Arts, Featured

A Woodcarver and an Award: Sandy Stolle, 2017 Rasmuson Award Recipient

by Justine Pechuzal for Seward City News-
Carving by Sandy Stolle. Photo by Justine Pechuzal.

Down a forested lane a few miles from town sits the snug workshop of woodcarver Sandy Stolle.  The building exterior is simple: brown siding with a few windows, a small porch housing miscellaneous tools and furniture, and a shed roof with a stove pipe peeping out of the top.  Yet the inside reveals a veritable Geppetto’s workshop- planks of wood garnered from exotic trees around the world are stacked on shelves.  Drawer after drawer contains hand carving tools of varying shapes and sizes.  A large rectangular work table holds a carving of sinuous plant forms in yellow cedar.  Overhead, a small loft hosts a desk, computer and books like a proper office.  Design sketches hang from the walls like dreams of art to come. 

“I keep drawings on the wall so I can keep track of where ‘I am’ in a carving,” Stolle comments.   “You can draw on wood, but lose the design as soon as you start carving.”

Built over twenty years ago when Stolle moved to Seward from the small village of Selawik, her shop has the feel of a well-used, and well-loved space.  It should.  Stolle is a well-respected artist with over a dozen 1% for Art commissions on her resume and gallery showings throughout Alaska and the Lower 48.  Nonetheless, she remains humble in her appreciation for her medium. 

“I like carving because it utilizes drawing and sculpting,” the artist states,  “and wood smells good.  Have you ever smelled ivory?  Working with it is like being at the dentist.”    

But not everything in the cozy shop was just as it should be.  Over two years ago, Stolle injured her back, making it difficult to move large carvings in progress.  Stolle had been carving on flat surfaces in the European style, but needed to prop her work upright at various stages. 

“You want to see what it’s going to look like on a wall,” Stolle explains.  In addition, the view of an upright carving lit from the side gave her a sense of how much relief, or depth, different areas of the design might need in order to stand out from one another.  

“I needed something that could pull a heavy piece from a table and make it upright,” Stolle says. She scouted for a specialized workbench.  The options were few and expensive.    

Sandy Stolle displays her new workstation purchased with a Rasmuson Individual Artist Award. Photo by Justine Pechuzal.

Stolle then applied for the 2017 Rasmuson Foundation Project Award, a $7,500 grant for emerging, mid-career, and mature artists for specific, short-term projects with a clear benefit to the artist and the development of their work.  It had been ten years since anyone from Seward had won one of these highly competitive state-wide honors, and Stolle was a strong enough candidate to be one of twenty five selected.   I visited her shop on this sunny afternoon nine months later to learn how the grant had affected her career.

“I was thrilled,” Stolle says.  “It’s so nice to have someone validate that what you’re doing is important, especially in the arts these days.”

She shows me the heavy-duty, adjustable easel table top from Canada that rotates from 90 degrees to flat.  Using small metal pegs, Stolle props a small piece of wood on the surface then swivels it upright with ease.  She pushes a V-shaped tool around the curved edge of a flower petal. 

“The thing about carving is that wood has to be held tight,” Stolle explains.  “Native carvers hold work in their laps.  My pieces are too big for that.”

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The work surface project is not complete. Stolle is working on a system of custom clamps and ledges that will allow her to use the new easel for bigger pieces, as her work can be up to 3′ in length.

She’s come a long way, however, from working on her kitchen table.

“Back in Selawik, I had a 4′ x 6′ piece that took one year to carve.  Just before shipping it out, our oil stove belched a huge cloud of soot and covered the wood in greasy black powder.  I had to re-carve the entire surface,” Stolle says with a grimace. 

Sandy Stolle outside her studio. Photo by Justine Pechuzal.

The grant’s benefits were not limited to equipment.  Stolle and other grant recipients received professional development from the non-profit organization Creative Capital.  Through a one day workshop, webinars, and small group teleconference calls, artists discussed how to make art into a successful career: budget, pricing, promoting, social media, organizing space and time, even planning for retirement. 

“It really made you look, hmmmm, how am I doing things?” Stolle states.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Rasmuson grant for this specialized carver in the woods was the opportunity to connect with other artists. 

“We have such a big state,” Stolle says.  “It’s nice to have that gathering.”

Could You Be Among the Next Awardees?

Looking for artistic support?  The deadline for the 2018 Rasmuson Project Awards is March 1st, and is open to artists working in Media Arts, Multidiscipline, Music Composition, New Genre, Presentation/Interpretation, Visual Arts, Choreography, Crafts, Folk and Traditional Arts, Literary Arts/Scriptworks, and Performance Art. 

More information can be found at www.rasmuson.org/grants/individual-artist-awards/project-award-and-followships/. The Rasmuson Foundation will also be hosting a free online webinar for additional application information February 6 from 4 to 5 p.m.

To see more of Sandy Stolle’s work, please visit www.sandystolle.com.  

Make Seward proud! 

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