The first time she tried making art with wire, Colleen R. Cotey definitely didn’t think she’d found her material.
Then a painter, Cotey had to make art with wire for an art class at The Evergreen State College.
“I did this life-size dog, and I hated it,” she said. “We all hated working with the wire. It’s a horrible material to work with. You get poked in the eye, you get cut, you get tendonitis. We were all griping.”
But when the piece was complete, Cotey found she’d enjoyed the challenge. “At the end, I felt like ‘Yes! I did it!’ ”
She created another wire animal sculpture for her final project in the class, and these days, sculpting animals from wire is her passion and livelihood.
Her work is in private collections internationally and at Wolf Haven in Tenino. In 2013, she was named a Signature Member of the Society of Wildlife Artists, a prestigious honor that is not well-known outside the world of animal artists and collectors.
“Twins,” which will be on view at the Childhood’s End Gallery during Arts Walk and is featured on the Arts Walk map cover, is smaller than much of her work, measuring about 18 inches long and 11 inches high.
“I didn’t want to do a large piece because then you can’t see the details and it looks like a line drawing,” she said. “I needed the photography to be up close so you can see that it’s wire.”
“I was struck by the way the work is created,” said Stephanie Johnson, who organizes Arts Walk for the city’s Department of Parks, Arts and Recreation. “We were talking, and she said, ‘I’m going to start making the spots,’ and I was thinking, ‘How do you do that in wire?’ ”
Cotey will show about a half-dozen other sculptures for Arts Walk, including a life-size fox and wolf; several birds, including a dodo; and a three-quarter-size rendering of Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise, who died in 2012.
“I wanted to do some endangered and extinct animals because it is Procession of the Species,” said Cotey, an Olympia native who graduated from Black Hills High School’s Secondary Options in 2004.
While she didn’t come to wire as a medium until college, her love of animals and art is life-long. She grew up on a farm, and as a child spent all of her time either outside or drawing. “All I would draw was animals,” she said.
She said her family always believed she’d become a wildlife artist, but she herself didn’t expect that would happen.
“I wanted to be a jockey,” she said. “That was my big plan until I was probably 16.” She also considered becoming a veterinarian, and in high school worked at Harlequin Productions, studying costume design. After high school, she went to Ireland to study Celtic culture.
She continued to draw and paint while living abroad and finally decided to pursue a fine arts degree at Evergreen. She graduated in 2011.
When she first found that she enjoyed working with wire, Cotey viewed it as a sideline. But people really responded to her sculptures, and soon she had no time for painting.
She enjoys the physical labor of working with copper or steel wire and the freedom of working on a larger scale than seemed possible with painting, where no canvas ever seemed big enough.
“With the wire, I could make it as big as I wanted to,” she said. “Getting it through a gallery door is my biggest limitation.
“It’s nice to kind of be on the front end of a new medium,” she added. “There’s no preset ideal of what wire art should look like.”
All that said, the challenge of wire remains.
“I still kind of think it’s horrible while I’m working on it,” she said, “but I don’t have to think very much while I’m doing it. It’s kind of a muscle thing.”
Maybe that’s why she can’t really say how she does what she does.
“I’m not really sure,” she said. “It just sort of happens.”
Arts Walk XLVIII
What: The free twice-yearly festival’s spring outing features a lively mix of visual and performing arts at 126 downtown businesses and on the streets of Olympia.
When: 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, April 25; noon to 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Throughout downtown Olympia
Information: 360-753-8380 or olympiawa.gov/artswalk or olympiawa.gov/artswalkmobile. Maps available at participating businesses; at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW., Olympia; and Olympia City Hall, 601 Fourth Ave., Olympia.
For the kids: If you’d like to see Arts Walk but your kids would not, the South Sound YMCA is offering Parents’ Night Out, with healthy snacks, games, and lots of other fun activities from 6 to 10 p.m. for kids ages 3-12. The cost is $20 for facility members, $38 for program members. Call 360-753-6576 for more information.
Colleen R. Cotey
What: See Cotey’s wire sculpture, including “Twins,” featured on the cover of the Arts Walk map, at Childhood’s End Gallery, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia.
More information: crcoteystudios.com