Artist Dan Webb will spend July carving a Douglas fir, creating a sculpture gallery that changes nearly every day for the “Summer at SAM” series.
As an artist who will spend every weekday this summer carving away at a tree trunk, Dan Webb is a talkative guy.
“The conversations I have, I think, are really important to what it is,” he says of his on-site work that is taking shape in Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park.
As Webb scrapes Douglas fir needles from branches, standing in the rare bit of shade in the artist’s shed he has built, tourists from Chicago to New Zealand pummel him with questions — what is he making? What is the purpose of art?
IF YOU GO
Summer at SAM
Kickoff party 6 p.m. Thursday, July 9, with live music, ARTYoga, art activity with Tariqa Waters, Highly Opinionated Tour with artist Dan Webb, food trucks. Olympic Sculpture Park, 2901 Western Ave., Seattle; free. Activities continue through Aug. 29; see website for schedule (seattleartmuseum.org).
And, the most frequent observation:
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“Smells good,” says a New Zealander.
“Doesn’t it?” says Webb cheerfully — as if he hasn’t responded to the same observation three or four times today.
“Are you making some artwork? Thank you,” says the visitor, as Webb hands him a pungent twig. After they discuss the science of the tree’s smell, Webb explains what he’s up to.
“It is my studio for the summer. I’m a woodcarver. So I made myself a little shack and now I get to carve wood for the rest of the summertime.”
“So, will you carve some of the tree?”
“Yes. In fact, I’ll carve all of the tree.”
He’ll carve it into several sculptures, each one changing a little bit each day. At the end of the summer, only sawdust will be left. Then, he’ll plant a new tree in the mulch, somewhere in the park. Only pictures will remain of the individual sculptures.
“People get to see what it is and that’s the only way you’re ever going to know,” said Webb, a well-known Seattle artist and sculptor with two pieces in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum. “A photograph is quite a remove from the experience that you guys have smelling this tree and being here on this day.”
Webb isn’t just whiling away the time with idle chatter. For him, the idea of valuing the experience of life as art — he compares this whittling work to the passage of time in a person’s life, where a bit of self-knowledge is gained with time — goes right along with exploring every interesting idea that arises, whether in conversation or in sculpture.
Carrie Dedon, the museum’s curatorial assistant for modern and contemporary art, is excited that the public will have the chance to return and see Webb’s work as it changes.
“It’s such a contrast to these other sculptures you see in the park, which are these monumental, polished works,” she said. “A very different approach to sculpture. Our repeat visitors will see something different every time.”
Also on display in the park: Local artist Sam Vernon’s mural in the PACCAR pavilion peopled with mysterious figures. This work and Webb’s project herald the start of the sculpture park’s summer of experiences, which kicks off with a party on Thursday (July 9). Webb will also give a Highly Opinionated Tour of the park, sure to be as provocative as his work.
Free park events will continue through August, offering visitors the chance to try artistic methods such as printmaking and “digital kaleidoscope software,” which makes new patterns out of natural objects, along with Zumba and yoga lessons, eco-talks and musical performances.
The progress of Webb’s project can be followed at seattleartmuseum.org/exhibitions/danwebb.