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Carving her own path

Monica Setziol-Phillips' art is installed at Salishan, within steps of work by her famous woodcarver father.

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It’s been a struggle for artist Monica Setziol-Phillips to escape the shadow of her famous father, Leroy Setziol, often referred to as the father of woodcarving in the Northwest.

“It’s challenging,” Setziol-Phillips said. “Because people look at me, especially people who knew him, and think of my father. It’s a bit of a fight.”

But with the installation of the latest works of art at Salishan Resort in Gleneden Beach, Setziol-Phillips will literally take her place next to her father, on the grounds of the resort where 15 of his teak carvings are showcased.

The pair of wood carvings, 7- and 8-feet tall, will be celebrated Oct. 4 at the Salishan lodge with an opening talk at 5 p.m. by Setziol-Phillips, followed by a reception. The freestanding columns are carved on four sides from yellow cedar. They will be outside the lodge, visible from the reception area.

Monica Setziol-Phillips carves at the same bench her father, Leroy Setziol, used. A resident of Sheridan, she is former president of the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition. Photo by: Stuart Eagon
Monica Setziol-Phillips carves at the same bench her father, Leroy Setziol, used. Photo by: Stuart Eagon

Setziol-Phillips described the pieces as mostly abstract, but with a recognizable cloud form and sun form. “They come from the energy of the ocean, the abstract patterns that form in the sand, the weather,” she said. “To me, it is a very coastal piece. It has to do with referencing the attitude of the ocean, because it’s always amazed me that the ocean can be so fearsome and yet so soothing. And something to be grateful for. It’s somehow puts you at one.”

Her parents also loved the ocean, she said, noting the coast was one of the few places that could lure her father from his workbench.

Setziol-Phillips often combines woodwork and woven art in one piece, such as in “Oregon Summer” (Alaska yellow cedar and wool tapestry, 30 by 30 inches).
Setziol-Phillips often combines woodwork and woven art in one piece, such as in “Oregon Summer” (Alaska yellow cedar and wool tapestry, 30 x 30 inches).

Patricia Williams, director of The Gallery at Salishan, helped facilitate the commission. Once the design was agreed upon, it took Setziol-Phillips six months to complete the pieces.

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Williams represented Leroy Setziol (1915-2005) at Maveety Gallery, a feature of the Marketplace at Salishan in the 1980s and ‘90s.

“’Everyone knows her father’s art is there,” Williams said. “That is why I thought it very appropriate for her to have work there. It’s by itself outside, then you walk inside the lodge and see her father’s work. Obviously, she was influenced by his work. She is passionate and she is good. She should be recognized for her own work.”

Setziol-Phillips, who lives in Sheridan, started her career as a weaver, studying with Solange Kowert. She gradually began to combine weaving with woodcarving, striving to get each to relate to the other. In woodcarving, the artist takes away from the medium, while in weaving, the artist adds to it. In weaving, the artist works with color; wood also offers color, but is less flexible. “For me it’s a kind of completion of the circle,” Setziol said. “Weaving is construction. Wood is destruction.”  

Setziol-Phillips says weaving is a process of adding to the medium to create art, in contract to woodcarving, a process of taking away.
Setziol-Phillips says weaving is a process of adding to the medium to create art, in contrast to woodcarving, a process of taking away.

She doesn’t seek to emulate her father, nor does she make an effort to create differently, she said.

“I think it’s a combination of being around his work, of working around some of his projects, and learning to carve more in the apprentice style. He wasn’t a teacher, per se.” 

These days, she carves at the same bench where her father worked, and uses some of his tools, as well as her own.

“I don’t sense his influence, as the concept for the piece comes from my own experiences, ideas, and beliefs.  But, of course, I do carve in his style, and after the fact, I may see his influences transformed by my own.”

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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