Warp, weft, wood
Monica Setziol-Phillips is a wise, witty woman who exudes class. And she has crafted a life that allows her to embrace her personal passions, pursuits and preferences.
Working from a rustic cabin in the woods west of Sheridan, she has achieved renown as an artist, weaver and sculptor. She produces one-of-a-kind commissioned creations for clients across the country and around the globe.
The cabin, built by her father, LeRoy Setziol, makes an artistic statement in its own right.
Setziol crafted it almost entirely of discarded railroad ties, which he fastened to one other with stout wooden pegs. Materials cost him a grand total of $1,500.
Inside, he installed carved cedar posts and a teak dining table. Carved walls serve as backdrop for sculptures ranging from large, freestanding carvings to small, intricate pieces perched on shelves and windowsills.
Setziol, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 89, was known as “the father of Oregon woodcarving.” He did his own thing for half a century, and the logic of that was not lost on his daughter.
Standing at the side of one of America’s foremost wood sculptors, Setziol-Phillips made the most of his inspirational influence and caring encouragement. As a result, she has woven and carved out her own distinctive mark within the fine art world.
Treading a path of her own making, she marries tapestry weaving with wood sculpture to create strikingly imaginative abstract statements. The unique combination evolved over time.
Having grown up in Portland, she went to Portland State. She took weaving to round out the complement of credits she needed for graduation.
But as it happened, the fill-in pursuit became a lifelong devotion. “I love fibers and color,” she said.
After weaving for 15 years, she took up sculpting in 1987. And the two gradually became one.
“I now think of my work as a kind of collaboration with myself, the two media together forming an act of completion,” she said.
“Weaving involves building a work through the addition of warp to weft. Wood carving, on the other hand, involves building a work through the subtraction of material. Putting the two together is always precarious, for it is only in that moment that it becomes clear the two belong together.”
A very different but entirely compatible form of creativity in her life has been her 30-year marriage to Josiah Phillips, a Shakespearean actor who has been with the Oregon Shakespeare Company in Ashland for 22 years.
Phillips, who goes by J.P., is a diverse and dedicated thespian. He is now nearing the coveted Shakespeare canon, bestowed on those who have acted in all 36 of the plays published in the bard’s First Folio of 1623.
At this point, he has seven to go. Though he’ll likely be slowed a bit by hip replacement surgery, scheduled for May, he still hopes to accomplish the rare feat.
“King Lear,” he lamented. “That great role has thus far escaped me.”
Perhaps he should take heed from the words of Lear himself, who demonstrated a puzzling elusiveness in saying, “Who is it that can tell me who I am?”
Such artistic vibrancy sustains the couple’s everyday life, which passes in a serene environment.
Setziol-Phillips considers looking after her cabin in the woods, and the surrounding 22 acres purchased by her father and mother in 1973, as carrying forward a family legacy.
Her parents planted a variety of trees on the property that were designed to provide raw material for wood sculpting. The roster includes teak, chestnut, yellow cedar, black walnut, redwood, giant sequoia and pin oak.
He didn’t plant them to provide wood for his own sculptures, but to grow a mini-forest capable of supplying young sculptors of the future. And some of them are already more than 30 years along.
Setziol-Phillips’ work can be found not only in private collections, but also in public places. For example, when the Allison Inn opened in Newberg, creating the most upscale resort the Yamhill Valley had ever seen, three of her pieces were selected.
The Allison’s art collection features works by more than 100 local and regional artists, encompassing painting, glassblowing, tapestry, photography, woodworking, sculpture and fiber art. In all, more than 500 pieces are displayed — enough to support a 107-page book.
In 2009, the city of McMinnville commissioned her to do a major piece for its new Civic Hall. She has also collaborated with Portland photographer Kirk Jonasson to create mixed media works to complement his organic, often nature-oriented shots.
The highly regarded Sitka Art Invitational has featured her work for many years. She has also staged shows at galleries throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Carrying the fine arts message beyond her own creative endeavors, Setziol-Phillips was a founding member of The Art Conspiracy, a West Valley nonprofit dedicated to providing arts opportunities for young people.
Its primary focus is a Summer Arts Program for children 9 to 16, launched in 1998. “The organization was founded on the belief that the arts should play a profound role in youth development,” Setziol-Phillps said.
In 2007 she was invited to join the board of the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition. The mission of this countywide organization is promoting cultural activities and organizations, cultivating cultural assets and broadening cultural opportunities.
Going beyond the art discipline to encourage a wider appreciation of culture reflects Setziol-Phillips’ inclusive world view. As a result, she has agreed to accept the presidency of the Cultural Coalition.
“For many years, I’ve had a serious interest in fairy and folktales, believing they contain valuable insights into the cultures they came from, as well as into the common cords that connect us all,” she said. “I am currently working on a series of paper cuts, based on folk tales from around the world.”
And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — being regaled by the many masterful expressions of weaver, sculptor, paper artist and cultural promoter Monica Setziol-Phillips.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 503-687-1227.