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Kelsi mixes the natural world into her art (Image courtesy of Kelsi Dunn).
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Artist of the Week: Kelsi Dunn

Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at gmwynkoop@sbgtv.com. And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you!

Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? Do you work with other mediums?
I grew up in a creative household—my mother was a teacher and Girl Scout leader and my father worked as an aerospace engineer—so problem solving with my hands was instilled in me from an early age. I’ve dabbled in many mediums, but photography and woodworking are the ones that seem to have stuck. I have been creating my wood and lichen art for about 8 years—around the time I discovered what lichen is!

Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
My work centers around our human connection to the natural world, so my process necessarily begins with intentional gathering of materials. I ethically hand gather wood, lichen and antler shed from places that have significant meaning for me—places that I want to take with me as part of my life’s story. In the studio, I use hand saws and small power tools to marry these materials into a unified piece, paying attention to complementary grain patterns and lichen textures to create a work that looks as if it could have occurred naturally. This intuitive process can often take hours before I feel I’m doing the materials justice. I finish my wood pieces with nontoxic products and provide each creation with a detailed specimen card that connects the wearer with a natural history of the materials used.

Tell us about where your inspiration for your art come from?
It unnerves me to speak of nature as separate from myself. As John Muir has said, “by going out in the natural world, I’m really going in.” Our connection to the land is deep and storied, and even—especially—in a technical age, we need the memories and wisdom that it holds to help us navigate uncertain times.

Lichen, to me, is a wonderful talisman for many of nature’s lessons. It is a symbiotic organism—the union of fungi and algae—that tells us that working for the common good is useful, necessary, and sustainable. It is long-living and slow-growing, showing us that strength comes through adaptation and patience. It grows everywhere in intricate variety. It can help us slow down, if we take the time to look for it and pay attention to what we see.

Facilitating a connection to the land is central to my work, so each of my pieces comes with a specimen card that details the natural histories of the materials used—all of which I personally gather. In this way, my work is a commentary on time, attention, and the nourishing properties of place.

Do you have a specific “beat” you like best – nature, food, profiles etc?
It probably comes as no surprise that I gravitate to all things natural! I’m endlessly fascinated by how humans relate to place and how we find answers to –or comfort in—our deepest questions by observing the natural world.

Do you have one piece of art that means more to you, or is extremely special to you?
It would be hard to pick one piece, because the nature of my work requires me to be saturated in story. I have pieces that are meaningful to me because of where they came from, but I absolutely love custom projects that allow me to work with materials that my clients have gathered from places special to them. I have worked on pieces to commemorate love, loss, and a celebration of family. I am humbled and exceedingly grateful that clients trust me to memorialize their most intimate moments through my craft.

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
Lichenology was born in 2011 when we sold our beloved family cabin in the mountains of Colorado. I looked for a tangible way to hold on to the memory of the property and began collecting small, beautiful artifacts that, when placed together, reconstructed a story about the cabin and what it means to be nourished by a place.

I’ve continued my art in this vein over the years, living in many places that provided renewed inspiration and connections to the land. Using found materials in art—especially something so self-expressive as jewelry—allows me to continually examine and celebrate my relationship to place and share that insight with others. I’ve been in the Seattle area since late 2015 and this practice has really helped me feel rooted in my new home.

If we want to see more of your work where should we go to find?
My website, www.thelichenist.com is the best place to find new work and see where I’ll be popping up next around Puget Sound! I have a lot of events coming up this summer, including my neighborhood’s West Seattle Summer Fest and the Anacortes Arts Festival. You can find my schedule online.

What is next for you? Anything you’re working on right now that you’re really excited about?
I’m gearing up for my second summer of Seattle art and craft fairs! I’ve been working with some different PNW woods lately and am excited to share some projects that are meant more for the home than for the body.

Lastly, how do you take your coffee? We ask everyone!
Black and bitter (typically with a dash of sawdust).

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