Nikki McClure Nurtured by Olympia Art Scene

by Ned Hayes for OLY ARTS

Once upon a time, Nikki McClure hung out with Olympia’s own “riot grrrls.” She danced on stage at Nirvana’s early performances and labored alongside K Records founder Calvin Johnson on a light table used for music newsletters.

Over time, McClure also became a well-regarded papercut artist and began selling her art to stores, readers and collectors nationwide.

Today Nikki McClure is one of the most successful self-made artists in the Pacific Northwest. She’s achieved international success as both an artist and an author. Her books are published through a major publisher and at least one has become a New York Times bestseller. McClure also publishes greeting cards, posters, prints and annual calendars. Her work appears in theater programs and is featured in gallery showings.

Despite her success, McClure is still deeply connected to Olympia. She and her family are fixtures on the local cultural scene, taking in everything from the Farmer’s Market to summer theater, local fiddling events and youth sailing classes at Olympia Yacht Club.

In person, Nikki McClure is warm and gracious, yet her intense focus and clarity of vision can be seen in the way she chooses her words and moves in the world. A careful diction precedes and enfolds her actions. It is as if she’s always slicing a blade through a difficult piece of paper, creating her own persona with clarity in a tumultuous world.

Today, McClure definitely sees herself as a Pacific Northwest artist. In fact, the old Olympia “artisanal water” slogan speaks truth for McClure: “There is something unique in the water here that nurtures me… I like to be in the water long enough to still feel the waves rocking my cells at night.”

The Pacific Northwest offers much that is nurturing to McClure’s art. She rhapsodizes about her own Olympia experiences: “I drink the well water that is thousands of years old. I swim in Budd Inlet. I breathe foggy mornings and try to locate the sun on those days where you just have to give a best guess where it might be. I drink dew from horsetails…All that just has to be nurturing.”

The Olympia arts scene has also been particularly helpful for McClure’s work, she says. “I’ve always thought of how Olympia nurtured my growth as an artist,” says McClure. “The Olympia arts scene is non-competitive. There is a collective curiosity and celebration of each other’s inventions and successes…I feel that I am still being nurtured.”

McClure credits two specific artists as inspirations for her early visual work in the Olympia area: the collage artist Stella Marrs and, surprisingly, the producer and musician Calvin Johnson, founder of K Records.

Marrs’ “fierce determination” and ability to support herself “somehow selling cards and Christmas wreaths with beachcombed clam decorations” gave McClure much inspiration. Marrs thus gave McClure a potential road map toward her own self-made artistic success: “I never knew that a self-made life was possible until I met [Marrs],” says McClure.

Calvin Johnson and the K Records community is also cited by McClure as a strong inspiration for a self-made life in art.

McClure describes her admiration for Calvin Johnson’s self-made musical production house: “Calvin created an international community and economy from music and cassette tapes dubbed in his bedroom. The early K newsletters, printed on newsprint,…were things of beauty, inspiration, and economy.”

McClure says she learned a great deal from her experiences with K Records. “Calvin (and everyone who was ever part of K Records) also showed me the power of communicating personal stories and creating community through story-sharing. And you could dance to it! One more thing I learned from Calvin was that anything is possible. Don’t wait until you have the equipment or space or money or any of those external things. Make what you love with what you’ve got, and it will be golden.”

Beyond making her own art, McClure continues to find inspiration in other artists whom she sees as grounded in the Northwest. She suggested any local arts aficionado would do well to start with First Peoples artwork, which she enjoyed at the Stonington Gallery in Seattle.

McClure also named two local visual artists who continue to challenge and enthrall her with their work, as well as one artisanal craftsman who astounds and inspires her.

Here are the artists Nikki McClure says “remind me to be more free and exploratory”:


stellaStella Marrs, visual artist / collagist

“A postcard empire out of discarded magazines, a jumpsuit and suitcase. She has never compromised her voice. She could be as subversive as she wanted.” — Nikki McClure

Stella Marrs is an interdisciplinary artist whose work addresses environmental issues and feminism. Her collaborative public projects seek to open new relationships and redefine public space. She has presented her work at California Institute of the Arts, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, MIT, University of Texas (Austin), Lesley University and The Evergreen State College. Marrs is also known as the “riot grrrl” who came up with the name “Bikini Kill.”

Jean Nagai, visual artist and muralist

“More dreamy and psychedelic than I ever could be. And colors! and repletion of dots and lines.”–Nikki McClure

Jean Nagai is a visual artist living in Olympia and an Evergreen graduate who’s had a number of solo exhibitions in the Washington area and across the country. Nagai states he is inspired by the abundant natural world of the Pacific Northwest, the contemporary pop cultural landscape and the subtle areas of the color gradient. He has developed a visual vocabulary reflecting the confluence of nature and mass culture, manifested utilizing traditional and experimental techniques. Most recent solo exhibitions in Olympia were at Salon Refu.


Marilyn Frasca, visual artist and emerita professor at Evergreen State College

“I never studied art, but seeing her work makes me wish I had taken a class with her. She invites chance and surprise. Her work is mystical.”
— Nikki McClure

Marilyn Frasca was born in New York City and studied art at Cooper Union, the San Francisco Art Institute and Bennington College. She came to Olympia and The Evergreen State College in 1973. Her work has been exhibited on both coasts in galleries and museums. She is faculty emerita at Evergreen. She now teaches and owns a small printmaking studio in Olympia, Washington.

brunoBruno and Shannon Hervieux of Normandie Woodworks

“Bruno is an inventor and trained at a crafts guild in France that dates from the Middle Ages. I am constantly astounded by what they make.”
– Nikki McClure

Normandie Woodworks is located in Rainier, Washington. Bruno and Shannon Hervieux specialize in traditional techniques such as marquetry of wood and straw, and the use of rare and unusual materials including parchment, rawhide, shagreen, palm wood, horn, recycled brass and mother of pearl. Bruno Hervieux is a native of France, and he learned his trade in the Compagnons du Devoir, a French guild of craftsmen and artisans dating from the Middle Ages. Bruno’s partner and wife, Shannon Hervieux, studied art at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and now works alongside Bruno to create furniture in straw marquetry.

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