By JEFF SPRY Cascade A&E Feature Writer
Crafting and manipulating the elemental substance of stone for over 20 years, artist Fred Null of Null Designs in Stone has been working his magic, creating an artisan collection of stone patio furniture, slate tables, firepits, benches and water features and quickly becomin a staple of art in Bend, Oregon.
His handcrafted furniture is conjured up from the highest quality materials sourced from around the globe. Each individual stone is chosen, hand-picked, shaped and carved by hand to highlight the alluring natural beauty of their materials.
Null and his wife Zale relocated to Bend in April from Portland.
“We had lots of customers here in Central Oregon who found us at events all over the state so we learned a bit about Bend from them,” said Null. “We do 20-25 shows a year, travel a lot and figured we’d generate the regional business here to substitute for all the traveling. Then we did the Harvest Faire in Sisters in October and did terrific at that show.”
Out of five places, the Nulls chose Bend for the environment and amount of people who would appreciate their work.
“Our style, 23 years in developing, fits this area well, the earthiness and the ruggedness. We felt the tourist trade and homeowners here would be sufficient to satisfy our needs.”
Their process begins with the important selection of the stone. “We source slate, sandstone, quartzite from Montana, Idaho, Washington and Utah,” he explained. “Each stock has its own unique aesthetic properties that we put to use in our designs. Once the stone has been sourced, we begin the process of carving it into organic, functional forms by hand. Each piece is then set with an inlay of copper, brass, mild steel, enamel or kiln-formed glass. All of our bases are fashioned out of mild steel, then patinaed with acid to create rust coloration. The acid is neutralized and two coats of lacquer are applied to prevent further rusting and Powdercoated if desired.”
This all began back in 1987 during Christmas vacation with his family in Canada, where he met George Pratt, a famous stone carver. Pratt was displaying his work in downtown Vancouver. Within three hours Null knew he wanted to learn this art form.
He returned several days later and spent time with Pratt, who was collecting tools for his visit to the Arctic Circle to train marble carving to Inuit artists. Convinced this was his calling, Null flew up to Baffin Island one week later to join Pratt in frigid -68 degree weather, where he spent a month and carved his first two pieces of art.
These days, Null takes a non-linear, spiritual approach to his striking work. “In order to dig deep and create and let your essential self come through you must not duplicate or cater to the culture that deems things be done the right way,” said the Bend artist. “But instead strive to create the natural way. Artists don’t conform to what society demands and must try to stay connected to the universe.”
Zale, Fred’s wife and companion of 13 years is an accomplished enamelist and painter in her own right. She’s the angel who induced Fred into coming back into the work force in 2001 after a hiatus of four years.
“She saw in me that which I had forgotten and she’s been an instrumental force in being my mentor in following the past I lost,” Null revealed. “In 1998 I was repeating the same things.”
For years, Null was the exclusive stone cutter for The Nature Company that had 150 stores nationwide.
“We were in many catalogs and lifestyle magazines and over 2,000 locations around the world. So Zale and my son have created this enterprise and together the three of us have designed a body of work not seen anywhere else.”
That is when, through her inspiration, Null went back to the drawing board and reinvented himself from a fountain designer, to merging into his new love of functional furniture.
His son, Christopher Null, joined Fred in the business in 2007. Although Chris’s background was in theater and music, it fashioned Chris into a wonderful designer and carver of stone. Chris has grown from his apprenticeship to become a full partner with Fred and Zale in their new art venture in Bend.
“For people who see my work and touch it, it resonates with their yearning for that which is natural,” Null said. “Every piece is natural and unique and comes from my hand. It’s very sensory aware.”
Zale contributes her artistic wizardry to the process with her dazzling enamel work.
“It’s enamel on copper so I do multiple layers of colored powdered glass, kiln-fired at 1400 degrees, 2 ½ minutes per layer,” she said. “Each piece requires anywhere from 5-25 firings depending on what I’m satisfied with. When I draw or paint I focus more toward creating an image that seems alive but has the concentration of technique and a natural eye. With enamel I’m much more loose and fluid with color. For me it’s a playland, like being a little kid playing with colors.”
Null and his family do everything themselves by hand and are a 99 percent sustainable company from materials to the oils and epoxies.
“At our 4,500-square-foot shop here in Bend we developed a walk-in design showroom by appointment only. Customers can come in and look at samples of our work and order a piece of their own.”
With green thinking in mind, Null Designs in Stone is dedicated to minimizing their environmental footprint. They use only LEED-certified laticrete epoxy, minimal VOC lacquer and Penofin Verde Brazilian rosewood oil finishes on their entire products line.
Null and crew will participate in the Sunriver Art Show the second week of August. In addition, they’ll do two Bend summer and fall shows and four Sisters shows including the Harvest Faire.