Dewey Blocksma: Art With Soul

Their house is filled with the smoky sweetness of the woodstove, the mood set by baby Chinese lanterns, folk art pieces, a pet cockatiel and a parakeet. "The big one’s named Picasso, the other one’s name varies," he says, lowering the shade to keep the sun out of their eyes. Inspiration is all around: sock monkeys with pipe-cleaner outfits in the rocker, a primitive fiddle, a papier-mâché cat playing a sax, Raggedy Ann dolls, a wind-up President Carter peanut, Carl Sandburg poetry books, Smurfettes, Frankensteins and Popeye shampoo bottles on the shelves.

Among all the collectibles and folk art is a gorgeous, graceful nude, a woman rendered Greco-Roman style – Blocksma’s own work, from another life. "It used to be in my mother’s house in Florida; it’s not my thing anymore." By contrast Blocksma’s "Purple Gourd Woman" is a nearly life-size sculpture of a woman whose torso is made from a gourd, her legs from a cherry table. Next to her stands "Frankie on Trumpet." Frankie is a bionic guy who plays a horn and whose head is an inverted percolator, the lid hinging open as a jaw. Blocksma knows how to create illusions: an embroidery hoop becomes hips, a folding ruler works as an elbow, tea strainers serve as breasts.

All of Blocksma’s sculptures – like his curvy violin women and expressive Dutch cowboys with wooden shoe heads – seem to come from a universe he has invented. But in making them he’s figuring out real life. "This is my way of seeing. If I don’t try to make a violin sculpture about a woman, I won’t understand the woman. When people say ‘oh isn’t this whimsical’ I say no. I use humor in order to cope." The Dutch cowboys helped work through the time he lived in Holland before moving to Beulah. Blocksma, who is of Dutch ancestry himself, found the lack of open dialogue hard to take. He likes how the shoe looks like an open mouth, the forthcoming expression. "No one in Holland would tell you what they really think. So here’s my wooden shoe that will."

Blocksma’s latest sculptures deal with the technology age. He’s making fake computers out of Tinkertoys and computer cowboys with bowlegged stances created by keyboards bent into a half-moon shape. "It’s the hotdog idea that we’re riding the computer like a horse. We don’t really know what technology is doing to us. I know kids who are fast with a mouse, but can’t use scissors," he says. "I don’t want to sound nostalgic, but I go to dozens of garage sales, and you just don’t see carvings anymore. You know, the guy who used to sit around and whittle little figures. There used to be one in every town. We’re losing our ability to tinker, but people who work with their hands last a long time – it keeps their brain alive."

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