The 29th ISC Conference – The Multifaceted Maker

An incredible adventure into the work and minds of both International and Local Sculptors!

By Alisa Looney


Although I have been an ISC Member for many years, I had the privilege of attending my first ISC Conference this October, in Portland, Oregon!  It was incredible to meet so many sculptors from all over the country and the world. There were many memorable moments, and I will attempt to recount a few here for those of you who could not attend.

First, I would like to thank ISC Director Johannah Hutchison, Conference & Events Manager, Jennifer Galarza and Conference & Events Coordinator Alissa Maldonado for bringing the conference to Portland! Johanna mentioned in her address that Julian Voss-Andreae suggested (four years in a row) that she bring the conference to Portland. We appreciate you so much Julian!! Many of our PNWS members met with the Johanna and Jennifer prior to their decision, and all our efforts paid off! Thank you all!

My conference experience began with the Michael Curry Design – Studio tour. What an incredible creator, space, company and process! No photos were allowed, but our gracious host Michael Curry took us on a tour of his complex processes and studios, and explained how he and his team developed new technologies over many years to make lightweight carbon fiber costumes with thin walls that many dancers and performers depend on to move freely. With over 50 employed artists and engineers, the magic that happens here is truly awe-inspiring.  Michael shared his golden minute rule: when coming up with an idea… close your eyes and look inside, follow your instincts, follow your gut, and explore these ideas your sketch book, then do the research later (if needed). Love that!!

Next up: Leland Iron Works Tour: Upon arriving, Lee Kelly and his daughter Kassandra graciously led us to Lee’s studio, which was originally converted from a dairy barn in 1963 and shared with his late wife, Bonnie Bronson, also an accomplished artist. It was truly an honor to sit down with Lee by his crackling wood stove and visit for a few minutes. After appreciating him for his brilliant work, I was pleased to find out that he was born in Riggins, Idaho, and with his kind voice, he spoke of how he rode on horseback to pick up firefighters along the Salmon River in his youth. We then followed a meandering path through many of his stunning monumental works as well as his many maquettes strategically placed throughout the grounds. One path led to a gallery where Randall Davis shared more of Lee’s small sculptures, as well as Bonnie’s wall constructions and enamel works. Truly a highlight to see the work of these brilliant artists and their fertile ground. It was a dream come true for me!

Later that evening we gathered at PNCA for the opening reception of the Little-Sculpture Exhibit of work by conference attendees. Many PNWS members were exhibiting works that fit within the 8 x 8 x 8-inch requirement, including Sue Quast, Chas Martin, Julian Voss-Andreae, Alisa Looney, Jessica Stroia and Dan Good. This event was open to the public so many of our local supporters came to see the exhibit as well. Following this event, we celebrated over dinner with new and old friends!

The Panels began on Sunday, with the first one on Public Art: Looking at its impact and benefits in livable cities, where Ming Cheung shared her research on how Artistic Integrity and Human Interaction merge to create memorable experiences, and Ronnie Van Hout shared his monumental work, which was created by scanning a 3-D image of his son walking, and some of the reactions to it, positive and negative.

The next panel:  Voyage to the virtual – Sculpture in the post-digital age. I was fascinated by the speaker Michael Rees who said “We can do something special with our art, extend ourselves beyond time and space, inhabit something so thoroughly with this work.” He talked about how 3D software expresses math best, the universal language of nature. I found his philosophy interesting, how the spirit of art engages and speculates reality.  Sophie Kahn also shared her work and process, and talked about how she liked the bits of data or “errors” in a 3D scan, and used them as part of her final work, finding these patterns pleasing. Jose Luis Garcia shared his multi-faceted process which originated from an architectural background. He found it intriguing to ask: where is floor, wall, ceiling, and shared samples of moving these around to create sculptural forms. He writes software frameworks that help people expand their possibilities using these creative tools. He has used robots to do the heavy lifting, and then adds back in the grace of the human hand. He shared a video: The Digital Touch / Robotic Marble sculpting, short documentary –

I took a short walk across the park blocks to Art Reach Gallery and our very own exhibit, Making Space! Many thanks to Chas and his team for putting this show together with Curator, Sheldon Hurst. It was a stunning exhibit with so many gorgeous works. I felt that combining artists form the two sculpture groups PNWS and the Stone Sculptors Assn. created an excellent result that captured the creativity, craftsmanship and integrity of sculptors in the Northwest. Many conference attendees whom I had invited reflected back to me that they attended the show and enjoyed it very much. They felt the quality of work was superb, so well done everyone!!!!

