Baran Mickle

Bill Baran Mickle Metalsmith 98110

Artist Spotlight: William Baran-Mickle

This month we are featuring Poulsbo artist Bill Baran-Mickle. His sculpture Inciting Hope is one of the pieces featured in the Sculpture Forest’s new Augmented Reality exhibit.

William Baran-Mickle is a metalsmith who has been creating metal artwork for over 40 years. Like another Forest sculptor, Jeff Kahn, he started his artistic journey by making jewelry in high school. Bill found jewelry out of necessity when he and his family moved from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay area. He was not into the sports scene, so he found his place in art classes. Things got started when he won an art scholarship for a pendant he created.

Bill went on to study at the California College of Arts and Crafts. He spent a year making jewelry and smithing projects after graduating. He liked metalsmithing so much that he returned to graduate school at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts in New York. Besides being an expert metalsmith, Bill found he also liked to write about art. After working as a metalsmith for several years, Bill decided to return to school again to study art history at Syracuse University. Since he came from an artmaking background, he was put on probation for a semester to see if he could handle it. He could handle it and he graduated with his Master’s in Contemporary Art History in 1997. He has written dozens of articles for journals such as Metalsmith and Sculpture. His work has been included in nine books, and his artwork was featured in The Sculpture Reference Illustrated.

Bill’s sculptures are generally not well suited for outdoors, as he learned when someone tried to dismantle his first outdoor project in New York. So, he was very excited by the opportunity to show it virtually outside at the Sculpture Forest. He was impressed with how detailed each of the AR works are when he visited the exhibit onsite.

Inciting Hope shows two hands releasing paper cranes into the air. Bill was inspired by his son’s origami and he liked the idea of making metal sheets look like paper. It is part of a three-part series based on Hibakusha, which means “survivor of the bomb.” This is a term designated for the victims of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Cranes symbolize happiness and good fortune in Japan and legend is that folding 1000 paper cranes leads to a wish coming true. Bill got the idea for this series when he lived on Bainbridge Island. There has a strong relationship with the Japanese farmers who lived in the community. Bainbridge Island’s Japanese community was the first in the United States taken to concentration camps. Yet Bainbridge was the only community who gave back the seized property to those who returned. The Bainbridge Island Review was the only English language newspaper to criticize the internment at the time. Bill’s Hibakusha series was prominently featured in the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, of which Bill was instrumental in founding.

Bill grew up in Santa Barbara back before Reagan made it well known and then lived in the beautiful Presidio in San Francisco. Coming from a very large family, Bill wanted to go off on his own and lived in Bellingham for a year. Then he went to upstate New York for 20 years, teaching on and off. He came to the Pacific Northwest as a became a board member of the Laird Norton Family Foundation in Seattle, later becoming its president. While Bill wanted to move out here, his wife accompanied him and she also came up with the idea. 

They had relatives who already lived in Bainbridge, so they landed there in 1999 and lived there for over 20 years.

The themes in Bill’s work often involve humor as well as social, cultural and political commentary. “I tried environmental commentary, but apparently I’m too subtle,” Bill says shruggingly. “I think because I come from making jewelry, I like a certain elegance, and that doesn’t work when you’re trying to comment on environmental problems.” He often works with symbols such as flowers in his sculptural wall reliefs. “I go into what society or time has put onto those particular flowers or herbs. Sometimes they’re healing and medicinal, sometimes they’re religious, then I pair them with a scene to make a commentary.” He also made a sculpture featuring binkies stacked between coffee cups as kind of a statement about being a busy parent who loves coffee – he has three sons, including twins. He’s had to take breaks sometimes but he’s never worried about creative blocks as he knows he’ll be in a different space when he returns to his work. He used to make drawings before starting on a piece, but over time he has learned to let the material speak to him. “It’s definitely a dialog. It’s good I work alone so people don’t hear me talking to myself.”

His early inspirations were Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, and David Smith. Then after learning more about art history, he became a fan of Bryan Hunt. There are many artists he admires, but not many people make the type of work that he does. He laments that there aren’t many metalsmiths around anymore since it takes so much time to master; many schools focus more on jewelry making.

Because he is rather shy, Bill got into writing as a way to meet other artists and learn about their processes. He learned that you can’t always look at a piece of artwork and know what it means. So, through his writing, Bill is able to bring out what artists mean. He makes an effort to deconstruct “artspeak” into something more simple to understand. It’s also a way to break up his artmaking.

Lately, Bill has been making more wall reliefs. He has found that his more complicated three-dimensional pieces, which he calls “Bill’s Follies,” take way too much time. He finds that the wall reliefs are almost like drawing. His most recent works had to do with the COVID isolation. He is currently working on a hand that is holding a piece of origami for his son. In 2020, Bill and his wife moved to a large property in Poulsbo, with goats and an orchard. Because of this, his imagery may start to include more landscape, animals and gardening.

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