Kicki Masthem, studio visit Portland

On from visiting Sara Swink straight to figurative ceramic sculptor Kicki Masthem just outside of Portland. Five years ago Kicki had a traumatic year. Her husband left her, then died and then she got MS all within a short time frame, probably with all the stress contributing to the onset of MS. After her husband died, she moved four blocks away and bought this charming fixer-upper house.

On the day of our visit she was busy with a basement drainage renovation which should be finished tomorrow after a quick four-day renovation. Although she apologized for the mess and chaos, it was a delightful artful creative mess and hey, everybody’s house gets a reno sometime…

She took a wood workshop with Stan Peterson, originally from California but now a Portland resident. He has an Art Truck, a little mobile gallery in an Airstream trailer and sells artwork in it. This small sardine can, a work in progress above, with little heads and legs coming out of it will be showing in his art truck soon in the Portland area. Watch for it.

Sara Swink says: Here’s a freaky coincidence. In the Kicki post, 4th picture down, there’s a photo on the wall of one of her pieces. I have that piece in my kitchen!

Kicki is a very feisty Swedish woman with lots of talent, humor and spunk. She used to teach drawing and at college but is currently on disability leave dealing with her illness. Sarah Swink's partner Harold Oxley's painting of folded and stacked laundry hangs over her fireplace and the character bunny on the mantle is by Sara Swink herself. We had just come straight from our studio visit with Sara Swink this same afternoon on our trip up to Portland from visiting figurative artist Clint Brown in Corvalis. What a nice art tour!

Kicki fires high fire clay using low firing temperatures with her own special technique. In the main, she uses very matte glazes. Kicki juxtaposes the matte with little bits of glossy shine in small details as in the flowers above, delivering a subtle delight.

Kicki has six cats. One of the cats likes to lick the rough matte glazes which contains lithium in it. She hears him licking it his very raspy tongue and she knows he’s getting some little high from it. Here’s one of the cats with some nice onions from her garden and then this huge ceramic green onion, bigger than my arm, out in the garden bringing wry humor to her charming garden.

This cat sculpture in her garden is encaustic on clay, unfinished and a work in in progress. It will live outside for the summer.

Kicki has kept bees for eight years. They forage up to 2 1/2 miles from home so when she moved just three blocks from her old house, she took the hive 10 miles away to overwinter and then brought it home so they would be happy to stay in their new home. A single bee makes 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in a lifetime. She harvests the honey and deals with the swarms herself in her bee camouflage hood. She went to rescue a small hive recently two days away from a certain pesticide death in a cherry tree nearby and now the swarm is happily living in the smallest bee hive, seen below.

Bee hives and white bunnies in front, chickens roaming on the right…

The bees share the big rambling vegetable patch with five chickens, three neutered bunnies and some pigeons. She gives eggs away and keeps the bunnies for their poop which makes excellent fertilizer. The bunnies are fixed so she only has the three, not three hundred!

Last year she had 60 pounds of honey from the two established hives. Dealing with her busy family of bees and beasts keeps her out of trouble and off the streets. With her MS, she is learning humility and gratitude for what you have and not complaining about what you don’t have.

Kicki lives in a nice neighborhood with good neighbors. Kids line up to come and collect some eggs, pat the chickens and bunnies and feed the animals. Kicki is a dedicated teacher, of animal husbandry and of course, drawing and ceramics. One of her keenest students, Bob, is a painter who at 40 started skateboarding and working clay at the college where she teaches. She inspires him and he inspires her for his zest in life.

Undaunted at over 50, Kicki started to learn to play the cello, bringing back muscle memory from when she took classical guitar lessons as a small child in Sweden. This challenges her brain. She even played a duet with someone from the Philharmonic Orchestra. Of course it was only Twinkle Twinkle Little Star but it gave her great pleasure knowing she had such a wonderful backup musician.

Instead of a midlife crisis, Kicki bought herself a sailboat. Now with a bit less mobility, she has a 20 foot Ranger which is a nifty little power cruiser she tootles up and down the waterways in when she steps away from her ceramic sculpture work.

This calligraphy piece in walnut ink on Tyvek is a poem by Dumas.

The colorful “cheesy” stag head gave her the idea to do the same thing with clay. She is working on this pig head and a cow to go with it in the same series.

In her little colorful kitchen these funny IKEA fabric sculpture cupcakes are quite a joke and tickle her sense of Swedish humor. She went home in January to Sweden to visit with her brother who was having a heart and lung transplant due to his cystic fibrosis. Happily, he is thriving and delighted with his newly found energy and life, a lesson in gratitude and humility.

She bisque fires at home and then glazes her works at the Multnomah Arts Center where she teaches ceramics for Portland Parks and Recreation.

Kicki almost got taken by a SCAM ARTIST a year ago who miraculously wanted to buy all her works available. What good news??? As he requested, she arranged to ship the works and was to send him a check for $1500 to this wonderful buyer in Canada. LUCKILY, when she started to smell a rat she was able to cancel the payment because the buyer was not able to process the payment due to some small error. When she complained to the police about this scam they told her she was not the first one to fall for it and told her she really had been very stupid. She's learned that lesson now, one we must all pay attention for.

She's quite a character in her charming quiet neighborhood which is like a little slice of the country in the city with her wonderful and abundant garden, like a tiny farm. Across the street, her neighbor and good friend has two ducks, several dogs, a large hare, one cat, several pigeons and one little boy so Kicki’s enthusiasm for nature is catching on.

Thanks Kicki. It was wonderful to meet you, have the studio and garden tour and enjoy a little glass of wine with you. We enjoyed your colorful artist home.

If you're ever up our way in BC, drop in and stay. Thanks for having us visit in spite of your disruptive home renovation.
Kicki Mathem

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