Artist Statement

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.

The first Prayer Wheel Chris built in responce to the Whatcom Creek Olympic Pipeline Explosion

Chris presents the Seeds of Compassion Wheel to his Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Seeds of Compassion Gathering in Seattle, April 2010.