By Alec Clayton
Nikki McClure’s artistic output is phenomenal. Her paper cuts have often been shown at Childhood’s End Gallery in Olympia and in other venues. She has published many illustrated books, including How to Be a Cat, Mama, Is it Summer Yet?, To Market, To Market and Waiting for High Tide. Her books have been perennial New York Times bestsellers in the children’s book category, but she has also created work that speaks to an adult audience with messages of activism and community connection. Her unique work has been featured in national magazines, business logos and artistic programming. A local example is the series of cover illustrations McClure has provided for all of Olympia Family Theater’s show programs.
McClure’s latest picture book is What Will These Hands Make? which follows a family through one day and muses on the possibilities that one day holds. It is available at Browser’s Books in Olympia and features many makers in Olympia, coupled with other locations around town.
McClure’s partner in life, Jay T. Scott, is a renowned furniture maker. He was born in Ohio and began working with wood at a young age. As a teenager, he apprenticed with an uncle who was a furniture maker. He moved to Olympia 1989 to attend The Evergreen State College, where he studied agriculture, entomology and furniture-making. During college Scott worked with a custom homebuilder; he started his own woodworking business in 1996.
Fellow furniture maker Madeline Morgan says, “Jay T. is the kind of craftsman I most admire, one who pays attention. He’s someone who recognizes and honors the relationship of his hands and eyes and mind to the material and of his work to the people who will use it. And, as is the case with almost all craft, the qualities found in the things he makes reflect the qualities of the man himself. He is quiet, meditative, intelligent; his art is imaginatively conceived, sensitively constructed. I’ve never known Jay T to lose sight of the fact that people establish intimacy with beautiful furniture over lifetimes rather than moments and every line, every shape, every surface of the things he makes reflect that understanding.”
Scott and McClure sometimes team up to create art. Most recently they collaborated on a nine foot long walnut panel with gold-leafed images of McClure’s paper cuts.
The panel is made from hand-planed Western red cedar planks with gold leaf details depicting clouds and a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers flying together. The rawness of the wood and grain plays against the glowing splendor of the gold. The wood for the panel was found in a ravine near Tenino, left over from the old days of railroad logging.
“The wood was not premier grade, so they threw it all in a ditch,” Scott says. “You can’t find wood of this quality now. It is a quality of wood that we will never see again as all the old cedar forests have been cut down. That kind of wood takes 800 years to grow.”
Scott says the panel was influenced by an ornate wall panel in the Akira Kurosawa film “Throne of Blood.”
The panel is far from the first thing the couple have collaborated on. When they first met, McClure went to Scott’s shop to design a logo for him and agreed to make a lamp for him in exchange for the logo. Later, McClure says, “I made images for him to make his own lamp. We kept trading like that for years and then decided it would be easier to get married and just make one of everything.”
“I liked seeing the piece emerge as the gold leaf was carefully applied,” McClure continues. “I also loved sitting in the sun in the garden with singing birds and Jay T. while we tried to come up with a title. The title they came up with is “Some Things are Best Whispered.”
McClure muses, “The warmth of the gold grows as daylight fades and lamps are lit inside.” She adds that seeing her work in gold is electrifying and stimulating, plus the size is larger than she normally works in. Scott is less impressed with the scale. He makes big things all the time and has most recently had several requests for dining room tables.
“I had to make the birds,” McClure says, “Which was both the easiest part and the hardest. Hardest because it is what people see when they look at the work. The birds are the focus point and they offer context to the viewer.”
“You worked way harder and longer on this than I did,” Scott counters. “You hand-planed the wood, planned the panel order, applied the gold leaf which evaporates into dust and memory the moment you touch it. It was your hands that brought craft and art to the work and manifested this idea. I want you to gold leaf everything I make from now on. You are Alchemist and Magician.”
McClure studied at the Evergreen State College, where she hung out with artists and studied ants and drew them (as well as everything else in her environment: birds, trees, flies, nudibranchs). After graduating, she became an artist, drawing more ants, and ducks, making record covers, for K records. In 1996 she made her first paper cut for the book “Apple.”
Scott studied in the fine woodworking program at The College of the Redwoods in Eureka, CA in 2000. “The woodworking program exemplified the relationship to the work that I was searching for. I have carried this passion into my work at my shop in Olympia where I continue to explore. To describe the way I feel about my work, I can only say that I love the medium of wood, its colors, textures, and smells. I love making. I love the meditation of the work. I love making functional objects that become a part of another person’s life. It is a continual story that begins with the woodworking and carries on as the object connects with another life.”
McClure and Scott were scheduled to show their work at Olympia Arts Walk April 24 – 25, 2020. The event was cancelled in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Their show, paired with Chris Maynard and Carla Louise Paine will be online thanks to Childhood’s End Gallery. It will also be available for viewing through the windows from April 24 to May 31.
Childhood’s End will be open by appointment only 12 – 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday until they can open the doors again to the general public.