Dennis “Denny” Young fired pottery in a portable kiln at Coeur d’Alene’s Art on the Green festival for 44 years. Known for raku, a Japanese technique employing low firing temperatures, Young cooled his pieces in the traditional way by dumping them from the warm kiln into a trash can full of grasses and sawdust, sending plumes of smoke into the sky.
Young died in December, leaving behind partner and student Jeff Harris to carry on the raku process and his children with memories of the early days of the annual celebration on the banks of Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River at North Idaho College.
“We’d sit near the blazing hot kilns, dirty and hot, and then Dad would take us across the street and we’d run and jump in the river,” said Young’s daughter, Brittney Gannon, now grown and living in Seattle. She made the drive to share her dad’s work one last time with visitors.
Saturday afternoon, Harris fired just a few of the hundreds of thrown pieces left behind by Young, a charter exhibitor at Art on the Green. This year’s 45th installment, which drew artists in all mediums from throughout the Inland Northwest and beyond, was the first not to feature Young’s demonstrations and knack for storytelling.
“Denny was great at explaining raku,” said Harris, who learned the technique from Young some 20 years ago. Raku (roughly translating to “peace”) pots were traditionally made for the Japanese tea ceremony. Young left behind some of his trademark glaze for his pieces as well, allowing Harris to set up shop on the green in his friend’s honor.
Harris and Young’s partnership certainly isn’t the only longtime institution remaining at the event. Michael Plowman, a Vietnam veteran and metal fabricator from Colton, Ore., has been showing his forge ironwork, including fire pokers and oversized musical triangles, at Art on the Green for more than two decades. In the beginning, his tent stood right next to Young’s, and the two would share artwork and beers after a long day of demonstrations.
“You just get attached to people,” Plowman said of Art on the Green, sitting behind his show tent in a lawn chair soaking in stray sun rays. “You look forward to them, like Denny … We all miss him.”
Though threatening clouds rolled in periodically, the rain that pelted artists and visitors Friday stayed away Saturday afternoon. That was good news for Scott Dodson, who sank his trowel into a 12-foot-tall sandcastle in the 14th-century Gothic style slowly emerging from a 16-ton pyramid delivered to the site earlier in the week.
“I’m just a kid in a sandbox,” Dodson, of Coeur d’Alene, said while taking a break from carving terraced windows. A coating of Elmer’s glue will hold the sculpture in place over the next few weeks for visitors to admire at the college’s Fort Sherman Park, where Dodson has been sculpting for 15 years.
Others artists were new to Art on the Green, which traditionally takes over the NIC campus on the first weekend of August. Richard Caramadre, a black-and-white landscape photographer, made his first visit to Art on the Green this year, showing both his monochromatic views of southern Utah and the pre-World War II camera he used to capture the images.
Cecile Hubene’s acrylic depictions of Mediterranean beaches and markets using warm, vibrant colors contrasted with deep blue water hues stood out against the backdrop of traditional Pacific Northwest fare.
“I use a lot of Spanish, vivid colors, with much more earthy tones, too,” Hubene, a native of Ghent, Belgium, said with a trace of her native Flemish tongue.
The sweet, salty and savory scents of freshly popped kettle corn and grilling meats surrounded patrons walking in time to live music performances on two stages. Mike Dodge, one of dozens of volunteers for the event whose proceeds go back to the area art community, flipped on a massive grill charred chicken destined for buns slathered with pesto.
“We’ve got some addicts,” Dodge said of The Chicken Booth’s signature condiment: The pesto is a sweet and tangy complement to the grilled chicken that has been served up for more than a decade. “People come back every year.”
That sense of continuity and friendship is what makes Art on the Green special, ironworker Plowman said.
“We look forward to the show because our friends are here,” Plowman said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.