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JUNE 23, 1997

Features

'This is a gift I give to myself'

Keith Moen

Keith Moen and two of his works of art.
Photo by Deborah Stone/Northwest News.

woodcarver by Deborah Stone
Woodinville resident Keith Moen began to carve objects out of wood two and a half years ago, not knowing it would soon become a major passion in his life. After seeing Haida carver and teacher Ralph Bennett of Slough House Park in Redmond and some of his students carve totem poles at Marymoor Parks' Heritage Festival one 4th of July, Keith was encouraged to begin taking classes in the art form.
   "I had no art background at all, "says Moen, "but I've always been interested in native art, Northwest folklore, and I'm also an avid outdoorsman."
   Bennett invited him to come try a class at the Haida Longhouse on the slough in Redmond. Moen had zero expectations, but found out that over time, he was able to handle the various tools and learn how to work with a piece of wood to achieve depth and angles. Working with wood appealed to him. "I like the smells of wood, how it feels, the sensations it gives me," explains Moen.
   He began by making a bent wood box and soon got into masks which fascinated him. "Masks have symbology written all over them. They're for revealing, not hiding. It's so interesting to be able to bring something out of a piece of wood, to give it characteristics and depth, to make it say something," says Moen. He uses Alaska yellow cedar and old growth red cedar for his masks and carves in the Haida style with different gouges and knives.
   Completed masks are stained with oil and often have feathers, fur, or horse hair adornments. Wishing to try human hair, he decided to use his own, but first he needed to grow it until it was at least a foot long. He planned on it taking about two years to reach the desired length. It is currently long enough for a substantial ponytail, but Moen will wait until Sept. 1st (the two-year mark) to cut it and then use it for a special mask.
   The inspiration for his masks comes from various sources. Moen says, "I get ideas from things I see around me, in books, the outdoors, people... Stuff pops in my brain, bits and pieces of things that I put together. Sometimes I may start just with a nose and then go from there."
   What's important to him is the process. "It's not the end product that fuels me. It's how you get there. It's the journey that is meaningful to me," comments Moen. He adds, "I love the doing, the choosing, the changing along the way, and even though there are many frustrations, I am compelled to keep going because it gives me such freedom. This is a gift I give to myself."
   His wife Mary and their son Spencer are very supportive of his work and have provided much encouragement as well as assistance with his projects. According to Moen, they help cut, split, and carry wood and are very tolerant of the mess he makes in the garage, which serves as his studio space.
   Recognition has come early to Moen in the form of several blue ribbons and awards at various juried shows and exhibits in the area. He has sold some pieces already and has been asked to do commission work. Moen feels that the key to his growth as a carver comes from having a good teacher. He speaks highly of Bennett as an instructor who wants to spread his knowledge and share his love of carving with anyone who shows an interest.
   Bennett is well-known for his talent and has held many workshops at schools and for parks and recreation programs on carving, native lore, drum making, story-telling, and a host of other areas. Bennett's students, including Moen, will be at the Heritage Festival the weekend of July 4th. For more information on classes at the Slough House Park, call Ralph Bennett at 869-6359.