WENATCHEE — For 35 years, Ruth Allan’s art installation “Brush Works” hung in the Wenatchee Convention Center. But for the last four, it’s sat disassembled in a storage room at Wenatchee Valley College.
Such is the life of art.
“Sometimes your babies have to leave,” Allan said Friday.
The Wenatchee Arts Commission tasked Allan and Betty Raymer in 1980 with creating what would be the new group’s first commissioned artwork.
The sculpture was to hang in the convention center lobby. But this presented a problem: light. Anything they created would be exposed to a lot of sunlight that could quickly age the materials.
Using brushes was Raymer’s idea. She’d seen an art piece while visiting Ecuador that was composed of brushes and fabric.
“I felt it was a really good solution for the problem of light coming in from the top and not being vulnerable to fading,” Allan said, adding, “She thought brushes would be light safe for that particular location.”
And then there was another problem: Where to find enough brushes? Enter Harry the Brushmaker from Ballard. With a portion of the $6,000 they were paid for “Brush Works,” Allan and Raymer bought used brushes at a bulk rate from the brushmaker.
Many were brushes used by dairy farmers to clean milk cans. These brushes had to be able to scrub dried milk from the tight edges at the bottom of the can.
“So the milk can brushes were quite unique,” Allan said. “They had a special profile.”
Materials in hand, they spent about a month affixing more than 1,000 brushes to sections of plywood.
“(Raymer) was only good working on her back drilling from underneath the piece of plywood that we put it on and I was only good working from the top down,” Allan said. “So we were a perfect match.”
The sculpture hung in the convention center lobby until 2015 when the center was renovated. The college acquired “Brush Works” shortly after.
“It was strange,” Allan said. “It was disappointing in that a number of different community people were very upset when it was taken away from the center.”
Today, it’s stored in Wells Hall and college officials say there are no definite plans to hang it on campus.
Allan thinks “Brush Works” era-specific color scheme could why, or at least partly why, the once-popular sculpture hasn’t found a new home.
At the time it was commissioned, the convention center had orange carpet. Allan and Raymer mixed the same carpet in with the brown and tan brushes. The color combo worked then, but is less en vogue now.
“So I’m not sure orange is still a good color,” Allan chuckled. “It went with the work really well.”
Allan, a ceramics teacher at the college, said she’d like to see it on display at the college, though, “I would not be totally destroyed if it was not re-installed.”