Sitting in a house filled with sculptures he shaped, photos he took, wooden bowls he carved, models he assembled and paintings he composed, Donald Wright talked of where he learned about creativity.
At Cranbrook Academy of Art outside of Detroit, students were simply given studio space and let go - there were no lessons, no exams, and instructors would help only when asked. Student artists weren't given problems to solve, but instead thought up their own questions and teased out answers.
"That's the essence of creativity," Wright said.
But it's something that's neglected in schools these days, he said.
"With what's happening now and the emphasis on testing, the creativity is almost not there at all," Wright said. Kids are taught what the adult culture wants them to learn, he said, but should instead be encouraged to experiment more and to think critically.
At Cranbrook, Wright studied lost wax casting, in which the sculptor shapes wax, covers the forms in a mold, melts the wax away, and pours molten metal into the mold.
"With wax, there's no end to what you can do," Wright said. He made jewelry with the hard wax, but at one point bought a couple hundred pounds of the material and scaled up his projects.
He started making larger bronze works, with bending forms and spaces. Some are obviously representative of something, like a spider, while other forms can only be recognized when seen from a particular angle. Still others are more abstract.
Wright said he's a literal person: "I don't see rabbit ears in the clouds, I see clouds." When people look at his work, they should want to touch it, because it's made as much with tactile senses as it is with sight, he said. To create his pieces, he said he just starts going and lets the forms influence him. He added that he hopes people who buy his work never tire of looking at it, and will always keep noticing it from different angles.
The Missouri-born Wright has lived all over the country and overseas in his 74 years. After dropping out of engineering school and trade school, he joined the U.S. Air Force as a control tower operator. He was stationed in France for a few years, and sent to Casablanca for a few months. Stateside, he went to art school in Missouri, did class work at New Mexico State and went to graduate school at Cranbrook. He got his first teaching position at Utah State University.
He had a string of different jobs incorporating his interests in art and in music. He worked in industry, opened a gallery and a restaurant/cocktail lounge in Pennsylvania, went as far away as possible and worked at an architectural firm in Seattle, taught at Central Washington University, started a design consulting firm back east, taught at Penn State, drove an old school bus that was pulling a VW bus with his motorcycle inside to New Mexico to be a hippie (he joined a commune, but left when it turned out not to be communal), started successful art galleries in Santa Fe, sold everything and bought a boat and sailed from the West Coast, through Panama to the Chesapeake Bay, started a photography business in St. Croix, settled in Tennessee, then moved to Astoria more than five years ago.
"For a city, it's the best place I've ever lived," Wright said of Astoria.
His sculptures aren't selling as well as they used to, but he still shows his work at two studios and on his Web site, (www.donaldwright.net)
He's now focused on writing a book, called "The Road to Compassion: How to Understand your Consciousness and Develop Its Full Potential." It's a guide to show people how, through meditation, they can "experience the oneness of all things," Wright said. "From that arises the compassion for all things."
He'll also spend the summer on his motorcycle, which he bought about a month ago.
"I needed some excitement," Wright said.
- Kate Ramsayer