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Portland-based woodcarver displays work at Clackamas Community College Wilsonville campus

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Woodcarver Craig Rurey will display his art the the Clackamas Community College Wilsonville campus until June 15.

In an admiring tone, artist Craig Rurey points out Michelangelo's spatial awareness — which Rurey says allowed the legendary Italian sculptor to morph a gigantic block of marble into a mesmerizing sculpture.

Rurey is confident that if he devoted enough time, he could develop this uncanny knack as well.

He'd rather not.

Instead of toiling away in an art studio, the Portland artist prefers complementing his artistic bent with an outdoorsman's itinerary — navigating rapids, conquering mountains and riding his dirt bike.

But, exemplified by his carvings of owls and magnificent herons, his love for the outdoors inspires rather than hinders his work.

"(I'm inspired by) pretty much natural forms, organic forms — just working with my hands and being creative, trying to make something out of nothing," Rurey says. "People see that (a piece of wood) and go, 'I would barely use that as a piece of firewood.' To me, it's an owl. It's a heron."

Rurey's work is on display at the Clackamas Community College Wilsonville campus through June 15. The exhibit will include Rurey's woodcarving and copper pieces. In addition, he'll hold carving demonstrations.

Rurey has displayed his work at the Salmon River Art Festival and at the World Forestry Center and showed his jewelry at the Chautauqua Festival and the Bellevue Arts Festival.

Rurey says he was pegged by his peers as artistic all through his childhood and began selling his work as a teenager. However, seeing his art career as monetarily impractical, he began what turned into a 28-year career as a home remodeler. He also owned a jewelry business for a few years.

Remodeling during the week and going on outdoor excursions on weekends, his artistic time was slight. However, since retiring three years ago, he's dedicated more time to creating and selling art.

"Now I have all this art and this could be a good avenue to start marketing some of it because that was my plan, was to leave remodeling and go back to art while I was still young enough and strong enough," he says.

Rurey says he's carved over 100 owls in the last three years. He prefers carving owls because, unlike more daunting creations, doing so requires just a couple pounds of wood and about five hours of time.

"I don't need a fancy big old piece of wood or that slab of black walnut. I can just walk down to the river, pick up three pieces -- 15, 20 hours later, I have three owls made," he says.

However, he says his most impressive work on display in the exhibit is a heron carved out of black walnut connected to an X-shaped block of wood — a creation that took 120 hours to finish.

"That (heron) piece is all one piece of wood. That's the way I prefer to do it," Rurey says.

Some of Rurey's wood carvings evoke chatoyance — an optical reflection effect.

"That's another thing about wood. When you carve it, it's all rough and then you sand it and polish it and then you oil it and it just pops," he says. "When you get the right grain, you get the right force in the wood. Then you polish it and you get this beautiful chatoyance. You can see right into the wood. It's very cool."

He's also proud of his copper piece that depicts an emblazoned horse from the Picasso painting "Guernica" that surrealistically depicts the Spanish Civil War.

"He (Picasso) did this radical painting with all this suffering. And this horse had this look and I did the drawing of it and 10 years later I got a piece of copper and I hammered it out," Rurey says.

In general,Rurey prefers wood carving to metal sculpting.

"I've done plenty of metal sculptures. You've got your grinding steel and grinding bronze and torches and all that stuff. It's very cool and I enjoy it very much but it's not wood," Rurey says. "Wood's soft, forgiving. You break it; you glue it back together. My investment in materials is zero."

Though he hasn't sold his art for decades, Rurey is contemplating selling his work again. He'd even relinquish his precious heron for the right price.

"If that piece goes to my kids when I pass away, excellent," he says. "If I can cash it out then I'll get the energy to do another 120-hour piece of sculpture."

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