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Natural areas inspire two artists

Boring woodturner and Sandy area watercolorist display works in August
by: Jim Hart Above, Howard Borer of Boring/Damascus shows a turned wood vase with a finish produced with a wood burner. Below, Watercolorist Connie Athman, who lives between Sandy and Boring, paints on “Bridge of the Gods,” which is now finished and in an exhibit at the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce in August.

Watercolors and wood are featured presentations in the art exhibit at the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center throughout August.

Works by watercolorist Connie Athman and wood turner/sculptor Howard Borer can be seen at the chamber's visitor center, 38963 Pioneer Blvd.

An artists' reception will occur during the city's First Friday event, 5-8 p.m. Aug. 5 at the visitor center.

Though they employ completely different forms of creative media, Athman and Borer each take inspiration from local scenery and woodlands to create their art.

Connie Athman

Off the beaten path in the hills southwest of Sandy, Athman paints at her dining room table. Her sketches and photographs are scattered among paint brushes and paper and serve as the basis for her paintings of the landscape local residents know so well.

'I just can't escape Mount Hood, it seems,' Athman said, referring to the focal point in several of her paintings. 'But I'm mostly inspired by what's around me.'

Athman has been applying paint to paper for nearly 12 years. Always in admiration of painters, she never felt inclined to pick up a brush until a friend showed her simple flowers she had painted in a class.

'I thought, 'I can do that,' and started taking classes,' Athman said. 'I've always loved watercolor and I've done other creative things, like weaving and quilting, but when I started painting, I loved it. It's totally absorbing.'

A hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service for 30 years, Athman frequently had a camera in tow when she did field work. From Bull Run to the Bridge of the Gods, she assembled a stack of photographs that she eventually used as stepping stones to her paintings. The creative license in painting is what she enjoys most.

'The best part of painting is that once you have your subject, you can change the colors any way you want,' Athman said.

One of Athman's paintings to be featured in the exhibit came from a photograph taken at Bull Run Lake near a group of historic cabins. By glazing layers of watercolor paints, she infused a soft underglow that highlights the reflection of Mount Hood in the lake and gives the scene the appearance of twilight.

Athman is member of the Watercolor Society of Oregon and twice yearly participant in the society's shows and conventions. Her paintings are also on display at the Spiral Gallery in Estacada, an artist's cooperative that features unique and original works by local artisans.

Athman said her mission is to capture the natural world - the beauty of the Northwest - that she sees and share it with others.

'I try to create a feeling and emotion with the color and the place,' she said. 'One of the biggest compliments someone can give me is to say, 'I feel like I'm there.' That makes me feel like I've connected and drawn them in.'

For more information on Athman and her work, visit connieathmanart.com.

Howard Borer

Borer's first attempt at turning wood on a lathe nearly 35 years ago, took an hour and yielded a pencil holder. Today, the Boring/Damascus resident is known for his detailed bowls, platters and baby rattles.

'This is my passion,' he said. 'It's who I am now.'

In a workshop littered with wood shavings and short stacks of cut tree rounds, Borer hollows out a piece of madrone wood with a striking grain pattern destined to become a large serving bowl. It will join several other pieces on a drying rack, where it will sit for a year before being finished.

Unlike other wood-turners, Borer rarely purchases pre-cut wood. He prefers to 'shop' for raw supplies locally.

'Trees around here are like weeds,' he said. 'There's always somebody taking a tree down in their backyard. I always work with green wood because I can control the drying process.'

The art of wood-turning dates back to the ancient Egyptians, but Borer said it's not a skill easily mastered.

'Some people can buy a wood lathe, three tools and a book or two and pick it up,' he said. 'But I would recommend taking a class. That way you learn the basics and don't get hurt.'

Borer is a founding member of one of Portland's chapters of the American Association of Woodturners. The group frequently holds classes for anyone interested in learning the craft. Borer is among those teaching classes and entering local shows.

A retired computer programmer, Borer spent 5½ years offering his bowls and hollow form vases at Portland's Saturday Market. But it was his signature baby rattles that put him on the map in wood turning circles.

'My first pieces were in a gift shop in Santa Barbara,' he said, 'and I have the baby rattles in a (gift shop) in Atlanta now. I've sold over 4,000 baby rattles in 30 years, and they've paid for all my tools.'

It's the detail on his work that catches the eye. He painstakingly applies color, texture and carves some of his bowls, platters and vases. He works with tree burls to showcase the beautiful grain of woods such as madrone.

It's a solitary process, he said, but one that has afforded him a lot of personal satisfaction.

'The greatest form of flattery, for me,' Borer said, 'is when someone buys something I've made.'

For more information, visit howardborer.com.