Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Frank Boyden '60

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Visual artist: ceramics, prints, sculpture, public art

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

The art of Frank Boyden ’60 derives its considerable soul from his powers of observation and thoughtful response to his environment. His particular environment happens to be spectacular—where the Salmon River flows into the Pacific Ocean in Otis, Oregon. The ocean-battered wood, the tracks of sea birds, the motions of fish, the gulls both alive and skeletal, the wind-swept trees and their gnarled roots all find their way into his huge body of work, from prints to ceramics, sculpture, and public art.
Frank’s works have earned him an international reputation as a ceramics master and an artist who conveys beauty, wit, and a keen sense of place. During his long career in the arts he has also garnered a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and an Oregon Governor’s Art Award, and his work can be found in museum collections worldwide. He brought all that attention right back home when he founded the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology in the place he loves. Walks on these local beaches, marshes, and tidal flats inspire Frank and lead him to think about art and creativity, and how we teach our children.
“While I walk, I observe what’s around me and try to be continuously cognizant of color, pattern, the density of darks and lights, what I’m about to trip over. I never know what I might find that’s worth exploring. Young learners automatically have that kind of attention, which you must reinforce and reinforce,” says Frank.

Vase by Frank Boyden '60
“You have to ask young learners, ‘Why did you pick up that stone? Was it because it was spiky, or smooth, or translucent?’ It’s because something inherent in you says that these surfaces or colors are important to you in this moment in life. A good teacher asks a child, ‘How do you translate what you’re seeing and feeling into a statement that allows you to speak about what you’re seeing and feeling about this object, or about the sky, or about the water?’
“A mature artist makes a sequence of work, one feeding into another, and another. Maybe we go and do something crazy that we haven’t done before. Maybe it’s an accident and we can see that it’s important for our work right now. That’s how we grow as artists. The work gets deeper and denser, so you can express ideas in a more encapsulated way, in a way that’s less complex, with a stronger statement.
“If you live someplace and want to creatively experience that place, you need to be as responsive as possible about it and highly observant. You have to look at what’s going on, what the causes and effects are of the dynamics of that space, whether it’s a city, a valley, or a kitchen. I base a lot of my work on how these things I observe work together. How can I use my experience to say something about the relationships or the object or the space that is new?
“It’s like poetry. A great poet will take an idea and express it with a set of words we all know, but you don’t have any choice but to see the idea in a different light. That’s what artists do. By painting or drawing in a certain way you demand that people see an idea in a brand-new light. You made it look new because you tried hard to understand it. You’re broadening people’s abilities to perceive. That’s the mission of building an arts center. You’re teaching kids to widen other people’s perspective on the world.”

"Catlin Gabel exposes people to all sorts of possibilities. To be versed in math or science you have to know the rules, but in the arts you don’t necessarily have rules. What we do have are ways of granting permission to students to think outside of what’s normally expected of them."