PENINSULA WOMAN: Finding joy in the toy

PORT TOWNSEND — Tiger Balm doesn’t just soothe sore muscles.

It also provides tin for toy tigers — red ones that artist Loran Scruggs snips into shape.

Scruggs and her “tin shop” — a garageful of animals, whistles and hearts — are just one of the stops on this summer’s Art Port Townsend Studio Tour (, a free tour of some 35 artists’ lairs from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. next Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 27-28.

During both days, Scruggs will demonstrate the construction of whistles from the colorful bottle caps she collects, and hand out a recipe for making a biplane ornament out of a soup can. She’ll also pull out the many products of her playfulness: an elephant made of a purple olive oil tin, a camel from a coconut-milk can and Pyramid ale bottle caps, and an Almond Roca tin that became a pink rabbit, to list just a few.

Then there are her boxes of whimsical whistles, which have a way of lighting up people’s faces. This is art, lighthearted, made with bottle caps and tin cans Scruggs gets from friends, local restaurants and even eBay.

Scruggs, 46, has been working in this particular medium since she finished her time at the California College of Arts and Crafts, now just the California College of the Arts, in Oakland. She leaned toward metal as a medium but didn’t want to have to weld or wield heavy equipment.

So cans and shears suited her fine.

After college, Scruggs, who grew up in Ferndale in Whatcom County, moved to New York City. She reveled in the art scene there — but she didn’t try to make her living as an artist. Instead, she paid her bills with computer-aided drafting work.

Then, one day in the late 1990s, Scruggs went to a talk on Chinese medicine. The speaker, a woman, opened up her mind to something that made sense to the listener: healing with the body’s innate wisdom.

Not long after that, Scruggs decided to embark on a life change. She packed up and went back West, to the Institute of Taoist Education and Acupuncture in Louisville, Colo., near Boulder, and enrolled in a classical five-element Chinese medicine program. She found a mentor in Lois Barnett, an acupuncturist with a practice in Port Townsend. So when it came time for Scruggs to do the clinical portion of her studies, she came out to the Olympic Peninsula.

She discovered that she loved this place. It became home in 2001; she met her partner Mike Kennedy in 2002, and then she began studying for her acupuncture license so that she could open a practice here.

While studying for that big examination, though, she “got pretty bummed out.”

The problem was that she wasn’t taking any time for art. Months passed as Scruggs devoted herself to study — and grew ever itchier for some brightly colored metal.

When at last she passed the test and got her license in 2003, Scruggs made something entirely appropriate: a shiny blue anatomical heart.

It was what she was moved to do, and it lined up with the rest of her life.

The heart, Scruggs explains, represents the fire element of Chinese medicine, while the fire element equals joy.

For this woman, art means joy. And she wants to spread that around. The Art Port Townsend Studio Tour is an opportunity for Scruggs to show people how she plays in her garage, how play balances work — and how the two act as natural tonics.

For optimum heart health, “Do something for yourself,” she advises. Engage in something that makes you smile and laugh, every single day.

Getting into this habit brings about a chemical change in your brain; in other words, it makes you a joyful person, Scruggs believes.

Doing something creative and expressive also taps into the non-analytical side of the brain, she says. Practice this often, and you’ll feel yourself getting free again, free like a child at play.

Next door to all of this joy is Jolly Wahlstrom, another artist on the studio tour. His company, Crackerdog Design, turns discarded glass into glazed birdbaths, obelisks and dinner plates. So Wahlstrom, like Scruggs, is a handcrafter who favors recycled materials.

Scruggs is “a real artist,” Wahlstrom says. He considers himself a “craftsperson,” one who prefers three-dimensional creations that have functions: offering water to birds or holding food for people, for instance.

Scruggs’ art is “brilliant,” says Wahlstrom, adding that he’d never seen anything like it before she joined him on the studio tour three years ago. As a welder and woodworker, Wahlstrom has talked with Scruggs about further collaboration, perhaps building frameworks for her sculptures.

For Scruggs, the studio tour is a counterpoint to the rest of the year. Art-making is a solitary pursuit, and much of her art is sold via, a kind of online shopping center for handmade and vintage goods. It’s also found in galleries such as Artisans on Taylor in downtown Port Townsend ( and Matter! in Olympia (

Scruggs enjoys meeting the variety of people who stop by, and likes it even more when returning visitors bring her boxes of bottle caps or interesting tins for toys.

The most frequently asked question among studio tourists: “Do you cut yourself?”

The answer is yes, but less often these days. After she cut a tendon in her left index finger — making it her “$10,000 finger” — she began wearing meatcutter’s gloves and using jeweler’s scissors.

Scruggs’ handmade whistles sell for $16 to $18; her smaller art toys are priced at $40 or $50 and the larger pieces go into the hundreds.

Considering their uniqueness and the time that goes into them, other art enthusiasts have told Scruggs she could raise those prices. She’s not planning on it, though. Scruggs wants these playful pieces out there in the world instead of filling up her garage. Sales simply supply funds for more materials.

Scruggs’ livelihood, acupuncture and five-element Chinese medicine, are also major sources of joy. The best parts of this profession, she says, are the opportunities to listen to people’s life stories and to provide the treatment that helps each person come back into balance.

She believes that often, it’s a troubled spirit — due to an unhappy relationship or a job that doesn’t fit — that blocks the free flow of energy and makes the patient ill.

Making art, for Scruggs, is a kind of meditative practice. It calms her so she can be fully present for her clients. And this acupuncturist hopes every person can find time for such interludes.

“The essence about what I love about art,” she says, “is being playful,” and feeling free like a youngster. Children don’t get “stuck,” if they’re allowed to frolic and express themselves, she adds.

When asked, Scruggs offers five practices to promote balance and joy. No. 1 is exercise; then come drinking lots of water, eating a diet rich in plants and low in processed stuff, and getting plenty of sleep.

Those are all great for the body. For the soul, Scruggs advises again: “Do something you love, every day.”

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