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Originally published Friday, November 20, 2009 at 12:03 AM

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Book review

Tony Angell evokes Northwest nature in 'Puget Sound Through an Artist's Eye'

Tony Angell, a Seattle-based artist, will talk about his book "Puget Sound Through an Artist's Eye" at Elliott Bay Book Company and Foster/White Gallery.

Seattle Times book editor

Author appearance

Tony Angell

The author of "Puget Sound Through an Artist's Eye" will appear at several local events. He will discuss his book at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).

Angell will also discuss his book at 2 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Foster/White Gallery, 220 Third Ave. S., Seattle. His work will be on display at Foster/White Dec. 3 -24, with an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 3. Both Foster/White events are free (206-622-2833 or www.fosterwhite.com).

Tony Angell views the Pacific Northwest from two vantage points — as a naturalist, and as an artist. Both inform his sculpture, his drawings and his splendid new book, "Puget Sound Through an Artist's Eye," foreword by Ivan Doig (University of Washington Press, 128 pp., $35).

If you've lived here for any length of time, you've seen an Angell sculpture: in a public place, an art gallery or a private home. "Puget Sound Through an Artist's Eye" chronicles 40 years of the Seattle-area artist's sculptures and paintings of the birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and undersea life of our region. It's a summing up to date of Angell's career and a testament to the tenacity and inventiveness he draws on to pursue his quarry. And it's a cri de coeur for a halt to the degradation of one of the most beautiful and fecund places on Earth.

Part I is devoted to a description of the Puget Sound country; from its mountains to its sea cliffs, beaches and open waters. It's informative, but where Angell's prose shines is in the captions he writes for his drawings and sculptures — raptors, seabirds, ravens, kingfishers, skates, flounder, salamanders, turtles. Beneath a marble sculpture of a pond turtle he writes, "They go about their way in shells elegantly sculpted, with a manner so purposeful you feel it must be based on a decision reached over a million years of deliberation."

As with the best coffee-table books, you can read the narrative straight through, or stop and linger over Angell's marvelous way with marble and chlorite, limestone and serpentine.

Part II chronicles how Angell works as an artist. As a boy in California, his mother paid for a correspondence course in taxidermy that taught him animal anatomy; today, he'll still skin/dissect the odd dead animal to learn its inner workings. He scavenges rocks from the upper Skagit River valley and parking lots, where he once found an ideal piece of green chlorite doing duty as a parking-lot divider. He even salvaged the slate from an abandoned pool table, carving from it a stunning wall panel of four ravens conversing and conniving.

He describes his work rehabilitating injured birds, several of which have taken up residence in his home. "Short-eared, barn, barred, great horned, snowy, screech, saw-whet, flammulated, and pygmy owls have all lived in my house ... A pygmy owl once had the 'run' of my house and would fly from room to room and down hallways, stirring up the air at all hours ... many assumed that the diminutive bird was an ornament of some sort until he bobbed his head, fixed them with a glare from his bright lemon-colored eyes, and flew with a gun burst of energy over their heads and out of the room."

In an afterword, Angell describes how key populations of birds — brants, grebes, murrelets — have almost vanished since he arrived here in 1958. But Angell remains guardedly hopeful: When it comes to the cleanup of Puget Sound, "there is no lack of knowledge about what we must address — only a lack of a consistent plan and the will to carry it out."

This is a keepsake book — a testament to an artist's passion for his work and for Puget Sound, his home and his muse.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@seattletimes.com.

Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM's Arts Channel at www.king.org/pages/4216533.php

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