Last week’s Back Page featured a Cedaredge artist who works in polymer clay.The article mentioned how much help Tish Collins gets from her husband Allen, who cuts the backing for her mosaic mirrors, builds the display units which showcase her bold, original jewelry, and drives her to shows when she’s too nervous to do it herself.
Between helping out Tish and working full-time in Grand Junction, Allen pursues a hobby of his own — intarsia. Intarsia is the art of using contrasting shades of wood to create a dramatic, often three-dimensional, piece of art.
A career Navy man, Allen came upon intarsia at a gallery in Santa Barbara, Calif. A short time later he was visiting his mother in Hotchkiss. Knowing he liked to work with wood, she took her son to visit an acquaintance in Willow Heights who produced intarsia.
“I fell in love with it,” Allen said. “I call it painting with wood.”
He printed out a pattern and soon completed his first project — “the ugliest little duck you’ve ever seen.”
Since then he’s finished dozens of projects, many of which hang in the homes of friends and family members.
“I’ve developed my own style, and now I’m to the point I want to start making my own patterns,” he said.
“When I’m working I just throw things together,” said Tish, “but Allen is so meticulous.”
He begins by selecting a pattern and sorting the wood from which he’ll cut each piece. He doesn’t use any dyes or stains, relying on the natural hues of different types of wood to create the contrast which makes every design “pop.” Western red cedar is one of his favorite woods. It’s readily available at local lumberyards in the form of fence slats, and it comes in a variety of shades although he’s found it harder and harder to find dark colors. He also incorporates walnut, alder, cherry, pine and barnwood to create contrast.
After the wood has been planed to a uniform thickness and laid out by shade — dark, medium dark, medium, medium light, light and white — Allen is ready to affix the pattern piece to the wood, paying close attention to the grain. Cutting around the pattern with a scroll saw is a tricky step, because Allen wants every piece to fit snugly against adjoining pieces, just like a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece is carefully labeled, then Allen uses a Dremel tool to round the edges and knock off the rough spots, which saves time during the sanding process.
Allen is very particular about the entire process, but he gets really picky about the smoothness of each piece. He holds them to the light to make sure he hasn’t left any sanding marks.
Once every piece has been cut, labeled and sanded, Allen lays them out on a board and starts varnishing. Each piece receives at least three hand-rubbed coats of varnish. When the varnish has dried, Allen can assemble the picture, using shims to raise some pieces for a three-dimensional effect. He smears the back of the entire picture with a coat of Elmer’s glue, and picking up several pieces at a time lays them on a mounting board he prepared beforehand. Stubborn or warped pieces are weighted down. When the glue has dried, Allen cleans off the excess residue and buffs the entire picture to bring out the soft sheen of the wood.
“I love doing this kind of work,” Allen said. “I get out here and I get lost in the smell of cedar.”
Allen and Tish have collaborated on several projects, including a mallard duck which incorporated colorful pieces of polymer clay. It turned out so well — and sold so quickly — they’re talking about other joint projects. Tish says she’s the “big picture” person, while Allen is the “detail man.”
“We speak two different languages, so communication is a challenge, but we keep talking about collaborating again,” Tish said.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Allen’s projects are marketed under the name “Whatnot Intarsia” and can be seen at Munson’s Main Street Gallery in Cedaredge.