A sculpture is static. Heather Soderberg-Greene is not.
She’s on the “Lookout” for change after 20 years in making art from metal.
Four years ago, this sculptor came to the Gorge and quickly, and literally, made her mark in the community.
Well-known for her dramatic Sacagawea and Seaman statues at the Port of Cascade Locks, installed in 2011, Soderberg-Greene moved her foundry from Troutdale to Cascade Locks in 2010. Originally from Arizona, she worked in Hawaii and later in Portland before turning to art full time 20 years ago.
Soderberg-Greene’s WaNaPa Avenue foundry and gallery is a menagerie of bronze figures finished or on their way to completion via her patented wax casting technique. (It’s something best understood by reading her description on her web site, heathersoderberg.com).
The pelican figure “Lookout” is there, and with its looser lines and subtly interpreted anatomy, this new aviary work gives her pride. She views it as an artistic departure point. In essence, Soderberg-Greene is feeling a new freedom to move away from the photographic realism that has imbued her work since she started as an artist, a sensibility literally forged in the welding lessons she took with her father, John Soderberg, as a youth in Arizona.
“I feel like I’m using a different part of my brain,” she said. “It was much more freeing sculpting it. It’s almost like I’m sculpting more by feel than trying for perfection.”
Earlier this year she created, under commission, two 10-foot variations on the Sacagawea figure, which, while a faithful representation of the human form, have a softness that takes the viewer beyond viewing the strong historical figure in a time and place and towards more of a sense of what Sacagawea might have been feeling, 210 years ago as she stood on the shores of the Columbia.
Soderberg-Greene drove the statues, which were positioned upright on a trailer, to the Chicago area, where she installed them in private homes with the help of her husband of 16 months, tile artist Richard Greene. It was the farthest she had ever driven works that size, and the trailer had the bent axle to show for it.
Her works in progress include those of Paul Durham, the mid-20th century football coach at Linfield College, and the late Ken Jernstedt and his guide dog, Driscoll. Look for the life-sized Jernstedt statue somewhere downtown in the coming months; client Bob Nippolt is looking for a site for the tribute to the former mayor, state legislator and World War II ace pilot and his friend, Driscoll.
The Durham statue she will transport to McMinnville on Tuesday and install at the college in time for Homecoming on Oct. 18. A group of Linfield alumnae commissioned the work.
“It was a really fun project working with all the people Paul really touched, a lot of stories about how many people he helped, a father figure to many, many young men who had no other male influence. At first I thought, ‘sculpting a football coach, that won’t be too exciting,’ but once I head the stories it was exciting.”
The Jernstedt work is “nearly finished,” and she said it has been a pleasure to create a statue of a man who she said “was so approachable and friendly, and who was loved by everyone he met, and everyone in town knew him.”
She said that while the statute might end up on a pedestal, her vision of the Jernstedt-Driscoll work was “interactive.”
There’s a certain irony, involving photography, in the evolution of the Paul Durham work. She developed the image of the upright, bespectacled coach after many conversations with alumni and players who knew him and stayed close to him over the years. His son, Terry Durham, was “a huge help, a wonderful resource with getting all the details right.” The irony is that she also worked from photos, but most of them were, typical of the era, “fuzzy and with small pixels,” making it a challenge to come up with the right look to the mouth and eyes.
And it is the ingrained “photographic” quality of her work that Soderberg-Greene now finds herself moving away from.
“I think I have lightened up a little, over the years,” she said. “I had some horrific experiences, a lot of things happened since college and I moved around a lot. My work and I used to be a lot more intense, but the more I worked with people and public entities, I have more of a desire for my own personal work to get a little more whimsical and have a lot of fun.”
Her art grew out of the welding she learned from her artist father, John Soderberg, who started as welder and lived in Japan, Thailand and other Asian nations, working for the government and teaching martial arts before settling near Sedona, Ariz., where Heather grew up. She attended high school at a private academy in Rimrock, Ariz., and college at Northern Arizona University, where she studied criminology and psychology.
Of her father, she said, “We both started sculpting at the same time, and he was a strong force in terms of what I needed to do.” Her father emphasized realism, and while Soderberg-Greene appreciated the formative orientation, she said she is now trying “to break away from that and become a little more contemporary.”
