Interview with Cathy McClure
August 20, 2013
Visual artist Cathy McClure has been shopping at Goodwill since she moved to Seattle. As an artist and metalsmith she works predominantly in sterling silver, bronze, and steel, but often includes multimedia in her work. Cathy also appeared in Let It Go, new Goodwill donations video with her musician husband Billy Joe Huels.
You seem to have an appreciation for discarded or forgotten objects –where did that begin?
I've always had a fascination with the past, specifically how America defined our international collective future (the one in which we now live) during the 50s and 60s. That being said, I think our consumer culture has gone off the deep end. Perfect example, in 1995, as a grad student at the University of Washington, I stumbled upon a great little toy store in Pike's Market, The Great Wind Up. The owner and I became friends and he began to give me his broken toys, which I incorporated into my work. He gave his broken toys to me because the manufacturers in China would reimburse him for his broken toys without the requirement to ship them back. It was cheaper to throw them "away". Around the same time, I started to stalk thrift stores for toys, looking for inspiration.
When did you start shopping at Goodwill?
As a thrifty student….I shopped at Goodwill beginning the year I moved to Seattle in 1995. Furniture, vinyl, clothes…you name it. My budget demanded it and I found the coolest, most fascinating things.
Do you have a favorite store or purchase from Goodwill?
My favorite Goodwill by far is the one on Dearborn. I can lose myself inside that place for hours. I purchased my first discarded battery-operated stuffed animal at that store which led to my latest body of work.
How do you use toys in your work?
That battery-operated stuffed animal (a plush elephant) that I found at the Dearborn Goodwill piqued my curiosity. I was curious as to what was underneath the plush. So….I took scissors and eviscerated the toy. I exposed the plastic casing underneath which contained the mechanism. The design of the articulated plastic limbs and bodily armature which was previously covered by plush inspired me. I had an idea to disassemble the entire piece, cast the plastic shell in sterling silver and reassemble it, using the original mechanism found within the discarded thrift store toy. I wasn't sure if it would work but, I had to try it. I disassembled the carcass, re-cast the limbs and armatures in sterling silver and re-assembled the new 'parts'. This involved re-fitting and re-installation of the original "crickets", circuit boards, batteries, gears and voice boxes. Then I took the reinvented object and placed it on a gallery pedestal…..in some ways, I see myself as a high-end recycler, I take toys that are tossed aside and disregarded and give them new identities.
You received your degree from the University of Washington. How does living in the Northwest affect your vision as an artist?
One of the first pieces I made while at UW was a game. After I completed that piece, my professor commented that several of the game pieces looked like the Space Needle. As I mentioned before, I'm fascinated by the 50s and 60s. America defined the future during those decades and the Space Needle is an iconic symbol from that time. I was deciding on Grad schools and I visited UW on a gorgeous May day. I was immediately infatuated…..but I think I was attracted to Seattle before I moved. It was 1995 and Seattle had just kept leap onto the international stage. The Northwest has this mysterious, grey shroud surrounding it which helps and forces me to focus on my work. The second year I lived in Seattle we set a record for most consecutive days of rain, but I also made my first Zoetrope that rain-drenched year. I won the Betty Bowen award from the Seattle Art Museum that same year. I believe the weather promotes discovery, invention and creativity.
How do you use humor in your work? I see that in some pieces like “silly bunny.” There's definitely humor in my work but I layer it with nostalgia and darkness. My zoetrope installations and my bots both have a complexity beneath the surface and I like to balance that dark with the light. I use humor as a conceptual tool.
Katherine Boury is the Communications Manager at Seattle Goodwill.
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