I recently had the opportunity to sit down at the Downtowne Coffee House in Talent and interview Steve McLaren. Steve is the owner of Sunhouse Studios in Medford. He is a long time member of the Lithia Artisans Market and has a very interesting take on life. His philosophy about his art is both fascinating and inspiring. Enjoy…
How long have you been a Lithia Artisans Market member?
Steve…To be honest, I am not exactly sure but I am going to guess about 10 years.
How long have you been living here in the Ashland area?
Steve…I’ve been here 17 years. I migrated from Southern California to escape the city and find some peace of mind. I guess I am still looking for that peacefulness, but I have found it more here than anywhere else. I am still searching. Slowly I am finding that place within me. Once you find that, any place is home.
Could you explain your art form to the readers?
Steve…I make decorative garden and wall art. It is all made from copper, sheet copper. I draw images on the copper and then cut them with a torch. I back them all with a welding rod to give them support. I do a lot of scoring and hammering on the pieces to give them detail. The pieces are very colorful and I create those colors by applying heat with the torch. What I am really focusing on in my designs is archetypal images.
I have always been fascinated with the human mind and what it means to be a human being. It is really not an easy study. When you go back to Carl Jung and Freud and those who actually studied the mind you can see that everyone seems to resonate with particular symbols — archetypes. They can be anything from angelic beings to symbols to animal totems, you name it. People relate, inside themselves, whether they acknowledge it or not, to these images because they are part of the collective consciousness, they are universal. I work with these images. I told myself when I learned how to do this sort of work that I would work with subject matter that had meaning. These images have meaning to me. Folks seem to appreciate what I am doing and I appreciate that.
It seems that you have found meaningful work, an occupation that feels right. Would you say that is true?
Steve…Yeah, that’s true. It seems these days that there is so much of the mundane that we have settled for. Every person has some form of creativity in them — whether its sketching, or speaking, or singing, or whatever, everyone has something, and unfortunately, in our modern society, that is the thing that is being most suppressed in us and that is why we are so unhappy. That co-creative part of ourselves is being diminished by society — society being a collective consciousness where we have all decided what is real and what is not, what is important and what is not. Unfortunately, even in our political tendencies, art is the first thing to go. When we talk about tightening up our expenses in schools for instance, art goes before anything else. These things are absolutely fundamental to our well-being. Since neolithic times we have expressed ourselves through art, getting what is bound up in ourselves out into the world. By suppressing that part of ourselves we become neurotic, psychotic, unhappy, angry, violent. I believe when we suppress our artistic nature we become sick.
So, that brings me to a question about the market. What do you most appreciate about the existence of the the Lithia Artisans Market?
Steve…It gives me the opportunity to express that thing that is inside of me that I need to get out into the world. The Market is the perfect medium for that. I can communicate with the public, have banter about this and that. There is a form of interaction going on between me and the individual who shows interest in my art.
It is not all about making sales, though sales are nice. What is important to me is the interaction. Without some sort of interaction, some sort of feedback, it is hard to keep doing it week in and week out.
We all believe in what we do and we have to roll with the economic times. We are all in this boat together.
The other thing I appreciate about this market is the people, the collective of artisans. I have worked with a lot of other groups, but this one is unique. Someone can come up with a good idea and the collective has a great way of working together to make that idea into a reality. There is a strong ability to manifest in this bunch.
Are you able to make the ends meet doing what you love to do?
Steve…It is a real struggle. You have no guarantee from week to week or month to month whether it will all work itself out. It takes a unique kind of person to do this sort of work. In my case I do this work because I love what I do and I know it will work out somehow. The appreciation I feel proves to me that this is a viable form of work. It’s just not an easy way to go. It is a challenge.
How did you learn your trade?
Steve…Before getting into this I was a cabinet maker. Working with wood was very second nature to me. However, when I moved up here from California I decided purposely I was not going to do anything I had been doing before. I saw it as a chance to broaden my horizons and start fresh.
There was a gentleman here in Ashland who was looking for an apprentice. He was doing this sort of work with copper. I was very fascinated with the medium. I worked with him for about five years and learned the craft well because I was determined.
He passed away suddenly one night — a very unplanned-for event. So, not having a job I decided to try to make a go of it with my newfound skills. I took his knowledge of 30 years and squeezed it into a five year period. I added to it conceptually and made my own thing from that. I really appreciate having learned from this guy.
Regarding your philosophical ideas, do you have any formal education or are you self-taught?
Steve…I did two years of junior college. That didn’t work too good for me. But in my mind we never stop learning, life is about learning. I pursued what interested me, and it just so happened that I was interested in ancient culture, religion, and everything that makes humans who we are. That was and still is my main fascination.
Do you categorize your spirituality in any particular way?
Steve…If I could answer that in any way I would say I am a human being, period. There is no religion, or philosophy that I adhere to. My spiritual awareness is not outside of me. It is a process of going to the tablets, the books, to verify and confirm and add salt to the recipe so to speak. I have found that there is no one particular way to find your place here.
Do you have faith in some sort of higher power?
Steve…I believe in a creator and I believe in creation. That in particular. I don’t need a specific religion to tell me about it, when all religion is essentially talking about the same thing. I would rather look at the whole, the big picture, the real truth.
Who we are, why we are here, and what it means to be a human being — those are the big questions I think about. What I think it all comes down to is that it is in us to find us. We don’t need to go to other places, unless we just want verification of what we already intrinsically know. If we are looking outside of ourselves I think we are somehow missing what is intended for us.
In my understanding all ancient cultures were in touch with that spirit of light that manifests in everything. I call that the creator. Its physical body is everything we see, and it can manifest anyway it chooses to — in a plant, an animal, a human. It can and it does. The creator is all and it is intelligent. All things are part of that intelligence. The Shaman could communicate with that intelligence, be it in a plant, an animal, a stone. That was not thought of as crazy in ancient culture. It was normal. It was how we learned to use various plants as medicine. That is how things became known. The plants would speak. That was just life. They would have been surprised if that communication wasn’t happening.
Why do you think modern society is so disconnected from that form of communication?
Steve…When the first city was built it needed to be filled with humans. It was about taking everything that was round and making it square then trying to shove it into a round hole. It doesn’t work. We have been living in this false environment for so long that we no longer see it as false, it is just the norm. We have lost touch with the creation, with what is real. We all live in cities now and we no longer communicate with creation the way we used to.
Would you say that when you are creating your art you are trying to connect with that creator spirit you are talking about? Are you purposely working with these archetypes to touch base with your spirituality?
Steve…There is probably a lot of truth in that, I hadn’t really looked at it that way. What I can tell you is that I have an idea and I work it out ‘til it is a finished product. I can then look at the finished piece and it says what I wanted to say. However, at the time of creating it I am not consciously thinking about being co-creative, I am just creating it in my head and with my hands. I become in touch with it when it is complete. Then I can sense its truth.
What do you like to do when you aren’t making or selling your art?
Steve…I usually have my face in a book. I like a good movie, and I like to cook. Other than that I am thinking of the next thing to make.
So your existence revolves primarily around your art?
Steve…Yes, ultimately. It is not something I do, it is something I have to do. It is a lifestyle.