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Art at Work Month

The Tacoma studio tours anchor the Tacoma Art Commission’s Art at Work celebration in November

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Like most truly creative people, Carlos Taylor-Swanson wears many hats. I know him as the owner of Gallery Madera and Madera Fine Decorative Furnishings. He is also a fine woodworker and one of 61 artists taking part in the seventh annual Art at Work studio tours. Did you even know there were that many artists in Tacoma?


On the Gallery Madera Web site I learned that Taylor-Swanson has 25 years of experience “building objects of lasting beauty and utility.” The experience shows. Studio tour visitors can see many of his works in his studio in the old Brewery District downtown.


“For me, Art at Work is about what goes on behind the big purple doors!” Taylor-Swanson says. “My shop/studio will be open both days for touring, and I will have some current, ongoing projects on the benches for people to see and a couple of completed projects on display. Plus I will be demonstrating my marquetry techniques for creating decorative imagery out of natural wood veneer.” 


His studio is a 2,500-square-foot, fully equipped wood shop located in a renovated warehouse. Describing his work, Taylor-Swanson says: “Flowing lines, curves and natural symmetry inspire my designs. A special interest in decorative veneering has allowed me to create unique, artistically inspired pieces out of beautiful, exotic woods while treading lightly on our planet’s resources. My own personal ethics dictate a strong desire to best utilize the materials used in our projects with minimal waste.”


Steve Lawler, an artist who works with Taylor-Swanson, also will be on hand Sunday during the studio tours to talk about his work.


The Art at Work studio tours take place Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 8-9, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Not all studios are open at the same time, but there is a complete schedule available at You can even find a printable brochure on that site with information on all participating artists and photos of their work. 


The tours offer the opportunity to see how and where artists do their work, watch demonstrations, ask questions of the artists, purchase artworks and in some cases try your hand at making works of art. In addition to the 61 participating artists, two schools will take part in the tour — Tacoma Community College and Tacoma School of the Arts.


Anyone who frequents galleries in the Tacoma area should be familiar with Janet Marcavage by now. She’s a printmaker and assistant professor of art at University of Puget Sound. You’ve probably seen her work at UPS and in shows at Grand Impromptu Gallery and the old AOC Gallery. Marcavage invites Tacomans to visit her home studio, a 350-square-foot print shop in a detached garage behind her house. Inside her neat and well-organized studio you’ll see a litho press, intaglio press, rollers, inks, screens, and squeegees for creating lithographs, etchings, relief prints and screen prints. When you arrive (Saturday only), you’ll be able to see a litho portrait in progress — a part of a series of works she calls “molecular portraits” utilizing lithography and embossment. To grasp what these molecular portraits are, you need at least a basic understanding of some scientific principles. 


Marcavage explains: “The molecular portrait series is intended to synthesize the languages of printmaking and genetics, using lithography and intaglio embossment. These portrait images of family and friends are constructed of printed, colored dots along with embossments of their clothing. The color of the dots is taken from DNA testing. Working with dots traditionally found in halftone patterns for commercial and photographic printing processes, I re-present the dots as the four nucleotides that are found in DNA. These ‘likenesses’ comment on how our current technology-based culture affects perception and visual language.”


Marcavage became a new mother in February of this year, and the experience has become the subject of many of her more recent screen prints, which she says she got into because lithography and etching are too labor-intensive and time-consuming for a new mom.


Several screen prints will be on view, and new and previous work will be for sale during the studio tours, which are Saturday only.


Also familiar is Tacoma artist Deborah Greenwood, most recently seen in the Circle of Friends show at Grand Impromptu Gallery. Greenwood’s home studio has evolved over the past 20 years from one small room to the entire lower floor of the house. Natural light and newly installed windows make it a warmer and more pleasant place to be, Greenwood says.


“Working as an artist is a solitary experience. I enjoy the studio tour as it gives me the opportunity to talk about what I enjoy most — art — and in a relaxed setting. I particularly like to participate on the final day of the tour because many people are into their second round of studio visits and enthusiastically bring with them stories of where they have been and what has surprised and inspired them. The exposure benefits both patron and artist. My perspectives are broadened by their wonderings and questions, just as they see firsthand the diversity of artists and their working situations,” she says. 


Greenwood’s most recent work takes the form of window-shade books. The books are made from postcards and computer-generated images. Images are glued onto thin strips of wood veneer that have been sealed. Holes are punched into each strip with an awl and then sewn to hold the books together. These books have the look of early 20th- or late 19th-century scrapbooks. Many of the portraits reveal the private, inner lives of their subjects. For example, Greenwood says: “One man who may have wished to appear well-to-do was dressed in a fine suit and hat; a raised pant leg revealed that he wore no socks.” 


Greenwood’s studio will be open Sunday only. 

Yet another participating artist seen in the Circle of Friends show, and who also had shows in October at both Sandpiper Gallery and Pacific Lutheran University, is Betty Ragan.  Ragan does large-scale photo collages combing contemporary figures with pre-modern architecture. In her home studio (with a darkroom in the basement), she’ll be showing works from two recent series: the Buttoned Down series and some large hand-colored pieces from the Folk Tales series. The former combines buttoned clothing (representative of “the button-down nature of Western culture”) with doors and windows from old buildings; the latter features old architectural details from Austria and Germany.


Ragan’s studio will be open Saturday only.


These are but four artists who will be opening up their studios, and the studio tours are but a part of the much larger Art at Work Month. There will be social events such as the big opening gala at Tacoma Art Museum Oct. 29; classes, symposiums and workshops for artists; and the big Art Slam Nov. 21 at the Rialto Theater, where slides of artworks by Tacoma artists will be combined with spoken word performances.


Find more details on the many Art at Work Month events in this fine rag and on the Tacoma Culture Web site. So get out there, Tacoma, and support your local artists.

Art at Work Month

Tacoma’s Art at Work Month has become a Godzilla’s feast of literary, visual and performing arts. Is there any other town of comparable size in the Western Hemisphere that has anything to match it? I don’t think so. Here are a few highlights:


Oct. 29, 6-9 p.m., Tacoma Art Museum


An animated tale about a family who takes in an abandoned rabbit. When strange occurrences begin, the family dog and cat set out to prove that the new pet is a vampire in bunny clothing. Nov. 1, 2, 8, and 9 at 2 p.m., Tacoma Musical Playhouse 


Papier-mâché puppets, masks, drums, and music will accompany this celebration of life in full color. Nov. 2, 6 p.m., Masa restaurant, Sixth Avenue 


A threesome of Washington’s finest authors — Garth Stein, Thor Hanson, and Jennie Shortridge — gather for an unusual storytelling session. Nov. 5, 7 p.m., Garfield Book Company 


Raise funds for book acquisition for underfunded Tacoma school library programs by buying beautiful book art. Nov. 12, 5-9 p.m., King’s Books 


Provides local artists with nuts and bolts information in order to become and remain successful in the arts. Nov. 15-16, University of Puget Sound campus


An opportunity for local collectors and art enthusiasts to see the art that is being produced in the South Sound region. Nov. 21, 6:30-9 p.m., Rialto Theater


Physical Music is a display of physical agility and musical prowess infused with a delightful sense of humor.  Nov. 28, 1 and 3 p.m., Museum of Glass

LINK: Art at Work month events

LINK: Art at Work broadsides (poets meet letterpress artists)

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