Blaine artist featured in Skagit festival
By Tara Nelson
A Blaine bamboo artist will
be featured in this year’s Pleasant Ridge Rexville
Grange Gallery, a showcase of organic art and crafts from
Skagit and Whatcom county artists near La Conner beginning
Tom Burton, of Tom’s Bamboo in Blaine, will be selling his Asian-inspired bamboo outdoor wares including bamboo fountains, arbors, furniture, trellises and fences at the event, which corresponds with the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival from April 6 to 22.
Burton said much of the bamboo he uses comes from China and Vietnam, but since prices have nearly tripled in the past 10 years, he began using more and more of his own domestic crop, which he grows in his front yard.
After harvesting a portion of his crop each year, he cures the green stalks – which are full of water – for 3 to 6 months in his storage facility and cuts them to uniform size. He also began using more variety of material such as flattened pine branches that add color and texture to some of his fence panels.
“I like that because of the contrast, it has kind of the ‘bamboo-ey’ bundled look but it’s flat and it’s got a nice color contrast,” he said. “I’m getting into more and more colors and more materials. I’m finding out that it’s textures and colors that are interesting to the eye.”
Traditional Japanese knotting adds stability and character, as well as using a variety of bamboo types, such as the black bamboo he often uses in gates and fences to provide contrast.
Burton, a former Blaine city council member, Whatcom County Council member and one-time city mayor, says many of his fences and trellises are “direct knock offs” of fences surrounding the temples in Kyoto, Japan. He also once replicated a hat and umbrella stand in Claude Monet’s house he once found in a book he checked out from the library.
“In the late 1800s, there was a big bamboo mania that swept over Europe, a lot of bamboo furniture,” he said. “But I didn’t know the dimensions and it just so happened a friend of mine was going to Europe on an artists’ tour of France and unbeknownst to me, she saw that and thought I would like that.
“From there, she took a picture and she was standing right in front of it, and from the height of her looking in through a mirror, I was able to transpose all the measurements of it.”
The bamboo plant is actually a grass, and can grow as much as six inches per week. As a result, it is often given a bad reputation by gardeners because it spreads easily and is difficult to remove because of the plant’s stubborn rhizomes. Burton, however, said he appreciates it as a highly sustainable building material.
“When you harvest a bamboo pole, you don’t kill the plant, it just puts out more canes,” he said. “It’s not like when you harvest a tree where the roots die and you have to plant a new tree. Bamboo is different.”
Burton, a long-time fisher, said he moved to Blaine from Olympia in 1972 to be closer to his work. He was introduced to bamboo later that year, when he and his wife went to work building a new home in central Blaine. The couple spent three days clearing and burning eight-foot tall blackberry bushes that covered the property and, upon finishing, were left wondering what to do with their barren lot. When his brother-in-law, a long-time landscaper, offered the couple a collection of plant starts, it included a few bamboo plants.
“I didn’t know much about it at the time,” he said. “In the work to get everything else planted, we didn’t do much with it until I went out a few years later, when it had just about tripled in size. It just so happens we had been looking for some type of screening because when we built our house, we had a lot of south-facing windows. So we planted the bamboo and within a couple of years, we had the screening we wanted. And not only that, but we just kind of fell in love with it.”
Burton’s bamboo furniture and yard art will be on sale Friday, April 6 through Sunday, April 22, at the Pleasant Ridge Rexville Grange Gallery at 1929 Rexville Grange Road near La Conner.
From I-5 south, take exit 230, and head west for five miles on SR 20. Turn left on Best Road and follow for four miles, turning left on Summers Drive, just past the Rexville Grocery. Follow signs for one block. The grange is on the left.
Other featured artists include ceramic artist Marguerite Goff, herbalist Beth Hailey, of Dona Flora herbal products, and glass artists Leslie Masters and Teresa Novion. Blueberry, strawberry and raspberry jams will be for sale by Lennings Farms.
Friday’s opening night events include live traditional Irish and Scottish music performed by Campbell Road. For more information, call 360/708-3978 or visit www.geocities.com/rexvillegallery.
Burton can be reached by calling 332-8350, or by emailing email@example.com.