Artists almost always have more than a few things going on at the same time. Commissioned pieces, work for shows, entries to juried exhibitions, and the process behind envisioning and creating bodies of work take an incredible amount of time. Someone who always seems to be working on a number of projects at once is Hilary Pfeifer. For Artful Home, she creates sweet, whimsical carved wooden sculptures. Meanwhile, she is also working on some incredible pieces for her community.
Pfeifer shared some of the current projects she’s working on:
My most recent project was an installation for a local show this May called The Recycled Rain Project. This was an invitational show that asked the artists to show artwork that used collected rainwater and addressed environmental issues through the lens of water. I decided to make a series of nine rainsticks that each have one or more songbirds on them. I chose birds from a recent climate change report issued by the Audubon Society that named 314 bird species that would be extinct by the year 2080 if we don’t act to reverse global warming. Rainsticks were originally created by the Aztecs to use in ceremonies to bring rain to their crops, so I thought it would be a great object to use as my water motif.
I’m also working on some artwork for the interior and exterior of a new public housing project in Portland. It will be silhouettes of plants and animals that I originally hand-cut in paper, and then they’ll be turned into larger cutouts in oak and stainless steel that will be attached to the walls. I worked with this client last year to do a set of 16 large stainless steel screens that surround a play area in a Head Start program. It’s been exciting to learn to work with fabricators and see my artwork translate to a 2-D format.
I’m also working on my third book, Alphabird – an alphabet book about birds and musical instruments. This has been an ongoing pet project of mine for the past few years—to make more detailed versions of the work I design for Artful Home and have them photographed for the book illustrations. So far, I’ve done elephants and dogs……eventually I’ll work my way through my entire menagerie.
Pfeifer is no stranger to community artwork. She chooses to surround her home and neighborhood with creativity.
In addition to creating my own public artworks, I have also spent a lot of my time bringing others’ artwork to my neighborhood. I’ve owned a home for the past 13 years in a part of Portland called the Alberta Arts District, home to a number of galleries and arts-appreciating businesses. It’s been great to be a part of teams of neighbors who have fostered many permanent artworks to our little business district, including kinetic metal signs, sculptural attachments to the bus railings, murals, and an 8’ high ceramic beaver! Working on that administrative end of things taught me a lot about the city’s infrastructure as it relates to art. We are so lucky to have a strong regional arts council here in Portland, as well as a series of mayors who understand how important art is to public life.
Working on different types of projects has helped to expand Pfeifer’s work and provide new opportunities for expression that she previously wouldn’t have considered:
I worked on a relatively small scale for many years until I was asked to create eleven 3’ high animal sculptures for the Randall Children’s Hospital here in Portland. Each floor of this beautiful new building is themed for one of Oregon’s various ecozones— mountains, high desert, valley, coastal. So I picked an animal and plants native to each region and made my critters. There are two on each floor in the area where the patient rooms are located, so the animals become healing friends to the families who stay there. Working at that scale really challenged me technically, but got me out of a safe zone I’d been sitting in for years. It really opened me up to the benefits of getting out of my comfort zone. Last year, I carved a 7’ totem pole and a large seed pod sculpture using Western Red Cedars felled to make way for the new light rail extension in Portland. I never would have done that ten years ago!!!
Community artwork isn’t only good for broadening an artist’s comfort zone — it is also wonderful exposure. The ability to see large scale, public artwork provides access to the world of fine art to those who might not otherwise see it, and can bring fans to the artists who create it. In Pfeifer’s case, those who see her large community pieces have the opportunity to purchase one of her smaller sculptures to bring a piece of her work into their homes.