Nancy Thorne Wins Plinth Project

by Alec Clayton

Every year, the plinths at Percival Landing host a new selection of loaned sculptures by local and regional artists. People strolling the boardwalk are invited to vote for their favorites and the sculpture that receives the most votes is purchased by the City for permanent display at another location in Olympia. Sculptures not awarded the People’s Prize are available for purchase at the completion of its exhibition. Sculptures remain on display along the Percival Landing boardwalk until June 2024.

“A Song for Nurturing Peace” by Nancy Thorne-Chambers, winner of the 2023 Plinth Project.

This year’s winner is “A Song for Nurturing Peace” by Nancy Thorne-Chambers, a bronze statue of a girl holding a bird’s nest with an egg in one hand while the mother bird, a white dove, perches on her other hand.

Thorne’s work is realistic in style and idyllic in concept. It exudes confidence and hope and has mass appeal, as indicated by the fact that “A Song for Nurturing Peace” is her third Plinth Project winner. Previous winners were the 2020 winner, “Girl Reading a Story in a Story Place,” depicting a girl sitting on a tree stump reading a book, and the 2018 winner, “Pig Listening in a Story Place,” a dandified gold pig. Both pieces are part of a larger piece showing the girl reading to gathered anthropomorphized animals.

“Girl Reading a Story in a Story Place” by Nancy Thorne-Chambers, winner of the 2020 Plinth Project.

Thorne said about her sculpture, “At age five, a baby bird fell out of its nest from the eve of our house. My neighbor friend and I carefully put it in a shoebox and took turns nurturing that little bird until it was ready to fly on its own. From that beginning, I have been an avid bird watcher and wild bird enthusiast all my life. To watch a bird fly freely above my head, soaring in the wind is like music to me and the ultimate harmony. There exists the capacity to dwell in harmony. Not as owners of the earth or of each other, but as wise caretakers of nature’s delicate balance. This piece depicts caring and singing with all nature…in harmony.

“(The sculpture) had its beginnings in coiled clay in my studio in West Olympia. It was a response to that sense that the world isn’t listening to nature, that mankind too often ignores nature, that nature speaks but we aren’t listening. How does nature speak, how should we respond? When I begin a project I often find that the clay drives the theme and I am only the muscle that shapes that clay. This was a bit like that, except that long before the birds’ image emerged I understood what was needed: a two-way conversation with nature. The quest to make this relationship work took a while to coalesce but the juxtaposition of person and bird and baby birds yet unhatched seemed to define my angst well. The girl’s downturned hand suggests total freedom for the bird, yet this is an illusion: bird habitat, food sources, safe migration routes, all look healthy from afar yet are a collective threat decimating bird populations. A keen observer will notice that the nest isn’t made of straw. Rather, I used leather I wove into a bird’s nest, a subtle difference that seems the definition of change in all things large and small.”

The bronze seen on the boardwalk in Olympia is a mirror image in all respects. The clay was fired in one ceramic piece in Thorne’s electric kiln. It was then 3-D scanned and enlarged before being 3-D printed in lost wax. She utilized the Firebird Bronze foundry in Troutdale, Oregon, for the casting, welding and patina work. The finished piece is waxed to retard oxidation.

“Pig Listening in a Story Place” by Nancy Thorne-Chambers, winner of the 2018 Plinth Project.

Thorne was born in Iowa, adopted by parents in Seattle and went to Seattle public schools where she discovered she loved the fine arts. Life got in the way. After raising three children and after a career as a family therapist, she went into the printing business as a graphic artist at Quintessence in downtown Olympia. An avid reader, she devoured art magazines but never took art classes. “Twenty years ago my enthusiasm for three-dimensional art was realized when we built a studio and bought a kiln. I have been handcrafting figurative art ever since, learning by doing and reading.” Her art has been showcased at galleries in Olympia, the Bainbridge Museum of Art, and The Sequim Art Festival. Her bronze installation “A Story Place” is on permanent display at the LBA park in Olympia and its ceramic beginnings are showcased at Capitol Mall, Olympia.

Other sculptors with works on view in the Plinth Project now are: Irene Osborn, Ed McCarthy, Ken Turner, Jim Johnson, Jenny Ellsworth, Jennifer Kapnek, Dan Brown, Don Anderson and Jon Kalin.

Photos by Nancy Thorne-Chambers.

Percival Plinth Project

The boardwalk at Percival Landing

Now through June 2024

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