‘Gift:’ Art at Ashland Library Entrance – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News
photo by Peter Finkle Wataru Sugiyama shows off his sculpture titled ‘Gift’ outside the Ashland Library.
A sculpture outside Ashland’s library is called “Gift” because Wataru Sugiyama said he was guided during the creation process.
The gifts he received through this work also involved people. Doing so brought him closer to his daughter and reunited him in shared grief with her friend Alice Hardesty, who purchased the sculpture in memory of her late husband, former Ashland councilman Jack Hardesty.
The beginning of the process was inauspicious. Wataru’s friend told him that a new public art sculpture was being considered for a site along the Calle Guanajuato stairway, between Ashland Creek and Granite Street. Skeptical but intrigued, Wataru decided to take his daughter to visit the site – and it made all the difference.
“One weekend, my daughter and I went to the site,” he explained. “I was just curious where he was going to be. When I saw him, I remembered when she was in primary school, her teachers were organizing the kids and their parents to clean up the weeds right there. J I had a fond memory of that day, some kind of connection to the place. There was an empty pedestal along the stairs. As my daughter and I looked at the pedestal, I saw a picture there. So my hesitation disappeared.
The name “Gift” came from that moment of insight.
Inspired, he and his daughter went from the site to Leave Your Mark, a business on Highway 99 in Phoenix that sells many types of stones.
“First I was looking for sandstone, a much softer rock,” Wataru said. “Unfortunately, they didn’t have any sandstone at that time. A lady came and said, ‘And this one, a piece of granite?’ It was really beautiful. I felt like the stone was waiting for me.”
As Wataru told stories of his life in his small studio in Ashland, we were surrounded by many of his whimsical works sculpted in clay. Some I had seen at the Hanson-Howard Gallery. He commented that when he sculpted “Gift”, stone carving and creating abstract sculpture was new to him.
In May 2009, “Gift” was completed and mounted on a pedestal along the Calle Guanajuato staircase as a temporary installation. Two years later, Dana Bussell, a member of the Public Arts Committee, and Amy Blossom, Ashland’s chief librarian, identified a permanent location for “Gift” near the back entrance of the Ashland Library. “Gift” was moved there in June 2012. The sign on the sculpture reads:
“Gift”, Wataru Sugiyama; In memory of Jack Hardesty. Art opens the eyes.
When we visited the sculpture at the library, Wataru pointed out a spot that he thought looked a bit like eyes carved into the rock, and another area that depicts the flow of water from the top of the stone to the bottom.
Wataru’s story is unusual. All you need to know is that Wataru grew up in Tokyo, Japan. When I asked him: “When did you become an artist? he replied, “I had no artistic experience when I lived in Japan. I was an engineer, I helped build planes. I was just smoking cigarettes, two packs a day, while I was drawing the plans.”
Wataru realized that he only worked as an engineer because his father told him to. He began to feel the need to find his own path in life.
“I finally got tired of working as an engineer from Monday to Saturday, going out drinking on Saturday night, and then being hungover on Sunday morning. There was no time for me. One day, I I was sitting on the sofa and I heard a voice inside: “Wataru, are you sure you want to continue? My answer was ready, ‘No.’ So I wrote a letter to the boss and told him that I quit.”
By a wonderful chain of events, he studied English at a language institute in Tokyo, met an American from Ashland there, came to Southern Oregon University as a speech/communication specialist, enrolled in a ceramic art course because he needed to complete the required credits. , who fell in love with creating clay sculptures, received an art grant from SOU President Joe Cox. He earned his master’s degree in art and became a professional artist specializing in whimsical clay pieces.
For decades Wataru worked hard in his clay art and added sculpting stone. Potter Jim Robinson was a mentor who introduced Wataru to art shows in Seattle, San Francisco, Sedona and many other cities. Gradually, people got to know his work, and he supported himself through his art.
You can watch a video from Oregon Art Beat Public Television on Wataru. To find it, go to OPB.org and type “Wataru” in the search bar. In a moving 10-minute segment of the show, Wataru talks about making “Gift” and also about his mother.