My first prayer wheel memorialized a hometown tragedy...
On June 10, 1999, tragedy struck my hometown Bellingham. A gas pipeline ruptured and leaked 237,000 gallons of fuel into a creek in a city park. The gas exploded. Flames roared downstream 1.5 miles through a forested valley. Two 10-year-old boys and an 18-year-old young man died in the accident. A swath of forest and a rehabilitated salmon stream were destroyed.
In those golden hours before the world caught fire, the "boys" were doing what boys do – fly fishing and horsing around in a beautiful place called Whatcom Falls Park. Whatcom Falls Creek, which winds through the Park's 80-foot-tall fir trees, was a magical place indeed. It was a creek musical enough for waterfalls and deep enough for swimming, wild enough for otters and meditative enough for casting a fly line across leaf-blurring current. In short, it was the kind of place I played at when I was a kid. It simply never occurred to me – or most families with active, outdoor-loving kids – what dangers flow through seemingly serene landscapes.
When the explosion occurred, I was standing a few miles away in another public park with my parents – right on top of the same pipeline. As I drove home, inky black smoke puffed over the horizon. Everyone was panicked.
I was deeply troubled by the loss of the young lives and the environmental destruction. I wanted to make a sculptural response that would help people reflect on the event and to encourage people to live by their highest ideals. After a year of meditation following the disaster I came across a photo of a pre-Columbian Mayan clay sculpture. It was a simple cylinder with bas-relief images depicting some mythic tale around its circumference. In a flash the concept of using the form to tell the story of the gasoline spill and inferno came clear to my mind.
On my studio kick wheel I threw and built a three-foot-tall clay cylinder. On the outside I carved the Whatcom Creek Memorial "story." Working on my revolving kick wheel, I realized the images came "alive" when the piece turned. The viewer could see a story unfold simply by turning the wheel with one hand. Soon after, the sculpture was mounted on a revolving stand at an outdoor gallery, Big Rock Garden. It became a vessel to touch, turn and interact with.
I encouraged lookers to: PLEASE TOUCH THE ART PIECE! Some people placed pieces of paper with thoughts and prayers in the small opening on the wheel's top. Without knowing, I created my first prayer wheel. Ever since, my clay work has taken a different direction.