Narrative Power Through Sculpture

by RENEE PATRICK Cascade A&E Editor

shelleyShelley Cline’s arrival in the Bend art scene has been as much a surprise to her as it has been a form of connecting to a deeper sense of self. Her first show at Bend Furniture and Design was during December’s Art Walk, and by the end of the evening, her work had sold out.

The Guardians, as Cline calls her ceramic and found-object sculptures, have come out of her experiences with love, loss and joy. Last fall, in the midst of a very painful time following the death of her sister, loss of her father-in-law and the ill-health of her father, she began to sculpt. “Out of the greatest pain came a lot of creativity,” Cline said. “My art was an expression of that. The pieces are more about connecting with who I am and my experiences.”

Cline points to a specific moment that began her interest in portraying indigenous people – purchasing a coffee table book on self adornment a few years ago. Amazed with the scarification, tattooing, painting and body modifications from around the world, she knew she would some how work with this inspiration in the future.

Although tribal in nature, she avoids assigning a specific tribe to the figures. “I really do believe we are all part of some tribe, whether that be through family, friends, DNA or geographical location,” Cline said. “I think the indigenous peoples from all over the world are, in many ways, more in touch with these basic instincts and needs and their own spirit – maybe because their survival often depends upon it…these primitive pieces seem to be able to allow others a glimpse into their own soul and form a connection with who they are or were or want to be.”

Cline has always dabbled in art, but it wasn’t until a move back to her home state of Montana five years ago that she became enthralled with ceramics. In Helena Cline began volunteering with the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts. “I fell so head over heals with ceramics,” she explains. Although she and her husband only stayed in Helena a few years and Cline immersed herself in the ceramics world.

The move to Bend interrupted her creative flow, and even after her husband gifted her with a kiln and slab roller, Cline found herself detached from the clay. During a visit with a Reiki therapist, she heard, “You are an artist, you have such blocked energy…once you release this energy you will blow everyone away.” A week later she picked up some clay and created her first guardian. “When I finished it, I cried. I felt so much,” she said, “I made most amazing piece and I could not get it out quickly enough…and it’s been like that since the fall.”

Heather and John Cushman at Bend Furniture and Design expressed interested in the first figure, and shortly after, Cline had her first show. Although many of her sculptures to date are African in nature, she is excited to work with tribes and ideas of beauty in other cultures, specifically Asia.

Her sculptures are created from large metal pieces, bits of found objects and clay, and she spends hours at Swift & McCormick metal yard looking for painted and weathered stainless steel scraps. “I like the ceramics being part of the earth, and the steel being from another age. It’s the modern and the primitive – they are connected too,” said Cline. By really paying attention, she believes she can find the meaningful connections between objects and emotions…between junk and art. 

Cline would love to start doing public installations. She has always been involved in charity work and is also considering creating sculptures available for auctions. “I really like that idea of being able to donate art. When something sells it gives you satisfaction that your work is worth purchasing, and money is not the motivator for me.”

“I used to think of myself as a storyteller…I now see myself more as a narrator. I create the figures, (and they are, indeed, part of who I am) but the stories they tell are the sole interpretation of the individuals who connect with them. In essence, these figures become their stories,” stated Cline. “I believe that is why these spirit guardians have elicited such a strong response from so many people.”

Cline’s work can be seen at Bend Furniture and Design, 1346 NW Galveston Ave.

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