Heron is a ‘beautiful metaphor’ for artEAST creations

May 22, 2012

By Allyson Balansay

Pandy McVay's finished heron sculpture, ready for outdoor display. By Pandy McVay

The name “Issaquah” reportedly comes from a Native American term meaning “the sound of the birds.” So it’s appropriate that a local bird — the great blue heron — is the inspiration for a current art exhibition.

Artists of the nonprofit art center artEAST are hoping to spread the value of art and of Issaquah’s special nature with its new heron exhibit, “The Rookery Project.”

A rookery is a breeding ground for birds, and Issaquah’s local artists have focused on the heron for the inaugural exhibit. Those creating pieces for the project are given the same basic armature, or metal framework, upon which to build their herons.

While there are currently 11 completed herons, the center aims for a total of 30 artists and works by November. Pandy McVay, a fused-glass artist with the artEAST program for six years, was intrigued by the idea of the heron as an inspiration.

“I didn’t realize the rookery aspect of herons,” McVay said. “You always see them standing individually on the lake, and it was (not only their beauty, but) their sense of community that interested me as well.”

McVay named her heron Fanni, which comes from the great blue heron’s scientific name, ardea herodias fannini.

“There are five subspecies of the great blue heron, and the subspecies fannini is a regional bird, particular to the Pacific Northwest,” she explained.

Creating Fanni was time-consuming and a challenge for McVay.

“Since the moment I stuck my hand up in February (to do the project), I worked every minute until we put it in the car the first week of April” for the first show, she said.

Debbie Stickney, who works at Hot Yoga Experience in Issaquah, heard about “The Rookery Project” from McVay, one of her students. Stickney and her husband later visited artEAST on Issaquah’s historic Front Street to see the herons.

“The most interesting thing about the project is that the artists all started with the same basic framework, but where they went from there was completely unique in their interpretation,” Stickney said.

What to know

‘The Rookery Project’ is an ongoing exhibition that opened in April. The herons will “flock” to different venues throughout the summer and their final “landing” will be at the organization’s birthday gala in November, where the artwork will be auctioned off.

As landing sites are added, the schedule will be updated at www.arteast.org. In the meantime, the herons are next scheduled to appear at Highlands Day on June 23. Proceeds from auction sales of the herons will support artEAST and its local artists.

“The materials chosen ranged from glass, steel, concrete, twine, and even zip-ties and ‘Take-a-Ticket’ pieces were combined in amazing ways,” Stickney said. “I am always impressed by creative people who capture beauty or express humor through their art.”

Because McVay’s artistic medium is fused glass, the translation of the glass to the standing metal armature without breakage was her biggest challenge.

“I started in a kiln with a layer of glass and then had to create another (for the other side of the heron). Getting two mirroring images of glass is not a compromising medium,” McVay said. “At any time it could break, but that’s what prompted the gathering of other artists.”

Karen Abel, executive director of artEAST, also witnessed the creative challenge of this project among the artists. “The heron itself was particularly intriguing for so many of us,” Abel said. “The armature was a wonderful starting point, but it was simply that — a starting point.

“The artists had a tremendous amount of freedom to go a huge variety of different directions,” Abel said. “Creative freedom is part of what was so inspiring to the artists.”

While the project only recently launched, Abel noted that artEAST has been “delightfully overwhelmed” with positive reaction from the artists and exhibitgoers.

Going to see “The Rookery Project” was Stickney’s first visit to an Issaquah art gallery and she said she “would definitely recommend people take time to appreciate the work,” citing it as a reminder to appreciate the beauty surrounding her.

“Sometimes I will get a glimpse of a heron who visits,” Stickney said regarding a pond next to her home. “It never fails to make me stop and smile, feeling lucky to have been taken out of my day for just a moment to enjoy its beauty.  I think art can do the same thing.”

McVay shares that passion about the beauty of nature, and compared the heron and its rookery to herself and the other artists who worked on the project.

The rookery is “really resemblant of the art center — individually, we have identities as artists but routinely we gather to share, celebrate and inspire. The heron is a beautiful metaphor for what we’re doing.”

Allyson Balansay is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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