In the Studio with Donald Fortescue

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Donald Fortescue with one of two identical parts of his latest sculpture, ‘Nio’.

Donald Fortescue was preparing to join the last of the coopered sections of his latest sculpture yesterday afternoon when I dropped by his home-based studio in West Oakland for a chat. I arrived just in time to help him and his talented assistant, Yvonne Mouser, flip one of the two, seven foot diameter discs made of heavy Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), a sustainably-harvested eucalyptus native to Southwestern Australia. The identical discs will ultimately rest vertically on elliptical steel bases, framing an entryway like twin sentinels. Donald elaborates:

“I decided to call the pair of sculptures ‘Nio’. This is the term for the two sculptural guardian deities that stand on either side of the entrance to a Buddhist temple in Japan. The one on the left as you enter is called ‘A’ the one on the right is ‘Un’.”

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Yvonne Mouser hand-bevels the final sections for ‘Nio’

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Donald’s grandfather’s Record, some paraffin and a bevel gauge among the excelsior.

I kept my visit brief, sensing Donald’s mild anxiousness about finishing the sculpture in time for delivery before he takes off for four months of travel while on sabbatical from his post as Chair of Wood/Furniture at CCA. I mostly wanted to see his new studio in action while its first project was underway. Plus, I simply enjoy Donald’s company, find inspiration in his work, and know we both appreciate the kismet of a studio drop-by. I was impressed how effortlessly his tiny woodshop accommodates such a challenging project. The space is just over 400 square feet, beneath the 19th Century Victorian bungalow he shares with his wife, the artist and graphic designer Sandra Kelch, in a diverse neighborhood once known as ‘Lower Bottoms’.

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Donald’s shaping tools, neatly stowed in the door of a cabinet.

I’ve known Donald for about 10 years and have always appreciated his warmth and generosity as a friend and host. After a tour of the studio and project we convened for piping hot green tea and home-baked date bread in Donald and Sandra’s sunny garden, planted with trees and flowers of Donald’s native Australia. Join me as I follow Donald’s exploits over the coming months on his new weblog. Meanwhile, I recommend making a batch of Donald’s Date Bars:

DONALD’S DATE BARS

Chewy Date Bars.
A recipe from Nantucket – but where did they get the dates?

1/2 cup of butter melted
1/2 cup of sugar
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 teaspoon of Vanilla
mix all this together in a bowl
add 1 cup of chopped dates
add 1/2 cup flour (mixed with 1/4 teaspoon baking powder)
mix well and spoon into a greased and floured 10″ square baking dish.
Bake at 350 for 35 minutes
Slice up when warm and place on a cooling tray
Try to let them cool to room temperature before eating but don’t give
yourself too hard a time if they are all gone before they cool down.

Sometimes I add a 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala to spice them up.
Sometimes I dice a small banana in there too and reduce the amount of
dates
Sometimes I add a tablespoon of cane syrup for zing.


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