That evening, the reception at the PNCA Glass building was another delight. Formerly the home of Uroboros Glass, this building has been converted into a maker space of an artist’s dream. Professor David Eckard, PNCA Head of Sculpture gave us a wonderful tour of this space. He mentioned it has been in a state of transformation for this past year. It is incredible, with studios available for a variety of sculptural mediums: wood, clay, metal and they recently added enameling kilns and amongst tools from OCAC, giving students and teachers from OCAC a place to finish the programs they started there. The gallery at the entrance exhibited works by BFA Faculty, and the center of the building was off limits, where the privacy of graduate studios was respected.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the panel on Monday: Contemporary Public Art Sculpture in China, with presenters Devin Lawrence Field, Shen Lieye, and Dong Shubing, but I heard others raving about it. I was happy to meet our guests from China and receive a book of Shen Lieye’s incredible work from Devin and Alissa later that day.

Next Panel: Deconstructing the Gender Binary: Gender and LGBTQ+ Equality within 3-D Making Environments, which highlighted the struggles and breakthroughs within the realm of gender, and one thing I took away was this: It is respectful to say “I identify as (she, he, they, etc)” to help others feel comfortable in saying how they identify. This breaks the ice and allows everyone to feel respected.

I was encouraged to sign up for an ART SLAM and I took the challenge. We had the option of talking for 10 minutes, or talking for 5 and asking for critique for the remainder of the time. It was an inspiring experience to both share my work and listen to other artists present theirs. I was delighted that two of the sculptors that presented were also PNWS members: Michele Collier and Micajah Bienvenu, who each gave wonderful presentations.

I caught the end of the Panel: Indigenous Strategies for Multimedia Intercultural Collaborations and was thoroughly inspired by the work of Lyonel Grant.  One quote that I found inspiring, “Where there’s artistic excellence, there’s human dignity” –Maori saying.

Next up: Party at Eichinger Sculpture Studio! Many of our PNWS Members attended as well as ISC conference attendees, and we want to thank Marty for throwing this Fun event! Marty’s studio and gallery are in The Geode, where conference attendees and the local community could relax and connect while touring this amazing space and see the work of 4 local artists. Thank you, Marty, your party was a blast!

On Tuesday, I attended Panel: Large scale Art Sculpture, Community, Learning, Teaching and the Life of Public Art. The presenters were Selinda Martinez, Peter Hudson, Alireza Lahijanian, Margaret Long, Crimson Rose an Matthew Schultz, each Creators of Burning Man and Public Sculptures. This presentation was incredible. The artists, sculptors and engineers presented how they work together to create the monumental fire sculptures to be moved and reassembled on the playa of the Black Rock Desert, and often reconfigure them for other public presentations. They presented their work with a contagious enthusiasm for the moment of surprise when they see a sculpture and exclaim “What?!!”  I was giddy with excitement after seeing how they work together, within parameters, and yet pushing the boundaries of sculpture and fire. Of course, I had to ask the question that was in my heart which is consumed with climate change, “What if we switch fire for seeds?” Peter answered with “I think you should make a proposal!”  I may take that challenge. I enjoyed having lunch with several of the presenters, along with Julian. I found this group of artists to exude pure joy!

I finished the conference by attending the closing reception (more great food and drinks) and the Student Achievement Awards Exhibition at PSU Littman Gallery. It was inspiring to see ISC give these students a huge head start on their careers by recognizing them for their work. We then walked to the MFA Open Studio Event and were again inspired by the ingenuity of students pushing boundaries in many forms of art. Truly grateful!

My spirit is full. Thank you ISC, PNWS and everyone involved!