Story and photos by Elizabeth Kelly
It was a serendipitous visit to a Northwest Driftwood Artists’ show in Seattle that began a new career for Tuttie Peetz as a driftwood artist and teacher. “I had never seen anything like it,” Peetz said. She now has been working with driftwood for 15 years.
Having been born and raised on the East Coast, Peetz lived in “many places,” including Seattle in the late 1970’s for 2½ years. “Wherever we were, we always came back to the Pacific Northwest for vacations,” she said. When she and her husband retired, they chose to come here. “This is God’s country,” Peetz said.
Not long after moving to Sequim in 1993, Peetz left her work in family financial counseling and studied to become a certified instructor in the LuRon® Method of developing driftwood into works of art.
“I like to the term ‘found wood’ rather than driftwood,” Peetz said. Too often, people associate driftwood with the ocean, but in fact, naturally weathered wood can be found near rivers, lakes or around old forest clear cuts, she explained. “Mother Nature is really the best artist,” she said.
The LuRon Method was created by Lucile Worlund, a native of the Pacific Northwest, who learned the technique when she lived in Neah Bay among the Makah tribe. She went on to found the Northwest Driftwood Artists in 1963. A time-consuming process, LuRon involves scraping, burnishing, sanding and hand-rubbing to display the inherent grains and colors deep within the wood.
Peetz studied under Bernice Hillis in Sequim and subsequently was invited by the Northwest Driftwood Teachers Association to train with them in the greater Seattle area. “I went over there once a month for two years,” she said. After presenting lesson plans and being tested to prove her ability as a teacher, she completed her certification.
While she teaches the LuRon Method in her driftwood sculpting classes, Peetz said she also wanted her students to be able to “expand and be creative.” To help facilitate that, she and 12 others founded the Olympic Driftwood Sculptors, a nonprofit organization established in 2008 “to promote and share the art of driftwood sculpture.” ODS now has 70 members and they offer four to five shows a year to exhibit their work. Their next show will be in March 2012 at the Dungeness River Audubon Center at Railroad Bridge Park near Sequim.
“I’m very proud of the ODS group,” Peetz said. She explained that the LuRon Method can be limiting and has specific criteria, such as not adding any other material to a sculpture.
“I say, don’t put an artist in a box!” she exclaimed. Her sculpture titled, “Forest Gem” made of twisted cedar and inlaid with small slivers of turquoise, is a good example of Peetz’s work outside the box. The lightly colored cedar contrasts against the flat black painted, two-tiered base and the hint of turquoise completes the dramatic design.
“The way you base a piece of driftwood art makes a big difference in how it looks,” Peetz said. The base can be wood, metal or both, she said. “It has to be able to stage the piece and also support it,” she added. “Naming each piece is also part of the creativity,” she said.
Peetz explained further that a piece of found wood art can take four or five months to complete. “It is mostly all hand work,” she said, “at least 80 percent.” Depending on the complexity of the piece she is working on, she works from one to six hours a day on her art. However, it’s not work to her. “I enjoy the process,” she said. “It’s like opening a present — that’s how I feel starting a new piece.” When Peetz described how looking at driftwood is like looking at a cloud — each person seeing something different — it is easy to understand the allure of making something beautiful from a piece of wood that most people would walk past without even seeing.
In her backyard, Peetz has several collections of possibilities for future art projects. Many of these piles are kept for the ODS group to choose from, but she has one stack of treasured pieces that she has searched out and selected for her own projects. To the untrained eye, it looks like any slash pile. “That pile of wood represents many hours of scouring the woods, carrying and hard work,” she laughed.
When beginning a sculpture, the wood first must be cleared of any dirt, moss or other debris by scraping thoroughly until the natural wood grain is exposed. Next comes sanding and oiling, until the artwork is complete, Peetz said. The next step in the process is burnishing the wood.
“The traditional tool to use in burnishing is an old deer antler,” she continued. “Rubbing the wood with an antler compresses the cells of the wood together, creating a natural shine.” After the burnishing, a piece can be waxed with beeswax mixed with turpentine. “My favorite wax is Kiwi neutral shoe polish,” she said, because “it’s high in carnauba wax.” Peetz added that she never uses lacquer as a finish on her artwork.
“The wood itself is so beautiful and lacquer would only hide the wood,” she said.
Peetz has been teaching classes in her studio for nine years. She first began teaching an adult education class at the Sequim Community School. She said a class of 10 to 12 students is ideal. “More than that is too many because we work one-on-one most of the time.” The three-hour classes are held once a week for six- week terms and cost $40.
An avowed believer in not requiring people to spend a lot of money to take a class, Peetz said she asks the students to bring several pieces of wood with them and they decide together which pieces would make the best art. Seeing the potential for beauty in a piece of discarded wood is part of what they learn in the class, Peetz explained.
The students also need to supply their own X-Acto handle tool, round router blades and spray bottle.
Instead of asking her students to buy sandpaper, Peetz buys a special sandpaper with a cloth backing. “It is made in Switzerland and sells in 6-foot rolls. I buy a roll, cut it up into sections, and each student buys his or her own portion for $3,” she said.
Several of Peetz’s sculptures have won awards and in 2004 she was awarded Best of Show People’s Choice and Best of Show Peer’s Choice at the Northwest Driftwood Artist Show in Seattle. She has entered her work in the Clallam County Fair and the Beachcomber’s Fair in Ocean Shores. Her artwork also has been displayed in the Museum & Arts Exhibit Center in Sequim and the Northwind Gallery in Port Townsend.
While winning awards can be deeply satisfying, it is the work itself that brings the most reward to Tuttie Peetz. She concluded, “The personal satisfaction from completing a piece is amazing.“