It might be difficult to believe after the wettest winter on record, but Loralin Toney loves the rain.
Asked to make a sculpture for the cover of the Arts Walk map, Toney created “a celebration of the rain,” a mythical figure with wild hair, standing arms outstretched in a shower of glimmering Japanese glass beads.
“We are so horrified by the rain sometimes,” she said. “I was trying to really emphasize how valuable it is to have so much rain.”
“Aquapia,” made of porcelain, wood and copper, also honors the Puget Sound — symbolized by an octopus whose seven arms were an artistic choice, but could be seen to represent the seven inlets of the inner sound — and the trees that frame the figure, including a garry oak, an alder and evergreens with shelf mushrooms.
She imbues her work with layers of meaning, and that’s part of what appealed to the jury that chose her to create the piece, commissioned for the cover and for the city’s art collection.
“Her work has a story behind it — something that really engages the viewer,” said Stephanie Johnson, the city’s arts program manager. “It’s very detailed work, and I think the jury was impressed by that.”
The artist’s attention to detail and her appreciation for the vagaries of Western Washington weather are even more remarkable considering she does much of her work outdoors, soldering copper at a picnic table near her off-the-grid cottage in Tenino.
“I have to turn on the generator in order to use my wood tools,” she said.
Toney, who has been showing her work at the cooperative gallery Splash for the past year and a half, calls herself an emerging artist. But she spent many years focusing on production art, including terracotta gardenware and lamps. (She made the light fixtures for the now-closed restaurant Cielo Blu.)
She was earning a good living selling high-end lighting, and then came the recession.
“I went from making $800 light fixtures to not being able to sell a $40 lamp,” she said. “I had to sell the business, and that ended up being a good thing. I decided to live in a little tiny cabin with very low costs and get back on my feet.
When she moved to Tenino in 2011, Toney traded living space for time, finally focusing to the fine art she’d been making on the side — and showing in Arts Walk — all along.
“I’ve lived in or near Olympia for about 25 years, and I’ve been doing Arts Walk for 24,” she said. “I really enjoy Arts Walk because it’s very informal, and there’s very little pressure. It’s an easy way to show your work without having to create a big production or be in a gallery.”
Olympia’s art scene was a big part of what drew her here from the Bay Area, where she began sculpting with clay at age 8 and studied at the Academy of Art.
“My family moved here, and I came to visit. And I saw how many artists were living here,” she said. “I knew I was going to stay for a long time. It’s a very welcoming town for an artist.
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“It’s very inspiring. The rain, the ocean, the mountains, the sound.”
What: Toney’s show “Rise” includes five of her elaborate mixed-media sculptures, including “Aquapia,” the piece commissioned by the city for the cover of the Arts Walk map.
When: On view Friday (April 28)-May 28.
Where: Splash Gallery, 309 State Ave. NE, Olympia.