Coast Chronicles: Secret sauce on the PAA Studio Tour

<I>CATE GABLE photo</I><BR>Richard Schroeder demonstrates his steady hand at the lathe on the PAA studio tour.

During the freeze last week, I panicked. I woke to find all the fuchsia frozen and witnessed a frantic hummingbird flying to each wilted bloom trying to tip them up for nectar.

This emergency called for fast action.

I drove to Jack's for feeders, scanned the Internet for a hummingbird recipe (one part sugar to four parts water; boil, then cool - no red food coloring) and quickly got two feeders up on the side of the house.

The hummers found them within 30 minutes.

I took the feeders in every night so they wouldn't freeze and hoped the hummers wouldn't freeze either. (At night, they go into a kind of hibernation: fluff up, turn their systems to low and hunker down).

Friend Rosemary says, "Now you must continue," so we've made the commitment to host the hummers throughout the winter.

The little redheads don't share well with others. They flash point-blank down the corridor between the two feeders and take turns chasing one another up and over the rooftops. One (or another) of them has been sitting on the highest branches of the birch, twittering away about this bonanza all afternoon.

Then when his tweeting (no digital device involved) attracts the attention of others, he puffs up his chest and dive bombs the new arrivals.

We love it. Their flashing heads are sometimes green, sometimes a deep magenta, sometimes purple. If we stand in their flight-path, they simply flow up and over us as if we were rocks in a stream and they were the unstoppable current.

The Secret Sauce In between hummingbird viewings, we managed to make it to most of the artist studios on the PAA tour. Thank goodness they gave us two days - there was so much to see.

Because I've been meeting with a "crabby" guy down in Ilwaco on weekends, we started there.

Marie Powell's art at the Shoalwater Cove Gallery was elegant. We loved Jenna Austin collaging at the new Queen La De Da Creative Corner and her clever "royal" business cards; and the Wade Gallery photographs are luscious.

Several pieces of Don Nisbett's art, in the form of notecards, made it home - some already in the mail to lucky friends. My sis wanted "Destination Ilwaco" - a whimsical version of the port - in a different print size than he had on hand. "No problem," he said, "I'll just go in the back and make you one."

"Can I go with you and watch?"

"No."

Aha! There is secret sauce bubbling in Nisbett's back room.

For the rest of our visits, we were especially attentive to whatever the artist's "secret sauce" appeared to be. Sometimes the secret was shared - sometimes only guessed at.

Turning WoodMidway up the front road, we stopped in at Richard and Dian Schroeder's dual studios. Richard's non-CIA alter ego was at work on the lathe. He was spinning off fine shavings that curled into piles and floated up to cover his hands, arms and the front of his sweatshirt.

His secret sauce is patience.

Once a piece of wood calls to him and he spins it down to size, it sits on a rack made like two vertical sets of steps laddered up the wall in his garage-studio. There the wood waits, drying, while the bowl inside bides its time. One, two or three months may go by before the wood returns to the lathe for its final shaping, and the bowl emerges.

Dick likes to use native wood - alder, maple, white oak. The bowls we liked the best had Nature's hand on them: the fingerprint of a knot, a slit of bark, discoloration from a moldy spot that the tree grew around.

Meanwhile, I don't know how Dian gets any painting done in her crow's nest overlooking the ocean. I would be mesmerized by the surf rolling in; but she's obviously prolific - her beautiful paintings covered the walls. My favorite was the portrait of a plucky neighborhood chicken.

Closer to Home On day two, we trundled across town to Bette Lu Krause's, where gingerbread cupcakes with whipped cream and hot coffee hit the spot. Christmas cards, earrings, and ornaments went home with us.

Then on to Jan Richardson's new home and studio. We marveled at the elaborate clay houses and truly wished we were small enough to open the tiny doors, water the flowers, and bring the rug - airing on the porch - back inside by the fire. Jan showed us her patterns for home-building, and several spectacular bowls walked out with us.

Then the sun popped out and we had another grand view of the waves from metal artist Don Piper's house on the ridge. Don let us in on his secret sauce, explaining the difference between the types of steel he uses.

"This piece is 'mild steel.' I set it out in my patina garden - my wife gives me a little space in the backyard - and it rusts up in about a month."

"This one," Don pointed to a huge saw blade, a distinctly different color than the other rusted pieces, "is made of high-carbon steel. This is tougher stuff and takes longer to get that kind of finish."

"This piece [a wire-brushed butterfly with a polished sheen] won't change a bit - well, maybe if it stayed outside for three years or so," he said. That butterfly was purchased on the spot, along with a mild steel quail for a friend's garden.

Artisan's Lair Furniture maker extraordinaire Wayne Ivy had, reputedly, one of the busiest studios on the tour.

"At one point Friday, it was so crowded we could barely fit in here," said Wayne, looking the part in overalls with yardstick suspenders, a tape measure and carpenter's pencil in his pocket. "I counted about 80 people before I gave up."

When he saw me, he remarked to the attending visitors, "There's that gal that could make a story out of someone sitting in a cabbage patch picking her nose." I took that as a big Texas-style compliment.

We ogled Wayne's "waste-basket" - "Well, that's what they call it in the Stickley catalogue, but I don't think anybody uses it for that," he said of a stunning white oak open-sided and perfectly-proportioned magazine rack.

Then we noticed a little corner of wood joinery in the shape of three-petaled flowers.

"Oh, that ... just showin' off," he said grinning. "But I can't get into too much trouble - I've already had my whuppin' for this month."

We also remarked on his work bench, shining in a patina that only comes with age and two enormous hand-made wood-screw vises, one on each end.

"Yup, there's a story goes along with that. That's Swedish maple, came off a ship. Somebody looked it over once and said it was probably 300 years old."

"Would I ever sell it? No way!"

Meet Your Neighbors At Wayne's we ran into Patricia Moss, the Bingham Lady "art detective;" and back at the Bay Gallery we talked to Sue Raymond, who regaled us with stories of her "Birds of the Bard" series - birdy characters fashioned after roles in Shakespeare's best-loved dramas.

In fact, the studio tour was not just about viewing artists in their natural habitats; we ran into old friends we hadn't seen in weeks. Kathleen Sayce followed us into Piper's and we inquired about Frank ("He's up on a ridge somewhere" she said).

We collected hugs from "retired artiste" Jon DuCharme at Bette Lu's place. We followed Betsy and Mark from a fish and chip lunch at Imperial Schooner over to the Schroeders. We saw Barbara Lester, fused glass jewelry maker, at the Red Barn. (She's been sharing her secret sauce in a series of workshops at the Bay Avenue Gallery).

Container As Bette Lu, co-chair with Karen Brownlee of the PAA tour, said, "The Peninsula is a wonderful 'container' for the event because of it's shape. You can visit artists up one side and down the other."

The Peninsula is a great container for art and artists, poets and art detectives, furniture makers and ham radio operators, biologists and museum directors - even hummingbirds. It's obviously oozing with its own secret sauce.

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