instead of running the other way and quitting, I went out and started buying books.” Bit by bit he educated himself in what was false and what was real, what was edible and what was . . . not. His repertoire of bronze mushroom sculptures includes fittingly titled pieces such as “King Bolete,” “Chanterelle,” “Morel,” and, more ominously, “Death.” It’s nothing to be afraid of: you just don’t eat it.
In regards to fear, de la Maza maintains a poised attitude toward danger, preferring to see it as an essential, and expected, part of adventure. In addition to regular encounters with wild creatures (“You know, every time somebody sees a bear, they freak out, but you just kind of look at them and they turn around”), de la Maza often finds himself, literally, between a rock and a hard place:
“There is nothing quite like pounding into a glass cliff face, trying to extract a piece of petrified wood.
“It’s quite laborious, and satisfying at the same time. I bring a piece home to my cutting room, make a slice, and see the natural beauty inside.”
Much of this natural beauty, which remains hidden until the artist’s eye and hand bring it forth, is remarkably nearby, with de la Maza scouring the Washington, Oregon, and Idaho mountains for their treasures; the Mattawa Saddle Mountains, a day trip away, are a rich source of petrified wood. Nearby Idaho is easily accessible by auto, but the real finds require some, or actually a lot of, walking.
“Some of the places in Idaho are brutal. The sign says it’s two miles up, so it must be two miles up and two miles back, but hiking it feels like four miles up and two miles back.
“The harder it is to get to, the better the material you find generally is.”
Even home has its hazards, with de la Maza’s studio and living space frequently blending one into the other.
“My work is on my kitchen table. Throughout the entire house. In the yard, in buckets, in the cutting room . . . on window sills, in piles I trip over on the floor.
“It’s my lifestyle.”
He hikes. He sculpts. He researches. He scrabbles over rocks. The fusion of thinking with action results in artwork that celebrates the shape and dimensionality of life itself.
“I strive to capture the beauty of these found objects. I’m looking for a window into nature, that can be added to the chaos of civilized living.”
Contact the 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 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.
Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists. Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.