Artist Patti Warashina is at home in the studio and in the garden
An admitted “plant freak” the ceramic artist never saw a plant she didn’t love. A friend even brings her two buckets of compost each year as a birthday gift.
Pacific NW associate editor
Read a review of Patti Warashina’s recent retrospective at Bellevue Arts Museum:
OH, SURE, there’s art everywhere at Patti Warashina’s house. The ceramic artist has more than 50 years of work to her credit; a healthy dose of it featured in a retrospective of her long career earlier this year at the Bellevue Arts Museum.
And there are things from friends scattered about: Tip Toland, Peter Olson, Roger Shimomura, Dan Neish, Ken Kelly. Also treasures picked up from trips to Asia and India.
But at home, art must share her heart. With gardening.
If Warashina’s hands aren’t fully involved transforming a lump of clay into sculpture fantastical and fun (sometimes dark), she’s surely got them around the throat of some plant or other.
“Come, see. This is the most exciting thing for me this year!” she says in what has already been a pretty exciting year. Out on the deck is a pink lotus in a big black plastic pot. “For six years I had no blooms. I put a heating pad under it in the winter. I fed it, put a plastic tent over it to insulate it in spring. It’s not blooming. I’m cursing it.
“Then a friend comes over and says, ‘Patti, look!’ This year I was so busy with the show that I didn’t tent it, heat it or fertilize it. And it bloomed!”
She looks up full of delight and wonder.
“Come see the pond,” she says pulling back the water lilies. “I used to have five koi. But three jumped out — they get pretty frisky around springtime.”
And on we go. From a white hydrangea more like a tree full of cotton balls, to roses, geraniums, a fig tree, Japanese pear. “Here, taste these.” Champagne grapes.
“For my birthday my friend always brings me two buckets of compost.” And then, not surprisingly, “I’m a plant freak.
“Look at this! $2.49 from Fred Meyer. I don’t know what it is, but isn’t it great?
“Did you know that both my kids are landscape designers? Isn’t that weird?”
We run over to look at the current condition of a tall pink magnolia. Warashina’s not too sure about it.
Patti Warashina and her husband, Bob Sperry, another of the Northwest’s most influential and respected ceramic artists, searched for three years (in the early 1980s) for a place to live and work. Warashina thought fondly of Eastlake. Her “stompin’ grounds” from University of Washington days. “Nobody wanted to live here then,” she says. “It was all artists and hippies.”
When they found a lot, with space and zoning for their studios, they pounced, living in the little house there while building the four-story studio out back as they could afford it. “One day Bob said, ‘Let’s stop building and just move up here,’ ” she says of her top-floor, one-bedroom loft.
It’s been about 31 years here now. Sperry died 15 years ago, his work everywhere, as a tabletop, pyramids among the garden, stacked in the studio. Outside, every speck of earth has been put to use.
“There’s nothing more exciting than when a plant dies,” Warashina says brightly. “Opportunity to buy another one.
“The first thing I did when we moved here was rip out the parking strip. My mother in Spokane was an amazing gardener. She had this huge lawn, and we had to mow the stupid thing. I thought, when I grow up I’m never having a stupid lawn.
“I don’t have a big space to collect art, so I collect plants,” she says. “Oh, God, I’m terrible! I love visual stuff. It feeds your mind.
“Every day the yard changes. Every day it’s like opening a new present.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.