What the Ravens Saw
I’ve always yearned for open spaces and big skies. A lure since childhood of being lost in thought when taking long walks on the beach or in the mountains. I grew up on a town and country farm and always had a list of chores to do after school and on weekends. The long grass in the orchard was a hiding place where I could lay down and watch ever-changing clouds transformed by my imagination. A changing story which often was rudely interrupted hearing my name being called out. It was back to the reality of cutting thistles and mending fences. There were always a few sheep and several fruit trees. The sheep were there to keep the grass down and were moved from pasture to pasture to that effect. My first carving was a balsa wood sheep/cloud done with a hobby knife. Never did I imagine that this would become a life long obsession of wood carving based on daily observations. Allowing imagination to be my ever present helper.
I did not have a formal art education. An instructor at the U of O said to go to the Student Union and buy a chisel and mallet. There was a random stack of sawn limbs outside the sculpture studio. He said pick one out and see what you can do. I did, even though there was no feedback, I started skipping academic classes to go carve. A sort of abstract organic shape out of cherry. Not really Henry Moore like, but I realized the figure was my interest. I dropped out of school and with savings, had enough to go to Europe in the 60’s and finally see real art in Museums. I did not grow up with art in the house. Just the Saturday Evening post covers and comic books. Seeing Giacometti’s figures in the old Tate in London was a revelation. I hitchhiked for 4 months sleeping in train stations and hostels. I drew and wandered, absorbing real art and the places it came from.  Flying back to New York, I had just enough money for a Greyhound bus back to Portland. I came home and had become an artist.
It was carrying mail in the 70’s that gave me a subject. I started whittling figures and domestic scenes from my mail routes. They were carved and painted figures in small worlds. I approached William Jamison, then owner of the Folk Craft Gallery in Portland in the early 80’s with 3 slides of my work. We talked about self taught work and our mutual love of folk art.  He then came to my basement workshop and offered a show. It was titled Carved and Painted Figures in Small Worlds. It sold out and a career was launched.  I then moved to the Bay Area in California for a teaching job with Outsider Adults at Creative Growth Art Center. Every 18 months I would ship a show back to his Gallery in Portland. It had become the Jamison Thomas Gallery. They successfully exhibited my work until William died in 1995.

And then there were many galleries opening and closing and I signed on for the rides. It was finally a true pleasure to meet Teri Sund, and be asked to exhibit at Imogen. She drove up from Astoria to my Portland studio and we talked for a couple of hours about art, it’s making, how life intervenes and also informs. Now this is my third solo with Imogen and it’s still about looking to the sky and walking in open spaces.
Ravens are powerful guides. So well known as intelligent communal beings who are assertive and clever. They have become prominent subjects on my journeys away from cities. Big skies and open spaces with soaring ravens.
I was an artist in residence at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico for the month of October. I fell under the spell of raven spirit and carved several raven headed figures. It has become my custom to take sculptures on walks in the landscape and then create stories by photographing them out in the wild. For the installation piece , “What the Ravens Saw”, I found a branch and carved individual leaves to attach and form a tree. Then 3 small ravens were carved to perch on the tree. Simultaneously 4 figures wearing raven head masks gathered to observe, point, and soundlessly gesture. All were left in black and white to contrast against the deep blue skies and red rocks. There is a spiritual quality contained in that landscape. I found, a new to me, practice of early morning walking in the labyrinth. Often a solitary raven would sound an alert with a guttural croak and a few moments later would be responded to by another from a tree top down the canyon. All else was quiet and then songbirds would join in like soloists in a soundscape symphony. I felt centered and would go to the studio.
This exhibit groups ravens, horses, and hybrid figures with carved wood sculptures, small painted dioramas with carved figures, memory paintings of landscape on canvas, and photographs of onsite installations. Nature is an ever-changing backdrop and inspiration whether by the ocean shore or the high desert. Memories of time immersed informs the slow task of carving with hand tools.

Stan Peterson,
Spring 2023