Sometimes as I walk in my neighborhood, objects catch my eye. They can be anything: maple leaves, sweetgum pods, buds fallen from magnolias. I bring them home and arrange them as subjects for paintings.
When I first enrolled in art school, I studied with the sculptor and fountain designer George Tsutakawa. He spoke quietly and encouraged even beginning students like me. He invited our class to visit his home in Seattle. I remember it as a tall house built in a regal era. His wife served refreshments, and he led us on a tour starting with an original painting by artist Mark Tobey. We stopped to admire a room full of handmade musical instruments, including a koto, and I believe his wife played for us.
The living room opened to an outdoor space. There I saw large ceramic bowls filled with many small smooth stones. Simple elements, collected and arranged, became something beautiful. It was a traditional idea but one I had not consciously considered until that afternoon.
We were lucky to have visited on a clear day, because later he walked to the backyard and showed us how he tested his fountains. From what looked to me like a garden hose, water squirted up into the air and collected in round cupped bronze shapes. Each overflowed with a bubbling cascade that caught the sunlight.
Professor Tsutakawa came to mind again many years later, when I saw his fountain as I walked in the Garth of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. An interview with Tsutakawa is transcribed in the Smithsonian’s archives of American Art.