Voices

Jim Rea’s artwork reflects resilience, permanence

Jim Rea eyeballs a chunk of stone he is using to fashion a detailed replica of a violin in his shop on Feb. 12. Rea is a sculptor who has worked in many media producing decorative and functional art. Below, Rea created this copy of a chambered nautilus shell out of stone. (Jesse Tinsley)
Jim Rea eyeballs a chunk of stone he is using to fashion a detailed replica of a violin in his shop on Feb. 12. Rea is a sculptor who has worked in many media producing decorative and functional art. Below, Rea created this copy of a chambered nautilus shell out of stone. (Jesse Tinsley)

Artist Jim Rea knows all too well the fragility of the human body; his has been broken many times.

His artwork reflects the opposite of fragility. With a chisel and hammer and other tools, he turns stone, including basalt and marble, into exquisite forms.

Looking at photos of his work, you cannot help but marvel at the detailed work. A lone crow perched on the very rock he was carved out of, flowers, frogs, leaves, a horse’s head, shells, and the human figure seem so real that you almost forget that they are not.

“My eye doesn’t lie,” he said, “I kind of have a vector graph in my head.”

Rea, 47, grew up in San Diego. At 14, his family moved to Prosser, Wash., to be closer to relatives and to escape the crime and violence that seemed to be getting worse in California.

Although creative, Rea never considered art as a means for making money. After high school, he joined the Air Force where he experienced his first freak accident – a recliner got the best of him and his shoulder was wrecked.

By 1987, he was a civilian working in construction.

He has since had at least 10 surgeries including a shoulder replacement, a neck fusion, and the placement of artificial disks, screws, and metal plates.

Other accidents include things falling on him, falling off scaffolding, and infection in a tendon from the tooth of a frisky cat. Still, he soldiers on by adapting and paying attention to the ergonomics of his environment.

As a contractor, Rea learned many skills including structure, stone, and steel fabrication that culminated to the work he does today. When he was about 30, he decided to build a fountain with his stone fabrication tools. He brought the finished product to a shop in Anacortes, Wash. It sold quickly and he made and sold more.

He went on to create architectural elements, mixing his artistic eye with his experience as a contractor, in high-end homes and businesses in Anacortes, Seattle and Bellevue.

“I began to lean toward unconventional designs applying an artistic flare wherever I could,” he said.

He did job after job, whipping up a sketch for potential clients and leaving with a deposit check. Through word of mouth, he was invited to Canada to participate in a sand carving tournament of world champions. Over the years he has given sculptures to many civic organizations as well as private auctions and charities that tugged at his heart strings.

Now residing in Spokane, he works in a garage in hopes that a larger and more conducive space might become available. Currently, he is carving a violin and will be making figurative pieces out of basalt columns.

“I started carving stone as a voyage of discovery, growing in method and technique as the years past, developing a love for stone and its resilient qualities and sense of permanence,” he said. “There is great satisfaction in knowing for decades to come my work will stand the test of time.”



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