Interview with Sculptor Lin McJunkin

Interview with Sculptor Lin McJunkin

On July 16, 2019 the Happy Valley Rotating Sculpture Garden Program unveiled six new sculptures outside of City Hall. Joined by City Council and art enthusiasts, residents toured the installations and met program artists, who were present to share their stories and artistic inspiration.

Want to know more about the artists? We do, too! Read on to learn more about Conway, WA artist, Lin McJunkin, and her sculpture, Kelp Totem III: Orca.

So, Lin, tell me about yourself.

LM: I’m a  San Francisco native who comes to the warm glass art world through traditional stained glass. The gift of a small kiln hooked me on the narrative potential of warm glass, and after many years of experimentation and a summer at Pilchuck International Glass School, I now create in four distinct styles of glass: cast, kiln-carved, pate de verre and cluster fused.

Extensive backpacking and canoeing throughout the world has given me an intimate perspective on the social, cultural and environmental issues of our times.  A science educator for 20 years, I focus the heat of my environmental convictions, as well as that of my glass kilns and metal torches, on work that advocates for the health of our planet and its inhabitants.

I bring over 30 years’ experience in the glass art and business world to my private and collaborative work.  I have several pieces in permanent collections around Skagit County, as well as private and public art collections around the world.

What is your earliest memory about art or creating art?

LM: My mom likes to tell the story of her catching me scribbling on my bedroom wall with my beloved crayons, working at break-neck speed to finish before she could reach me!   I can rekindle that sense of urgency when I create work now (though not on my walls!)

When did you know that you wanted to become a professional artist?

LM: When I sold the very first stained glass panel I ever made, I was told that my work was  unusual and that I should continue making and selling it.  Those words, and the modest check, helped to convince me.

What themes or concepts inspire your artistic style?

LM:  I’ve had parallel careers as an artist advocate and science educator, so I focus the heat of my environmental convictions, as well as that of my glass kilns and metal torches, on work that advocates for the health of our planet and its inhabitants.  Nearly all my current work addresses environmental issues and their effects on humans, especially those related to our climate crisis.

How has your artistic style changed over time?

LM:  Because I now am privileged to work with a very skilled and talented metal sculptor who fashions the metal frameworks for my large pieces, I’ve been able to work on a larger scale and incorporate new methods of working with glass.

One of your sculptures, Kelp Totem III: Orca, is currently on display at City Hall as part of the 2019-2021 City Hall Sculpture Garden program. Sitting perched atop a stone, you’ve crafted an eight-foot tall strand of sea kelp out of carved glass panels and steel. Can you tell me more about the inspiration behind Kelp Totem?

LM: This piece honors the exuberance of the three endangered orca pods that grace our Salish Seas, and warns of the dangers imposed by decreasing their salmon food stock, boat noise that makes it hard for them to echolocate their food, and pollution that poisons their bodies.  I join Coast Salish Tribes in honoring orca as “symbols of family, romance, longevity, harmony, travel, community and protection.”

Kelp Totem has a hidden design feature: when viewed up close, the carved glass panels abstractly depict the iconic features of an orca whale. The panel designs are reminiscent of indigenous American art. Was there a significance to your use of indigenous American themes?

LM:  I sometimes work with tribal artists whose elegant images challenge me to make my own abstract impressions of native designs while giving credit to the original designers of my interpretations.

How long did it take to design and construct Kelp Totem? Did you have an artistic process?

LM:  I like to say my current work took me 3 months and 40 years to construct, since you have to take into account all the years of teaching myself how to do what I do!  The process of sketching the piece, sourcing the materials, rolling and welding the steel, making patterns and firing the glass in the kiln, attaching the glass to the steel framework and stone, and cleaning up for final presentation is a lengthy and exacting one.

What message do you hope to convey to Happy Valley residents with your work? What reaction do you hope to receive?

LM:  In “Kelp Totem” I celebrate the births of two new orca babies this spring as signs of successful efforts to improve the health and safety of these elegant creatures that, according to Coast Salish legend, “protect those who travel away from home, and lead them back when the time comes.”  May this be the time of our orcas’ steady return.  It is a message of encouragement and hope.

What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

LM: Being a maker can be very lonely, so find or create a community of folks you can share with and learn from.  Join an art guild or jury into an established art organization.  I belong to a 64-year-old organization out of Seattle called the NW Designer Craftsmen with an “Emerging Artists” program to help artists at various stages of their early careers network with others who are building or have built successful professional art careers for themselves.  This is an invaluable way to connect with others who can help young artists with technical, conceptual and marketing issues.

Do you find benefit in municipal art programs? Why or why not?

LM: I’m an avid believer in the value of municipal art programs to make sculpture accessible to everyone.  Many people are intimidated by the presumed formalities of art galleries and museums, so having work in public that is free to observe repeatedly helps to remove the barriers to access for many people.  There is also a sense of community that can develop over work that is suitable to its site and draws attention to its positive messages or urgent warnings.

The City thanks Ms. McJunkin for her contribution to the Sculpture Garden. Kelp Totem III: Orca has been on exhibit at City Hall since July 2019 and will remain through June 2021. For questions and purchasing inquiries, please contact Jaimie Huff, 503-783-3828, [email protected].

To see more art by Lin McJunkin, visit her webpage at mcjunkinglass.com


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