Event planner and steel sculptor Dennis Warshal helped run his family’s business, in buildings that no longer exist, and is showcasing his new passion in a downtown building that will make way for something else.
Dennis Warshal’s family history in Seattle dates back more than 100 years. The sporting-goods store opened by his father in 1936 at First Avenue and Madison Street is now the site of a luxury hotel. The store his great uncle had a few blocks up on First Avenue is gone, too.
And now, in a neighborhood he used to hang out in as a kid, Dennis Warshal is hosting his first art exhibit, “Leaves of Change,” in a vacant building on Second and Seneca that will soon be torn down to make way for something else. But don’t expect him to bemoan what has become of the city he grew up in.
“It didn’t escape my brain, what was going on here. But it was also consistent with my theme: that this is going to get destroyed, and then something else is going to get built up,” he said.
IF YOU GO
‘Leaves of Change’
11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Jan. 12, 1201 Second Ave., Seattle.
“It’s what happens. It’s the way of the world.”
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Warshal, 68, would be one to know. After managing his father’s business with his cousin for 25 years, he decided to leave the retail world and use his artistic side, working as a florist and an event planner.
About a year ago he decided to focus solely on his steel sculpture, and through some contacts got the vacant space (formerly a liquor store) for his exhibit, which is on display through Jan. 12.
“Leaves of Change” draws upon Warshal’s experiences with transformation.
“It’s reflecting my life, or yours. Leaves: They come, they go, they blossom, they decay, they die. Next year, another crop comes up, and that’s kind of how I was seeing things,” he said.
The floral-inspired steel sculptures are made from scrap materials; truck shock absorbers become seed pods, steel wire becomes blooms.
He finds metal at recycling centers, steel stores, and, if they’re willing to sell their scrap, construction sites. A plasma cutter, welding tools and a custom jig allow him to cut and forge the steel as he sees fit.
One of the oldest pieces in the exhibit comes from the time he was hired as a florist for the World Trade Organization meetings in 1999, where he created stands for the floral arrangements out of steel tumbling drums.
Warshal made his first steel sculpture in 1963, and growing up in a family that ran a sporting-goods store meant access to a warehouse full of material.
“There was more than one holiday that we would have to delay — I would get metal in my eye, or I would have to get stitches,” he said.
Art remained a hobby as he grew up and eventually managed the store, and event planning — often for fundraising galas for clients such as Seattle Symphony, Seattle Art Museum and Pilchuck Glass School — provided an opportunity to draw on both his artistic and business abilities.
Leaving the family business was difficult, but something Warshal knew he had to do. This experience helps inform one of his favorite pieces in the exhibit, a domino.
“In dominoes you can perfectly neutralize anyone, but in life, not so much. So once you identify who you are, and accept your dots as they may be given, you can do anything,” he said.
Last year he accepted his dots and pursued his art full-time. It’s not an easy venture, but it isn’t Warshal’s first time along a diverging path.
He remembers the first event he worked after leaving the family business, for a restaurant party. As he hauled gigantic boxes to the door, the maître d’ and hostess looked on without sympathy.
“At that moment I had gone from the top of the food chain to the bottom,” he said. “I put the box down, opened the door, propped it up, carried the box in and closed the door, and I thought, ‘OK, this is the new world.’ ”