Repair project leads to appreciation of the works of the Father of Oregon woodcarving

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Right: Jones has long admired the wood carvings of Setziol, known as the father of Oregon woodcarving.  REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKEThe city of Lake Oswego is displaying two sculptures by LeRoy Setziol, who is often referred to as the father of Oregon woodcarving.

One piece, “Oswego,” is a large-scale relief that hangs in city hall. The second piece is a freestanding sculpture on exhibit at the library.

Tom Jones, licensed woodworker and sculpture, recently repaired the piece in the library. A longtime admirer of Setziol’s work, he felt a spiritual connection to the art and donated several hours of work to ensure his repair would match the integrity of the original sculpture.

The restoration work inspired Barb Deurwaarder, a member of the city’s Public Art Commission, to learn more about the sculptor.

She learned that Setziol and his wife had moved to Oregon in 1951, settling on 22 acres above Sheridan. He was self-taught and incorporated geometric designs and religious themes into his carvings. He said he often didn’t know what the final result of his work would be, but that he went “with the wood” to produce the sculpture.

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Left: Tom Jones, an expert woodworker and sculpture, repairs a wood sculpture created by LeRoy Setziol at the Lake Oswego Public Library.   REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKESetziol constructed his home in Sheridan of rejected oak railroad ties, cedar posts, a teak dining table and several carvings. Rather than use nails he drilled the wood and inserted wooden pegs to hold the construction together.

His carvings can be seen in many public places throughout Oregon, including Salishan Lodge, the Child Development Rehabilitation Center, Crippled Children’s Division in Portland, the Pacific Northwest Forestry Lab in Corvallis, Salem Hospital, Kaiser Permanente offices in Salem, Northwest Natural Gas Co. in Portland, Portland University chapel and St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Portland.

In the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art Respective Catalog, Setziol is quoted:

“I call myself an existential sculptor. That is, whatever comes out on a particular day is ‘it.’ Of course it’s not that simple. How one feels on a particular day is critical, but that a feeling is related to yesterday and the people and events in it. It is related to feel and time spent on nonsculptural events. On escape from the several pressing needs of today. On seemingly endless complexities. Nevertheless, there is a particular feeling on a particular day and that is vatic to the confrontation of materials.

“It is important to have material around to ‘bump into.’ Sometimes material for sculpture has confronted you and you it for days, even years. Suddenly the feeling and the confrontation get together as if by a miracle and a sculpture is born.”

“Very few people know that I carved two of the panels for the Lake Oswego City Hall,” said Setziol’s daughter, Monica Setziol-Phillips. “I was working on my own work one day and my father said, ‘Here, this one is for you.’ I looked at him in disbelief. I had never carved oak before, so it was with quite a bit of trepidation that I carved the first panel. It took quite awhile. Occasionally, he would come by and make a comment.

“It taught me to pay attention to what he did when he carved and to apply what I observed to my panel and then to my work. Somehow I was able to complete the panels to his satisfaction, which was saying a lot,” she said.

“Setziol was honored with a retrospective at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, formerly the University of Oregon Art Museum, in Eugene in 1991, where 66 of his carvings were exhibited, as well as a major catalog,” said Deurwaarder. “He expressed his opinion that working in wood was an expression of the physical connection with the wood. ... We are grateful that Lake Oswego is home to some of his pieces.”

Setziol died Nov. 17, 2005.

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