Tulalip artwork for Cabela’s means work for many

  • By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
  • Friday, April 13, 2012 8:05pm

TULALIP — From the outside, the Cabela’s that will open April 19 at Quil Ceda Village looks like any of the retailer’s other stores.

Inside, however, this Cabela’s will reflect the art and culture of the Tulalip Tribes, on whose land the outdoor outfitter’s store sits. That was something the Tulalips insisted on, said Tulalip artist James Madison.

The tribes’ insistence meant work not just for artists but for local businesses that wouldn’t typically benefit when a large company like Cabela’s comes to town. Working with artists, some got to try new manufacturing techniques. You can see the resulting artwork in the new store when it opens April 19.

When the Tulalips and Cabela’s agreed to put tribal artwork in the new retail store, Madison got the call. His work can be found in several of the tribes’ business and community buildings, including the Tulalip Resort Casino and the Hibulb Cultural Center. The 38-year-old artist put on hold other projects for the tribal confederation so he could craft six pieces for Cabela’s. Other Tulalip artists, including Madison’s uncle, also were engaged.

The pieces needed to be big to stand out in Cabela’s massive retail space. And Madison wanted to incorporate images significant to the tribe. It’s something he has been learning to do since he was eight, when Madison would watch his grandfather carve wood and design native art.

After finalizing the designs, Madison tapped the local art community, as one might expect. But he also needed precision machine work on each of the pieces.

Enter Everett Sound Machine Works Inc.

Machine shops aren’t hard to find in Snohomish County, where the Boeing Co., among others, demands their work.

But tucked away in the corner of its basement, Everett Sound Machine had a secret weapon: a water-jet cutting machine. Water jets can slice lines in material as thin and delicate as toilet paper. The technology also is used to cut through ceramics, stone and composite materials as thick as eight inches.

Owner Michael Greenleaf believes his is the only one operating in Everett. Known for precision, the water jet has enabled Greenleaf to take on a variety of requests.

“We do artsy things that are industrial. We do artsy things that are real art. And then we do just plain work,” he said.

The machine uses a tiny stream of high-pressure water. The technology was first developed by a forestry engineer in the 1950s. However, Kent-based Flow International began perfecting and marketing the tool in the 1970s. Flow, which manufactured Greenleaf’s water-jet machine, has about 60 percent of the water-jet market share.

Greenleaf estimates a new machine would cost $1 million or more. But he lucked out, he said, and bought his from another company in the area.

From paper to aluminum

Artist Madison hired Everett Sound Machine to cut the image of a bobcat, which he designed, into a quarter-inch slab of aluminum.

According to Tulalip lore, the cat has shamanistic powers.

“You see a lot of bobcats in stories but not a lot of bobcats in art,” Madison said.

To carve the design in aluminum, Greenleaf and former Flow employee Steve Lee, whom Greenleaf hired when he bought the water jet, first digitally scanned a paper rendering of Madison’s bobcat design — a cat’s head roaring inside a circular moon. Lee then programed the machine to cut patterns. He did a practice run using a large square of cardboard.

When it was time to cut the real thing, Lee watched closely as the machine’s nozzle moved across the metal surface, jetting out water at pressure as high as 60,000 pounds per square inch. His eyes occasionally darted back to the code flashing across the machine’s monitor. Each cycle took several minutes to accomplish.

Between the cutting machine and the shop’s cooling system, the dark room with wooden beams got noisy.

“I can’t hear anything, but I can hear when something goes wrong,” Lee said.

Lee watched as the machine carefully cut a triangle-shaped piece that would become the bobcat’s ear. Greenleaf reached in and removed a piece when it separated from the bobcat.

After the machine finished one pass, and before he programmed the next, Lee showed pictures of previous projects he has finished.

At Flow, he “fell in love with the idea of being able to think up something and then make it.” At Everett Sound Machine Works, that hasn’t changed. The design is Madison’s. But as he and Madison lifted the metal bobcat, glimmering with residue water, Lee looked every bit as proud of the final product.

Water cutting glass

Over the next several weeks, Lee and Everett Sound Machine left their marks on many of Madison’s works for Cabela’s. That included cutting various colors of glass in tiny patterns for an elaborate mosaic depicting Tulalip fishermen out on the water. The fishers are holding bright red canoe paddles as a sign of respect for passing whales and salmon. Green waves are under the fishermen, who are framed by mountains and blue sky.

To finish the glass piece, Madison turned to Stan Price, owner of Covenant Art Glass in Everett.

“Typically, we assemble the glass pieces together, solder the (lead) joint and melt it back together,” Price said.

Initially, that’s what Price did. He and Madison worked with a glassblower in Seattle and a Woodinville company to create the hues of the sky and waves. After Lee and Greenleaf cut the glass, Price’s assistant, Tami Bogdanoff, pieced it back together.

Handling the delicate glass is difficult. Bogdanoff spent two days just removing the tiny tags left on the cut glass at Everett Sound Machine Works. Then she fit dozens of glass pieces after smoothing and gently cleaning each one.

Their first effort worked better than expected. Sure, some pieces of glass broke and had to be recut before the entire mosaic was ready. In the process, though, Madison and Price realized they’d be able to try a more elaborate, difficult method. They would fuse, or bake, the dozens of individual glass pieces together without lead or solder.

The cut glass pieces have to fit perfectly for the final product to look right. If the pieces fit too loosely, a clear line will be visible when it’s heated back together.

“By teaming up with (Madison) and the tribe, I’m using technology that I wouldn’t be able to do on my own,” Price said.

Before this project, Price would not have suggested to customers that glass be cut with water jet, though he knew the technology was around. Having gained experience with the water-jet machine, Price feels more confident in using the technology in the future.

“It really has expanded what we’ll be able to offer to our customers,” he said.

A large kiln, four feet by six feet, which Price bought for the project also will allow Covenant Art to offer more services to customers.

“It’s sort of like, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ ” Price said of the new kiln.

Native distinction

People coming in droves is what Cabela’s manager Kevin Weeks was thinking about a month before the opening of the new outdoor retail store. It will be only the second Cabela’s in Washington. Weeks has faith the store will do well, given a prime location at Quil Ceda Village on I-5 and the proximity to the casino and outlet mall.

Over the months, the store created temporary jobs in construction as a 110,000-square-foot building was erected.

Weeks has hired 300 people to work at Cabela’s as part-time or full-time employees. The new employees have helped stock and prepare the store for opening.

Already, the store has been adorned with Cabela’s typical decor: 200 animal mounts, including deer, mountain goats, grouse and otters. But Weeks happily embraced the store’s unique twist.

“We have a bunch of native artwork,” he said.

Weeks noted Madison’s large glass piece. It will be the first thing customers see when they come in.

“It’s pretty mammoth in size,” Weeks said. “But, boy, is it going to make a statement.”

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

Cabela’s grand opening

The sporting goods retailer’s Quil Ceda Village store, 9810 Quil Ceda Blvd., Tulalip, opens at 11 a.m. Thursday. A ribbon cutting occurs at 10:45 a.m. Festivities continue through Sunday.

More about Cabela’s: www.cabelas.com

The businesses

Covenant Art Glass

3232 Broadway, Everett, www.covenantartglass.com

Everett Sound Machine Works

2802 W. Marine View Drive, Everett, 425-259-2216