'Things that have dimension' the art of Dona Anderson By Nancy Worssam As a child, Dona Anderson never had a particular interest in the arts. Sure, she did all the usual things with paper, crayons, paste and scissors. But there was no indication that someday she'd be creating works for museums, galleries and collectors around the country.
She was an adult with four young children when the urge to make art came on, and then "it came on almost as a disease," she says. It became her passion, inspired in part by teachers such as Russell Day, whom she was fortunate to find at the junior college that has since become Everett Community College.
Anderson voraciously consumed one class after another. While her husband baby-sat, she spent her evenings exploring art in all its dimensions: painting, drawing, batik, lettering, whatever else was offered. When her teachers suggested that she visit galleries and museums in Seattle where she could see how others developed their ideas, she jumped at the opportunity.
Learning about art and creating art fulfilled her as few other activities did. Soon her teachers were encouraging Anderson to enter art shows, something she would never have presumed to do on her own. She submitted three pieces in her first show, an amateur competition in Anacortes. Much to her surprise, every one of them was selected for an award by a nationally respected juror. More shows and awards followed, and eventually this record of success convinced her that she had reached the stage where she could call herself a professional artist.
Because of her early explorations in different media, Anderson has always been comfortable embracing all art forms and combining them in unexpected ways. She favors sculptural pieces: "I like things people can touch, things that have dimension."
She particularly loves basketry, and her creations redefine the notion of basket. Earlier this year she was awarded Best in Show in an exhibition sponsored by the New Hampshire Institute of Art and the Northeast Basketmakers Guild. Anderson's entry consisted of two narrow reed boxes tunneled in the center by a square hole. Elegant and mysterious, they suggest unknown spaces within and beyond.
These and other of her baskets are made from round reeds wrapped in printed tissue paper. The reeds are sewn together, some to form sharp geometric shapes, others to create flowing organic forms.
Almost anything can inspire them. When Anderson visited the armor exhibit in a museum in the Netherlands, her imagination was piqued by what she saw. As a result, she produced a basket whose shape is reminiscent of the armor worn by the troops of a Japanese shogun. Another basket called "Bottoms Up" offers a representation of snow-white buttocks.
Although she's probably best known for her baskets, Anderson makes everything from chairs to 3-D fabric wall hangings. She's as likely to use found objects in her work as she is to resort to traditional art supplies.
One particularly whimsical piece is a 3-foot-high, long-line, black bra made out of an unlikely mix of metal parts and beads. Fine metal screening makes up the body of the bra. Two old truck headlight grills are used for the gussets that hold the cups. The molded enclosures for the headlights have been covered in beads to create perhaps the largest and most flashy bra cups that I have ever seen!
Where most of us see the mundane, Anderson sees artistic opportunities. Her dining-room chairs prove that. They are made of a cement-like compound applied to a chicken-wire frame molded on top of a factory-made small chair. By the time she finished the project, the graceful white cement chair covers touched the ground and boasted a decorative 3-D pattern of dogwood branches and flowers. On one of them she cemented then added an old, flattened pillow she found in her neighbor's garbage.
Anderson's work has been exhibited in venues from coast to coast. She is represented locally by The American Art Company in Tacoma, and occasionally her work is shown at Fountainhead Gallery in Queen Anne. Currently one of her pieces is on view at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham as part of the Northwest Designer Craftsmen show, and another is at the Tacoma Art Museum.
Dona Anderson and her husband lived in Everett for many years. For a decade Bob Anderson was Everett's mayor, from 1968 to 1978. Today they live on the south slope of Queen Anne Hill. There she works in her studio, mediating between the wish to explore an entirely new direction and the desire to continue refining the processes with which she's familiar. There are never shortages of ideas or materials. The problem is finding enough time.