Published in GLASS QUARTERLY (Summer 2007); Written by James Yood, contributing editor to GLASS QUARTERLY and professor of art history at the School of the University of Chicago

Famous as the corporate home of Starbucks and the setting for the sitcom Frasier, Seattle's connections to the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, both real and vestigial, are sometimes forgotten. Yet lurking just beyond the sleek architecture of the Rem Koolhaas-designed Seattle Public Library and Robert Venturi's Seattle Art Museum are dense forests and icy, majestic wilderness. Joseph Rossano lives a bit north of Seattle, in Arlington, near Pilchuck, where the drama of the natural setting is very present and yet the loss of a pristine environment can be clearly measured against what is gained in creature comforts.

Rossano broods on this situation, and his recent work is an earnest and chastened paean to something that both exists and is steadily slipping away, a wistful and poetic clutching to himself of something he knows is deeply at risk. Rossano celebrates his milieu even as he fears for its survival. The recent exhibition of his new work was more forest than shadow and had the strongest impact when the two were intertwined.

Its a woodsy exhibition dominated by Western red cedar, carved, stained, and sometimes painted by Rossano into a rich and comforting warmth. Birds (their shapes rarified and streamlined into august essences, as if Brancusi had met a totem pole carver) appear regularly in his work, sweeping and soaring about, symbols of transcendence temporarily liberated from the terrestrial. Glass is a minor but critical component in his recent work, employed in eight of the 13 pieces here as elements in the tableaux. Examples include little glass vitrines holding feathers, a small crystal bear, snaky rivulets of glass that represent the flow of rivers, and cut-glass representations of feathers and pinecones. Though glass is never the dominant element, it is employed for very specific effects.

Cold River (2007) exemplifies the kind of integrated, wall-based assemblage strategy Rossano has long employed. On a panel of red cedar he lays a gelatin-silver print of a dried-up desert river system, photographed by the artist from an airplane. The archaic printing system he employs adds to the timeless quality of the photograph, reinforced by the sense of eons of geologic time playing itself out. To the side of this image he places two panels of red cedar into which he has carved a representation of a meandering river. At either end he places blue, sculpted, snake-like glass to represent the ongoing flow of the river. Its an overview of a fluvial system, a documentation and evocation of a force of nature.

Rossano is one of those who would always light a candle rather than curse the darkness, or if not as proactive as that, at least indulge in a memory of what once was. There is nothing in his work that is overtly about pollution, climate change, ecological insensitivity, or endangered species. Instead, his work only suggests those concerns, by implication. A small and beautiful clear-glass sculpture of a bear, juxtaposed in End of Ice (2007) to a broken panel of red cedar with two bear paw prints lightly carved into its surface, makes his point clearly enough. Nature is fragile, and the balance once struck between humankind and our environment is askew and at risk. Rossano seems to be an artist and individual who is deeply moved by the prospect of a beautiful bird soaring through the sky, and a contemporary citizen troubled by the knowledge of what kind of terrain the bird must eventually land in.


As an artist, I am interested in studying and abstracting form, texture, and materials, drawing inspiration from both historical and natural sources. My most recent works include pieces made of sculpted ancient Douglas fir or western red cedar, sometimes alone or often in combination with sculpted glass, found objects, or photography created using antique camera equipment. Through the use of these varied media, I seek to express the ephemeral and sometimes fragmented quality of our human experience and our relationship to the natural world.

Nature is perfect in her imperfections. Probably more than any other life form, we as humans exemplify that imperfection. It is through our own blindness that we try to force the natural world into conforming to our misguided perception of perfection. We say, I am going to fix what nature can not fix herself. The reality is that the earth we live on is a dynamic system and humans, as well as all its other inhabitants, are both connected and dependent on nature and each other for their existence.

Throughout my career, I have focused on the interdependence of the natural world to create haunting images of animals, who like us, rely on our primeval forests for their existence. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker, the Marbled Murrelet and the Spotted Owl, for a little while longer will have mature forests in which to make their homes. And we too, the human race, the ultimate predator, will have these primeval forests from which to make our homes - but for how much longer?

When the forests are all gone, will we all go with them?

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