Woodworkers show off art that calls to be handled and used

LANGLEY — Pat it. Stroke it. Sit your butt down on it.

Sculptor Pat McVay wants you to do more than just look at his art.

“Some people may have a sign that says ‘Do Not Touch,’” the Clinton artist said. “Mine’s the opposite: Please climb all over it. I like people to interact with it.”

His wooden creations beg for it, whether it’s the 7-foot-tall baseball mitt chair in South Whidbey Community Park or a statue of a gangster holding out his derby hat as an ashtray at the Seattle waterfront pier.

McVay, 64, has done hundreds of pieces in his 40 years armed with a saw.

He is among 20 artists at this weekend’s “Woodpalooza” by Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild. Carvers, boat builders and musical instrument makers will be on hand to show off their unique skills.

The free, three-day event is a chance to meet the artists and try to figure out what makes them tick.

“Most of the world doesn’t know we exist,” guild spokesman Gary A. Leake said.

Woodworking is often a solitary practice, with the artists holed up in studios with hunks of wood and power tools.

Yeah, even their families can take their amazing talents for granted.

“My son’s friends come over and they say, ‘Wow, your dad does this?’ And they want to know all about it and he says, ‘Let’s go play video games,’” McVay said. “Same thing from my wife. Oh, just another sculpture.”

His themes are flowers and birds, sports and fishermen.

“I like to challenge myself with different styles,” he said. “Every day I have to make something. That’s the curse of self-employment. And it’s something I really love.”

A brother, sister and nephew are also chain-saw artists, each with a different style.

“After I use a chain saw, then I use smaller saw, then a smaller saw, then a sander, then I get out a little chisel and other tools,” McVay said. “All the wood I use is salvage. Wood that blew down in storms or from the road department widening the road.”

About 200 of his carvings of fishermen, diners, waiters, gangsters and movie stars are on Seattle’s Pier 57. Several are atop the roof hauling fish into a boat. The sea otter bench at Seattle Aquarium is also his doing.

His work is in parks and plazas from California to Canada.

McVay captures his subjects in a moment and puts an animated spin into their next step, bite or swing. A sculpture of man dining at a table wipes his face with a napkin. Two statues in a wine garden gossip. The life-sized carving of Babe Ruth is posed ready to slam a ball, right down to the action wrinkles in his uniform.

A man thrown backward by a tsunami of junkmail from a mailbox is a whimsical favorite in Clinton. It’s by the post office.

McVay’s art can take a serious turn. In the South Whidbey park is Jesse’s Memorial Chair in memory of a teen killed in a car wreck. At the chair legs is a cat and soccer ball.

“He had a funny cat and he loved to read and he brought his ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ chair to school to do his book report,” McVay said. “I did a life-sized portrait of his chair and it overlooks where he played.”

By the baseball dugout is a bat 12 feet long and a ball 3 feet round that McVay gave the park in 2007.

“I cut my wrist accidentally with a very aggressive sander about eight years ago and it went all the way to the bone,” he said. “I couldn’t work for six months and almost lost my hand. The community threw a big benefit for me and it paid over half my medical expenses. And it picked my spirits up so much as a gift back I donated that to the park.”

The giant mitt has been on loan to the park for two years.

“It’s modeled after the mitt I used in high school and college. See how it’s all beat up?” McVay said. “You see bats with dents in them and balls with strings hanging out. That was the idea. I left tool marks on them. I wanted it to be distressed already. It’s like beat-up sports equipment that you’d see laying around in a park.”

McVay is uprooting the mitt to take to “Woodpalooza” to show and maybe sell. Asking price: $5,000.

Some fans might be hoping it doesn’t sell.

“It’s been a great addition to the park,” said Tom Fallon, park district facilities supervisor. “During the all-star season, kids from all the other areas we play just love it. They’re always taking pictures of it.”

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.

If you go

“Woodpalooza” is noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with a reception 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, Zech Hall, 565 Camano Ave., Langley.

Admission is free.

For more information: www.woodpalooza.com.

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