Don Freas Sculpting a Life

by Molly Gilmore

Metamorphic, in the foreground, incorporates metal from a gun used in a suicide, which a family asked Freas to destroy and, if possible, include in a piece of art. The faces behind are Serenity and Inward.

In Between: A Sculptural Retrospective celebrates Don Freas’ four decades as a sculptor, decades in which he explored and experimented with materials and ideas in between crafting custom furniture. The story of his discoveries and where they led is told through the retrospective, on view through April 21 at Childhood’s End, and through Freas’ book of the same name.

Though it resembles an exhibition catalog, the book — subtitled Creativity Set Free — led to the show, not the other way around. It’s a meditation on not only creativity but also on life, and when he’d written it, Freas realized he was ready to sell the personal and precious pieces he’d been holding onto for years. “It felt like, ‘Now I have a record of the pieces,’ ” he said. “If they all sold, I’d be OK. They’ve done their work for me.”

Many of the pieces represent changes in direction, sometimes dramatic enough that this could almost be a group show, Freas said. “There are certain pieces here that glow to me because they represent breakthroughs,” he said. “These are pieces I was doing for myself. I was doing them to see what would happen.”

Perhaps the most pivotal piece in the show — and the first one to sell — is Chair, a wall-hung assemblage of curved pieces of wood that is definitely not a chair. It was Freas’ first sculpture, made in 1986 when he was already a well-respected craftsman who’d shown his furniture in galleries. He was visiting New Zealand and became fascinated by Maori wooden artifacts including sacred and ritual objects.

“I remember the crisis one day,” he said. “I said, ‘No, I can’t make a chair. I want to do something new.’ And it became a sculpture.”

Sculptor Don Freas says writing In Between, a meditation on the creative process, freed him to sell some of his most cherished sculptures, on view in a retrospective at Childhood’s End.

Other wood pieces appear to have been made for some mysterious unguessable use. Others are flowing and organic, seeming to make movement visible.

Pieces in a series called Tension Traps incorporate human figures and sometimes found objects into constructions that illuminate pieces of the human psyche. The Weight, in which a figure surrounded by symbols of success and pleasure — a house, a car, a cat — struggles to support a mysterious burden.

There are also sculptures made of steel rings, sometimes painted red. (One from this series, CORE (Ring Dance No. 2), is owned by the City of Olympia and has been installed on Jefferson Street.)

In Between: A Sculptural Retrospective includes pieces from nearly 40 years of Don Freas’ work. Chair, hanging in the center, was Freas’ first sculpture.

The retrospective and the book represent the end of an era for Freas — but not the end of making things, taking risks and responding to the world around and the world within. He stopped taking furniture commissions a half-dozen years ago and has much of his attention from wood to words.

“There is some crisis going on, because I have always done this,” he said, “but I also have been writing poetry for a long time, and it’s very similar. … It requires showing up, putting the pen on paper, just like sculpture requires cutting the boards or welding the metal parts together. It doesn’t happen when you’re not doing that.”

Photos courtesy of Childhood’s End Gallery.

WHAT: In Between: A Sculpture Retrospective

Through April 21

Childhood’s End Gallery, 222 4th Ave. W., Olympia

LEARN MORE: | 360-943-3724

Skip to content