“Especially working in the Gorge,” she said, “I can take off into the forest and hike and the wildlife in the Gorge is fantastic,” she said. “I’ve been more inspired to do more wildlife, but not more realistic and accurate, but more whimsical, catching the essence rather than just being a camera, and exaggerating more lines and tones and surfaces.”
That extends to patinas, the changeable colors or pigments applied to surfaces, she said. “I feel more freedom to do contemporary colors – I use a lot of metal oxides, that’s where I find a lot of creativity expressing,” as the tones and patterns can change from piece to piece. A current favorite is the patina rendered with silver nitrate, which is silver that has been turned into salt form, and when mixed with water and placed on a torch-heated surface, it will crackle or result in unusual lines or a marbleized effect.
It’s a matter of trying new things.
“People are used to seeing my realistic work, and I don’t know how to feel about it,” she said. “I just want to break my own mold, and I feel like if I don’t constantly grow and try new things, at what point do you cease to become an artist. I’d almost gotten in a funk, no drive to create,” she said. “Changing my style has been huge for me, so much more inspiring.”
Works such as “Lookout” can be found in galleries in Scottsdale and Sedona, Ariz., Portland, and Hawaii, along with Cascade Locks. The gallery shares the same building as the foundry, and is bigger than her original Cascade Locks location, directly across the road in a repurposed service station. She moved two years ago to what had been the Lorang Studio (Brad and Debra) now located a half-mile west on WaNaPa — making Cascade Locks home to two renowned foundries.
Soderberg-Greene said, “My hope is to have more of a gallery in the Gorge where I can display my work,” but she is so busy with commissions (about 60 percent of her work) and her own speculative work, it’s a goal that will have to wait.
“I would love the branch out, but just when I think I’ve caught up and have the freedom to do something, something else comes up,” she said. One of those is a giant Sasquatch bronze proposed by clients in Stevenson. “It would absolutely be a blast,” she said.
Soderberg-Greene started making art as a child. Her father gave her wax to work with when she was two, and within a few years she was showing pieces in Scottsdale and Houston. In her youth, she was featured on the Paul Harvey radio show and in People magazine. She ran her own foundry as a teenager and through college. Once out of college, she took off on the road around the country, straight to New York, she said. “Some of my favorite art is actually architecture. I love architecture and modern art.” Portland, New York and San Francisco are her favorite cities for architecture.
Soderberg wrote, as a teenager, a statement that still appears on her website. It says, in part, “The artist is fundamentally alone in the creative process, whether he/she is supported and encouraged by other artists and lovers of art, or is solitary. The inner drama, the complex ebb and flow of feelings, hints and glimpses of images and ideas, the inner drive, urges, promptings and doubts — the often fierce, undeniable, gut-deep need to create — are those of individual artists alone ...”
This still holds true, even though she says she has “softened” since writing that.
“I’m really having fun,” she said. “I worked by myself for most of my life, and had been a lot more comfortable with that, but it’s been nice to have someone working with me,” she said of her husband, Richard. “It feels natural. He helps me with a lot of the sculptures, and he learned the wax work and how to operate the foundry, and is helping me pour.”
They knew each other professionally for years, when Greene was based in Colorado, and got to know each other well through many phone and Skype exchanges. “We blew out about three Bluetooths each,” she joked. They were married on Valentine’s Day 2013, the day they first saw each other in person.
Asked about her 2011 statement in the Hood River News that her goal was to bring more public art to the region, Soderberg-Greene replied, “Even more so. It’s been nice to have Sacagawea nearby. I enjoy going down and looking at her myself, and seeing people enjoying her.” (Sacagawea Circle, at the Cascade Locks Port, dedicated to the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery 1803-06, features Sacagawea and Pompi and Seaman statues, and a crouching cougar work called “Silent Descent,” along with benches, native plants, lighting, and interpretive signage.
“It wasn’t something we did at first, but a couple of years ago I put a plaque at her base to let people know the artist is here, and studio is open, and after that got flooded with people,” she said. “I made more sales and met so many people. I can’t believe how many people I have met from all over the world from Googling it and finding all the pictures people have taken. Our region is so beautiful, and art is something that is unique and it stands out in people’s minds and gives them something else to remember the experience and trip.”