Slowly, Lovingly, Comes Art



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Judy Phipps was commissioned to create a war memorial for those who fell in Iraq and Afghanistan.

RICKREALL -- There is a peace that washes and warms a sun-lit studio. It brings reality so completely into focus that at once it becomes heightened, then unreal and dream-like.

It is in this space of calm that Judy Phipps creates. On the top level of her converted barn, surrounded on all sides by windows, she captures time.

Her studio is filled with ideas. Things begun, but set aside to rest spill into corners. Drawings, completed and preserved by glass, drape the walls. The tools of her many trades point to the ceiling and wall and windows, like plants following the sun.

Her main work for the moment, an Afghan-Iraqi war memorial, stands near the back of this airy, organic room; it's hulking dominance incomplete, but morphing daily into a young man's face and limbs.

"I've run out of clay again, so I had to stop work until I get more in," she says, leaning over to brush away terracotta dust from her work station.

Her shoulder-length auburn hair floats forward onto her face as her concentration shifts. For a flickering breath the work draws her in.

She is building the statue in clay around a wire "skeleton." A foundry will then create a wax mold from the clay sculpture and pour a bronze statue from it.

Behind Phipps, a cork board rests against an easel. It's covered with photos. Some are posed, others natural. In many, a middle-aged man wearing desert camos mimics the statue, a gun slung on his back, his hand reaching forward, grasping air.

"That's Clay Kesterson. He and his wife commissioned the piece. The statue's likeness is loosely based on their son, Erik, though it's supposed to represent all soldiers. I had him put the fatigues on so I could see how the fabric drapes, where the creases were, that sort of thing," Phipps says, drifting back to the moment.

The Kestersons are spearheading the war memorial. After they lost their son last November, they decided the fallen from our current war, unlike other wars, should not have to wait years to be honored and remembered.

Through their nonprofit organization, the Afghan-Iraqi Freedom War Memorial Fund, the Kestersons are raising money to pay for Phipps' statue. It will be the centerpiece of a larger water feature which will be located in front of the Department of Veteran's Affairs building in Salem.

Phipps, a native Oregonian, said she is honored to create the statue. Her feeling is that regardless of one's opinion on the war, it is important to respect the men and women who are fighting and dying in it.

As part of the sculpting process Phipps made a scaled version of the statue, for general reference. From that, small bronzes can be made. The Kestersons are giving away limited edition miniatures as gifts for a $1,500 donation to the memorial fund.

The Kestersons plan to break ground on November 15, 2005. A year, to the day, that their son died.

In the meantime, Phipps is pushing to finish. She works at night. Her days are consumed with daily farm chores. Her home, Daffodil Hill, is a working vineyard and lavender farm. Since her husband's death a year ago, she has been maintaining it alone.

"After my husband died I had the hardest time getting back to work. I would come up here and start something, but just couldn't finish anything."

During that period, she experimented with different media and tried out new ideas. She'd jump from project to project. She couldn't settle. The remnants of her drifting creative energy still sit half-finished in slots at the opposite end of her studio.

Eventually, she returned to sculpting and oil pastels. The familiarity of those media carried her through the grief.

She now lives alone with her two dogs, Beau and Tank, and has found peace in her surroundings.

The emerald-green vistas and nature's celestial artwork provide ample inspiration.

"Views never meant that much to me, until I moved here. It's incredible how every sunset is so completely different. I'm constantly amazed."

For more information on the war memorial: www.freedomisntfreeoregon.org.

To see more of Judy Phipps art: www.judyphippsartist.com

To see the war memorial as it's being constructed, attend the Daffodil Hill Lavender Festival on June 25 and 26.



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