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Sculptor Carves Doors Into Works of Art
Eugene Register Guard

ELMIRA - It's art on hinges; portals to a world of wooden 'wonderment.

It's functional art, and Mark Andrew's current creation: a double set of doors that serve as the artist's canvas or his lump of clay.

Dogwoods and deer, blue herons and bull rushes, all carved through and through in three-dimensional high relief. Open-and-shut, visible from front or back.

"The whole thing is a creative balancing act," says Andrew, who has studied and worked as a sculptor for 25 of his 45 years.

He works in stone and bronze and even concrete but prefers wood.

He creates everything from $20 garden stepping stones to door sets that will fetch him a half-year's salary.

Andrew does conventional, stand-alone sculpture that will be shown - and with luck, sold - in galleries. But much of it these days is commissioned work, ordered by buyers looking to make art an inseparable part of their homes.

He's carved beams and beam caps, and sculpted stone blocks to be incorporated into walls and fireplaces. And doors, whose scenes may offer glimpses of a home or its owner.

"From a homeowner's perspective, this is a one-time shot for me," says Karl Hallstrom, the local businessman who commissioned Andrew's current door set for a home he's building near Fern Ridge Reservoir.

The doors depict the lakefront scene out Hallstrom's front windows. They actually will be a second set of front doors, placed out of the weather inside a foyer.

"This is the first home I've ever built, and it will be the last home I'll ever build," he says.

Hallstrom prefers not to talk dollars and cents about the doors' cost, though he acknowledges that they'll be a focal point in a home intended as something of an Oregon statement. The structure of the house is of expansive old growth fir beams, with mortise-and-tenors joints held together by wooden pegs.

"The doors were a nice complement to everything else we were doing in the house," says Hallstrom, whose family owns Zip-O-Log Mills in Eugene. "You know, if it's still standing 50 or 100 years from now, people are going to walk in there and see those doors, and it's going to be something special."

That's exactly what's intended by the artist, who sees the relative immortality of sculpture as one of his job's greatest draws - it provides him a stage before generations to come.

The door frames were made by Oregon Industrial Lumber Products in Springfield. Andrew then precut and laminated a 5-inch thickness of carvable inset - all of top-grade, vertical-grain fir.

He carves a e scene in e doors with an army of hand chisels and power grinders with carbide-­tipped blades. The completed surfaces are faceted with chisel marks, like a cleaved gemstone.

"Just the feel of a sharpened chisel is pretty ecstatic," Andrew says.

He works at the doors for as long as six hours a day before the carving takes its physical toll. In fact, he figures he'll have time to create perhaps 20 carving projects as ambitious as the doors before he's past his prime and has to settle into less­ strenuous sculpting modes.

But for now, it wouldn't take all the fingers of one hand to count Andrew's craftsman peers living and working in Oregon.

"For the people who are doing it and that's their income, there are precious few," he says.

Andrew was raised in upstate New York and was living "a regular sort of life" until his father, an executive with General Electric, accepted a transfer to Switzerland. That's where Andrew fell for the aesthetic pragmatism of the relief sculpture that was common in public places and buildings, and even in homes.

"I went into a culture that had centuries of handwork on display," he says. "And looking at it just turned me into a pile of jelly."

Andrew says his parents took their family to Switzerland for the experience of living in a place with a greater sense of its past.

"They went to expose me and the whole family to European culture," he says. "And they succeeded."

Beyond their wildest dreams.

Before life in Switzerland, Andrew says, there'd been no reason to consider a career as an artist or craftsman. "I didn't have any exposure to it as a way of being, as an adult," he says.

But with the Swiss experience behind him, Andrew broke with expectations and followed his heart. He moved West, landing at the University of Oregon with the intention of broadening his artistic base.

He studied 21/2 years, then applied himself to the craft. He managed to scratch out a living for close to 15 years, until the recession of the early 1980s put a squeeze or, art buying and artists.

He took a job at a friend's electronics company in Washington, and was on something of a career track with the firm until he stopped to reassess his priorities. "When a year came, I had to decide," he says. "There was a fork in the road."

Andrew headed south, to Carmel, Calif., and spent the next 12 years establishing himself in, his craft. That's where he created his first set of high-relief doors - for $1 9,000 -­and it's where he put together the portfolio that eventually convinced him that he was ready to re-enter the tougher Northwest art market.

"It was like leaving to go to grad school, in a way - like leaving home to go to grad school and then coming back," he says.

He's been back for a year and a half now, and has a house and shop northwest of Elmira just a few miles from where he lived during his earlier stay.

And already, he's landed a couple of major jobs --- the doors as well as a five-panel Western motif series of wood carvings commissioned by a former collegiate rodeo champion living on the Oregon Coast.

"I've always thought that if you're good enough, there's room at the top," he says. "I feel like the (art buying) water is rising now, and I'm rising along with it-"

Joe Mosley lives in and writes about the rural area outside Eugene­Springfield. He welcomes suggestions for stories about interesting people, places and pursuits, and can be contacted by phoning 485-1234, extension 384. by e-mail to RGCOUNTRY@aol.com or by writing hire at The Register-Guard, P.O. Box 10188, Eugene, Ore. 97440-2188.