Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sculpting a Life:
Susan Gallacher-Turner’s turn in the Pacific Northwest.


Life & The Art of Collaboration.

If you’d asked me last week if I did much collaborating, I’d say no. As a studio artist, I work alone in my studio and I wouldn’t call the clay, metal or paint collaborators. As a writer, I write alone on my laptop and even though I do interviews and articles, I would say it was more like collecting information than collaborating. As a teacher, although I’m working with students, I wouldn’t have called it collaborating. But I’d be wrong.

This week, I went to the Oregon Arts Summit, a gathering of businesses, artists, educators and arts organizations. The theme of the meeting was, ‘The Art of Collaboration’.

After the summit, I realize I collaborate all the time. I just didn’t know it. I can see that I had a very narrow view of collaborating. In my view, collaborating would involve two or more people sitting down and working on a single project.

According to jazz saxophone player and speaker, Mike Phillips, “Collaboration begins with a relationship between you and your gift.”

Although my studio work looks like a solitary activity, I realize now, that isn’t true. When I sit outside, watch the birds fly, see faces in the leaves on the trees and use the spirit of nature in my copper repousse’, clay or metal mesh, I’ve collaborated from within myself and with my environment.

Of course, teaching a group of students is, indeed, an act of collaboration. I may come in with a basic idea for the class, but the way the class flows and grows is all about getting over fear, learning to trust and working toward an art piece together.

My writing is, also, a collaboration. In an interview situation, especially, the person and I have to trust each other enough to share information. I may be asking the questions, but the depth of the answers depend on the person’s willingness to open up about their life, work and process.

According to writer, Barry Lopez, “We gave up community in order to get the individual. We need to rediscover what it means to be community oriented.”

For many years, I longed to belong to a community of artists. Joining Portland Open Studios has given me that opportunity. But collaborating can be tricky. A few weeks ago, another artist asked me to collaborate with her and although I could see the benefit for both of us, I was concerned. I worried that she just wanted to find out my process, so she could use it to her advantage. So I tiptoed around it and she stopped asking. I can see, now, I was wrong.

Because life is all about collaborating, from the air we breathe, food we eat, work we do and, yes, the art we make. Of course, there’s fear. Especially right now, with the state of the economy but maybe that focus needs to change.

Lopez says, “It’s not about the money. It’s about love. It can be done and the money will turn up.”

If I can do it, so can you. Yes, it takes trust, patience and heart to live a good life in an artful collaboration. But isn’t that what it’s all about?

I think Barry Lopez said it best when he ended the day with this, “Let’s make something beautiful. Whatever you do, try to make it helpful. Show us what we fear and give us the reason to believe we do not need to be afraid.”

If you’d like to view my sculptures visit my blog at or read my other blog, Susan’s Art & Words at

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