Seattle Studio Visits: Lead Pencil Studio — Part 3 of 3
The last stop David Abel and I made in Seattle on our studio visits was to meet with Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studio. They live in a self-designed concrete house a few blocks down the street from Ellen Sollod, their structure a very contemporary anomaly among the more conventional houses of Capitol Hill. Annie and Daniel, architect-trained artists, have begun to garner a national following for both their architecture and installations.
Where those two practices often come together in a spectacular fashion is in their public artworks, a recent example of which is the 30-foot-high, fifty-foot-long “non-billboard” the couple erected in 2010 at a border crossing into Canada near Vancouver. Commissioned by the General Services Administration as part of their Percent-for-Art Program, and constructed of welded stainless steel rods, the sculpture is massive yet delicate, utterly unexpected, and offers a frame for viewing changes in the atmosphere. It’s one of those works that stops you in your mental tracks (even while driving past it) because of its beauty. The empty frame creates a lacuna in which you have the time to understand its function and meaning, which is to say how we frame the world through our eyes, the windshield, and our preconceptions.
An earlier and renowned example of this negative framing, which is a central tool in the Lead Pencil kit, is from 2006, a large sculpture erected on the tall Oregon bluffs atop the Columbia River east of Portland. It faces the Maryhill Museum that sits across the river in Washington State, and is an exact spatial recapitulation of the mansion museum. Maryhill, built from 1914 through 1940, was conceived of by the man who created the Columbia Gorge Highway. It is a deeply eccentric institution that features on its grounds a life-sized recreation of Stonehenge, among other curiosities. Maryhill Double is not so much a critique of the concrete château as it is of the process of replication. It’s also a reminder of how walls enclose space within while keeping out the space surrounding them. Built simply out of scaffolding and construction netting, the sculpture was almost a building, but not quite. It there and not-there, a finished work that look like an idea in progress, and a profound delight to those who were able to view it during the three months it was up.
All of the artists whom David and I visited broadened our ideas about human creative interactions with various environments–but also demonstrated how those interactions benefit the public culture in which we live. We’ll have more to say that as we develop archives and programs that include their work.
A special word of thanks both to artist Ellen Sollod and Jim McDonald, Senior Program Officer in Arts and Culture at the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation in Seattle. Ellen and Jim helped put together our itinerary and provided introductions, and that’s part of an ecology in the arts that is a pleasure to be around, and for which the Northwest is rightly famed.