A couple month’s ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Walla Walla artist Candace Rose in her mesmerizing studio and gallery space. Below is an expanded version of the article I wrote for Walla Walla Lifestyles (found here), including more about her process and fitting her art into the rest of her life and day job(s).

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Detail of one of Candace Rose’s found-object sculptures, with the artist reflected in the mirror

“Noodle Grotto,” the sign said with an arrow pointing upstairs. If I hadn’t been on a First Friday Art Walk I may have thought a new restaurant had opened up. Stepping into Candace Rose’s studio, named after the restaurant once located in the same space in downtown Walla Walla, is a walk into her intricate world of found-object sculptures and enigmatic photographs. The second floor rooms and halls contain not only her work space but an ever-changing gallery showcasing the art she has created there for almost 37 years.

Visitors are greeted by a good dose of color, whimsy, and history upon entering the multi-room studio/gallery. A piece of the pink neon lighting of the old Canton Café that used to be her neighbor outlines one wall, and a hanging sculpture named “Raggedy Can” smiles from the other. An antique typewriter serves as the guestbook, where one guest described Rose’s collection as “God’s button box.”

“I’m intrigued by the simple beauty of the shape or function of an object,” Rose writes in her artist’s statement. She joins these objects together to create playful new forms that tell both local and family histories. A shadow box assemblage titled “Tutti Fruiti” incorporates ice cream flavor labels from the old Purity Market and Grocery, located on Main Street in the early 1900s; and a box of Canal Zone matches, special to Rose and her family, since her mother grew up in the Panama Canal Zone.

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Rose, who grew up in Denver, Colorado, said she has been interested in art “from the very beginning. I always wanted to put things just so. I wanted them to look a certain way, and I started drawing and took art classes when I was a kid.”

She studied art at Colorado Women’s College, with a focus in ceramics. Earning a double major BA in art and music, she made clay instruments, and wrote music, which she and fellow students performed.

It wasn’t until moving to Walla Walla that she shifted her focus to found-object art. She moved to the area after college on a whim when a friend told her she had a place to stay in nearby Milton-Freewater. Rose rented her downtown studio in 1980, beginning with only one room, and grew into the larger space while refining her unique art.

“I always had a fondness for objects, just rusty old metal things that you’d find in a field or on the side of the road, and I would always just pick it up as part of my genetic makeup, I can’t help it,” Rose says. “And then I started realizing I better do something with the stuff. So little by little I did a few objects. I started with a flat surface and photocopy objects, and then it’s kind of segued and morphed into all found objects. Some are abstract and some are faces.” She says her faces are a kind of self-portrait.

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Tools hang on a wall inside Candace’s work space, while sculptures hang in the gallery space

“Sometimes I won’t know what (an object) is, but I’ll know I like it. And eventually someone will come along who knows what it is,” she says. “Once I had this cool metal piece that I got at the Goodwill, and an old farmer came up and said ‘You know what you got here honey?’ It was an old wrench from a Model T Ford.” The small black wrench now hangs from a piece called “Model T Wench,” along with rainbow spirals of wire, seashell hair, and reflective red lips.

When I asked her if she ever gets stuck in her work, this was her response:

“Oh yeah, I get stuck. I was just thinking about a bumper sticker that I saw that said ‘Artwork is work.’ And sometimes I’ll be on a piece and I think ‘oh this is so hard’ because I’ll be upside down and I’m trying to hold it, and I do get stuck. But the most fun is after I have figured something out and then I take it to a certain point and I go home and do whatever, then I come back the next day and it’s like ‘All right, good. You did it.’ And then of course knowing how many more stages there are and when to stop. Any art is that way, don’t go too far.”

“And how do you know when to stop?” I ask, waiting for an answer that might help me in my own work.

“That’s the eternal question isn’t it?,” she says. “It just takes some time, there has to be some time away from the piece and then kind of a soft focus, doing something else. Like while I’m sitting here talking with you I’m thinking, ‘mmm, I don’t know about that,'” she says, picking up a small metal ball that had been resting on an iron sculpture in front of us. “But this one is–yeah, this one works,” she says, pointing to a bobble balancing on the same piece. “Over the years my taste changes and my aesthetic I hope becomes more refined.”

She also adds that cleaning is a good way to get started, “to see what’s there. And then, to get a fresh look.”

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Deciding what to do with her found objects

Rose has had a variety of jobs over the years to support herself and her art. “I’ve only had a panty hose job once, as a secretary, but I learned how to do all those things. I’ve had jobs to keep it all together, I teach piano lessons now and I have a church music job that I like a lot and I do massage therapy.

“Sometimes the art’s not even there,” she says, then pauses. “Well, that doesn’t sound like a thing an artist should say.” But I know precisely what she means. “It just depends, sometimes it’s on and off. Sometimes I’m really excited by it and work really concentratedly and focused.”

She says it helps to have a goal or a deadline, for her, that’s a gallery show. “But if it’s springtime and there’s a garden to work in, that’s where I’ll be, it’s like the outdoor studio. But I’ve always had some other form of employment so that I can afford to spend time doing this, which has certainly broadened my business and it’s fine.”

She works in photographs as well, focusing primarily on reflections and shadows. “Partly because they are ubiquitous, and they give an additional reading on the primary image,” she says. Throughout the space are shadowy self-portraits and mirage-like images of downtown buildings captured in car mirrors and puddles.

“There is depth and sometimes mystery in reflections, and shadows have the ability to alter an image of the object creating the shadow,” she says.

She has shown her work at galleries like the old Carnegie Center, and a few restaurants and wineries over the years, but there is no better way to experience it than in her studio. She often displays photographs of the progression of her pieces, which may take up to a year, and some she revisits and transforms over years.

Here’s another story I enjoyed writing that may not make it into the blog, getting to know some people who are passionate about native plants and have found ways to include them in both careers and hobbies. Read it here.

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