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Field Notes: a Northwest nature blog

One of the reasons many of us live in the Pacific Northwest is the natural wonders that amaze us all. On this blog Seattle Times writers and photographers will share their explorations of the natural world from snowcaps to whitecaps. Write us at fieldnotes@seattletimes.com with your own sightings, questions and wonders to share.

December 1, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Tony Angell: artist's new exhibit opens Thursday

Posted by Lynda V. Mapes

Tony Angell is an artist who's work lives up to his last name. Whether illustrating books (In the Company of Crows and Ravens, by John Marzluff and Angell) or creating sculptures for public spaces or for the intimacy of the gallery or private collection, Angell is building a unique body of work, grown from his connection here to Puget Sound and its animals.

Hawks, ravens, otters, guillemots, they all are there to enjoy in his new show, Conversations with Nature in Bronze and Stone, opening Thursday at the Foster/White Gallery.

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Ravens' Wall by Tony Angell

Whether carved in stone skimming over the waves, as a flight of shorebirds is, or sinuously poised, in his rendition of an otter, the animals that enliven this show are embued with Angell's compassion for their struggle for survival -- and admiration for their mastery of the skies, the waters, this place we share in Puget Sound.

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Reef Otter, by Tony Angell

It is hard to believe when enjoying these pieces that Angell largely is self-taught, but so he is. Angell moved here from California at age 17 on a track scholarship at the UW. Some of his early influences include Francis Lee Jaques, who painted the grand dioramas at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

Just as important was the nurturing of his mother, who let him ride a bus to the end of the line and just start hiking, back when he was growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the days when there were still condors in the foothills, and golden eagles nesting in the Santa Monica Range. "She gave me free reign as a kid," Angell said. "That was very fortunate growing up."

Trips back to visit an uncle in Michigan, ranging around the woods, also ignited a connection with nature that has never left him. At 72, Angell is still working, rendering his emotional response to the animals around him through what he calls a two-way conversation, rendered in bronze and stone.

Angell used to collect much of his material from the Skagit River, drawn by the beauty of the native river rock, astounded by the range of sounds the different stones made when rendered into sculpture, as well as by their colors and forms. "The stone has a color, a pattern, a composition, and it is telling you something as well, you strike them and some of them sound like a bell, others are more dissonant, and rattle, others are more of a thunk than a ding."

I remember the first time I met Angell, here at the Seattle Times, where he had come to visit and talk about a book he was working on, Puget Sound Through an Artist's Eye, published by the University of Washington Press in 2009.

I was startled to meet a man who seemed a woodcutter just in from the back 40, extending a meaty hand warm with welcome. No effete artist here. This was an artist in love not with his own image, but this place we call home. Every place narrative needs its bard; perhaps Puget Sound's story is most eloquently told through the charisma of its animals, here lovingly rendered in stone and bronze.

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Mottled Owlet, by Tony Angell

A father of four daughters and resident of Lake Forest Park, Angell said he never set out to make statements about nature in his work, but rather to respond to what nature was saying to him. In rendering the charisma and grace of his subjects, though, he found that people were touched, with their own connection to nature awakened by the work.

More direct than language, with its nuances of meaning, Angell said he has come to believe over the course of a long career that art a power to connect people to the natural world that is beyond words.

"Where words fail, art prevails."

For more information on the artist, including a video about Angell, and a map of his public works in Seattle, check out this link from Foster/White.

The show opens Dec. 1 from 6-8 p.m. at the Foster/White Gallery, 220 Third Ave., Seattle. Here is the show's catalog, from Foster/White.

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Tower Owl, by Tony Angell

All photos, courtesy Foster/White Gallery

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