The Key Peninsula is full of surprises, including a surprising number of world-renowned artists who live on dirt roads that meander through the woods and along the shorelines.
Mardie Rees, a 31-year-old Wauna resident, is one of those artists.
Rees grew up on the Peninsula, attending Purdy and Minter Creek Elementary schools and finishing her high school years at Gig Harbor High School.
Along the way, her family spent a few years in Ecuador, where her parents did missionary work and where Rees, then 14, was exposed to Latin art and its many different cultures and traditions.
She also had an art teacher who inspired her future career as an artist. “He was an incredible teacher and he was just really talented and had me do things I would never have done. Like a self-portrait sculpture, relief sculpture and we even had to do a mouth drawing where we had to draw an entire drawing with a pencil in our mouth,” Rees said with a laugh.
That experience lead her to major in art at Laguna College of Art and Design in southern Calififornia where she got a degree in fine art with a minor in sculpture.
“It was a really small school, just 300 students. I worked so hard. A lot of our classes were like four hours long so you’d have studio work and then you’d have homework. I didn’t have any free time to party or do stuff like that because I was always working on art,” she said.
But the hard work and long hours paid off and she sold several of her pieces while she was still in school.
“I thought I was going to be a painter. But I took a portrait sculpture class and I just got hooked. I liked how hands-on it was. I’d grown up helping my dad build houses and paint and texture walls and finish cabinets to make money for school, so I was used to working with my hands,” she explained.
Rees has had several significant commissions over the past few years, starting with a sculpture of Saint Anthony for the new Gig Harbor hospital.
In 2013, a man from Canada saw her Saint Anthony sculpture. He was an alumni of Shawnigan Lake School, a private school in Vancouver, B.C. He told her that the school was looking for someone to create a sculpture of the school’s founder for their centennial.
Thus, a larger-than-life bronze sculpture of the founder with his beloved dog was created.
The following year, Rees was commissioned to do a sculpture for the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia.
She has just completed the clay version of another Saint Anthony sculpture –– this one for Saint Anthony North Health Campus in Westminster, Colo., and she’s in the running to do a Vietnamese immigrant monument.
In the few short years of her sculpting career, Rees has already won several prestigious awards including several awards from the International Portrait Society, and she is now a member of the Portrait Society of America, which means [that] she’s one of the top sculptors in the country, she said.
In the midst of all this, Rees and her husband found time to build a home and a new sculpture studio in the Wauna area.
The studio is just what Rees needs for her work.
“It’s two stories with vaulted ceilings so I can do large sculptures,” she said. “The Saint Anthony sculpture I just completed, I had to actually lay on the ground to finish the feet because my old studio wasn’t tall enough. So I’m really looking forward to being in my new studio with lots of room and light.”
This summer, Rees will launch the Apprentice Academy to teach kids about art.
“I’d like for kids to get some traditional art training early on –– things like composition, materials and so forth. I really want kids to have the opportunity to learn about art and about the supplies and the tools,” she said.
The classes start June 29 and run through August. They’ll include lessons in color theory, composition, pattern-making and ink drawings.
There will even be a few sculpture classes in which the kids will work with clay to make a terracotta owl and “some Giacometti-inspired sculptures where they’ll make pieces with really long legs,” Rees said.
“I feel like kids today are dealing with so many things going on in their life and if they can learn to use art to express themselves, they’ll be a lot better off in dealing with whatever comes their way.
“That’s sort of how I’ve been through living in South America and going through all the transitions I’ve had in my life. Art has always been such a great way for me to relax and to be whole. Kids need art.”
For information about the Apprentice Academy, visit mardierees.com.