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Image courtesy of Ed Salerno

Artist of the Week: Ed Salerno

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 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?
Ed Salerno: I have been working with stone for about over four years. I started when I met Tenino's master stone cutter back in 2015. Walking into a stone carving workshop off the street wasn't something I expected in a small farming community outside of where I grew up. I also wasn't expecting that an accomplished craftsman would be so interested in sharing his craft with others but he put tools in my hands and gave me encouragement. I had become so used to hearing that being an artist wasn't a real job. Here was somebody who told me I could do it.

Do you work with other mediums?
I imagine many artists would admit that the drive to create can't be confined to a single medium. While some of my creative work is an effort to support my carving, such as writing and drawing, I'm also a musician. I've worked in independent film-making, photography, and graphic design. I hope to work in other mediums like wood and metal in the future. I just enjoy making wonderful things.

Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
There's a cliché about stone, that the stone has something trapped inside it and the artist just needs to free it. In reality there are some stones begging to be made into something while there are other ideas that begin in the sketchbook and become a sculpture only when I force an unsuspecting stone to do what I want it to do. Either way you've got work with intention and purpose. I work with a variety of tools including power tools but my favorite part of the process is working with hand tools. The dust and noise you make in the early stages is necessary to move the project along at a reasonable pace but finishing a project with mallet and chisel is peaceful work. That's the stage I enjoy the most.

Tell us about where your inspiration for your art comes from?
I love the history of this craft. You can see things carved in stone from the beginnings of human civilization all the way into the present, across the entire globe. With this kind of work, every project is different from the next. I can be carving letters one day then studying architecture the next. I love working in a field that sits at the intersection of so many subjects. I find inspiration in the limitless potential for study and exploration.

Do you have a specific “beat” you like best – nature, food, profiles etc?
The places I live, work and play are all very isolated. Nature is where I feel at home.

Do you have one piece of art that means more to you, or is extremely special to you?
A couple of years ago I went to New York City and studied with a cathedral mason and sculptor. I lived on boat without power in the East River, which was rough in December, so I spent as many hours of the day as I could in his workshop. When I wasn't carving I would go visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the 42nd St Library. It was a very magical time being in that amazing city and dedicating so much time to my work. I had to leave my sculpture behind at his workshop when I came home. It's a sculpture I'm very proud of that I hope to see again someday. I think because of what that sculpture represents, the experience I had there, that's why I feel so strongly about that work.

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
Before I ever found stone carving I spent a few months traveling in China, Tibet and Southeast Asia. I was traveling with my oldest and dearest friend, a person who lives life the way they want to live, who takes chances and doesn't worry about what others think or what society expects of them. When I came home I realized that if I wanted to make things happen for myself all I had to do was take the risks.

If we want to see more of your work where should we go to find?
My latest work can be seen at Tenino City Park. I have six sculptures incorporated into the architecture of the entrance gates and stone walls, along with companion sculptures done by my mentor. You can also see my work at our collective stone carving workshop in Tenino (we call it the Shed and it's open to visitors most Fridays and Saturdays) or by visiting our website.

What is next for you? Anything you’re working on right now that you’re really excited about?
I'm working on a collaborative research project with a team of awesome creative people and community leaders from different tribes and counties in Western Washington. The project is called Leading From the Roots. Our goal is to study how creative activities like art, music, small scale agriculture, and cultural traditions support the economic and social health of the community. I'm very excited to work with such a great team and for the potential to make a meaningful difference in my community.

Lastly, how do you take your coffee?
Cream, no sugar.