Dewey Blocksma: Art With Soul

The tiny woman with an upside-down teapot for a head lies on the floor of Dewey Blocksma’s studio. Blocksma thought he’d have to abandon her as a piece of art, but he swoops her up to his tool bench and gives her another look. He worried about the kind of nose the downward-pointing spout would make – humped at the bridge, snoutlike at the tip. "I am careful about women’s beauty," he says, in total seriousness. "It’s sacred ground." He runs the file along the spout at an angle, fluidly, like a violin bow. "I might destroy it," he says, adjusting his giant red glasses. But already the nose is transforming. The hump softens, and a human face emerges.

Dewey Blocksma is known for making heads out of teapots, spoons and Dutch wooden shoes. The human quality in his sculpture is beloved by art collectors – his work has been at the San Francisco Museum of Folk Art, the American Folk Heritage Gallery in New York City, and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. But the dubious dismiss his pieces as junk slapped together, as was the case with "River Guardian," Traverse City’s infamous first piece of public art installed on the Boardman River in 1999. Some call his art whimsical or rough – both words vexing to Blocksma. Others revere his work as the product of genius.

Look inside his Beulah studio and you see his work is the product of a real-life Gepetto. The onetime doctor makes his often fully articulated human forms out of everyday articles – works in progress are surrounded by bowls of baseballs, size 12 cowboy boots, Lincoln Logs, globes, gourds, croquet mallets, wooden water skis, wooden eggs, bouquets of wooden spoons. In his care, these objects become a person’s jaw, ankle, working elbow – each part a hinge of a human story.