Port Angeles Fine Arts Center gallery and program director Sarah Jane, right, helps fellow artist Katherine Shaughnessy position her installation, “Tempest Tost,” on the roof of the arts center in late 2019. The piece is back on the roof for this season’s Wintertide show in and around the Webster’s Woods park. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles Fine Arts Center gallery and program director Sarah Jane, right, helps fellow artist Katherine Shaughnessy position her installation, “Tempest Tost,” on the roof of the arts center in late 2019. The piece is back on the roof for this season’s Wintertide show in and around the Webster’s Woods park. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Show offers light in winter woods

  • Wednesday, February 3, 2021 1:30am
  • Opinion

I LAUGHED ALOUD when I saw the fine art.

No one heard me — except maybe the trees. I was free to enjoy the way “Mondrian Towers,” Michael Mills’ sculpture made of toy Duplo blocks, looks like two lighted skyscrapers on the forest floor. The pegs inside the blocks look like the silhouettes of people, working late into the night.

This was funny, I suppose, because it was unexpected — my favorite kind of art experience. The piece beckons as part of the Wintertide show in Webster’s Woods, the 5-acre park at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. About a dozen art works are lighted each evening between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., so a walk in the park is also a trip through some wonderfully weird sculptural installations. Made by mostly local artists, they also include a 10-foot-tall “seedling” that glows in the dark.

Titled “Phylogeny — Seed of Life,” it stands in the forest along with a synthetic spiderweb, made by Loreen Matsushima of Port Angeles. During the center’s online ArtBites discussion last month, the artist spoke about how, if the slender seedling was going to last through the winter, some serious structural support was necessary.

“I remembered how in nature, spiderwebs are not only a beautiful piece of engineering, but they survive windstorms,” Matsushima said. So she constructed the extra-large web.

Along with “Mondrian Tower” and “Seed of Life” are other works using light to play with our minds. “Platonic Solids,” Nathan Shields’ colorful shapes, hang up in the trees; “She Walks in Beauty Like the Night,” Chris Allen’s creation using recycled materials, seems to float just above the forest floor. “Tempest-Tost,” Katherine Shaughnessy’s ode to the Statue of Liberty torch flame, perches on the roof of the center. All will stay through Feb. 28, and self-guided tours are possible any day between sunrise and 8 p.m. The arts center provides a map and guide at PAFAC.org; scroll down and click on the the Wintertide and “Light Art Experience” links.

For those up for a tour led by center staff, program director Sarah Jane leads small group strolls through the forest and meadow Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Booking is available on the website while Jane can be reached at 360-457-3532.

Hearing people’s reactions to the works is, these days, one of Jane’s favorite parts of the job. Some see “Seed of Life” as some kind of snake thing, or a creature from a Tim Burton movie. Matsushima, for her part, finds abundant inspiration among natural phenomena, such as bioluminescence.

Yet all is not hunky dory in Webster’s Woods.

A major problem, said Mills, is “teenagers — of all ages,” who kick sculptures over or otherwise vandalize them. He and other volunteers periodically come to clean up the forest. The center’s staff rescues the art, sometimes taking pieces down entirely.

This Wintertide, with its mix of lighting technology, has also presented technical struggles. The solar-powered “aSpire” sculpture by Ken Roepe, for example, has worked sometimes and stopped sometimes. The Seattle artist has to come and repair it.

“Ken says this happens when we try new things. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from his patience and perseverance,” Jane said during the ArtBites talk.

So instead of giving in to vandals and snafus, the folks at the arts center keep walking through the woods. As will I, since light, art and communing with nature are three balms for the wintry soul.

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.

Her column appears on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. The next one will run Feb. 17.

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