Montana Blue Heron, Marilyn and Wm. Stevens

Montana Blue Heron is Marilyn Evans and Wm. Stevens, two self-taught weavers who have taken their willow structure weavings from simple basketry into the realm of woven sculpture and three-dimensional wall art. Indeed, their work has won not only “Best of Fiber” but “Best of Sculpture” at Western state art shows from Scottsdale and Sedona to Sun Valley and Sausalito.

Marilyn Evans has been weaving for more than 30 years. Her craft of focus was fine beadwork until she spent a summer day visiting with her sister in Illinois and learning the amenities of basic wicker weaving. Upon her return to Montana she went to the river to find willow, bulrushes and cattail and in a few sunlit, riverside hours she was ensnared. Her background is still manifest in the embellishments, which are the finishing touches on nearly every piece.

I joined her over 25 years ago, bringing with me a desire to explore shape, form and color previously founded in low fire, reduction pottery. The “sculptural” direction our work has taken is probably a result of my creative propensities, and yet our collaboration is nearly total.

Our work is the result of a shared vision, communication, and the fact that nearly every individual piece has had both our hands on it at some point in its development. If I am often the “What” of the piece, Marilyn is always the “How”.

Our year begins, as does each weaving, with the willow. Wands of willow and red osier dogwood are gathered in the Spring and replenished in the Fall. If we are picking willow you may be assured that it is a beautiful, golden day along a silver ribbon of river, somewhere in Montana, from the Tobacco and Flathead in the north to the Beaverhead or Bighole in the south. The bundles we gather represent the body of work to come over the next 6 months, and though our clients tell us again and again that it is our Color that is paramount in their decision, for the two of us the work is in the Willow.

The Willow is the foundation, the “bones"of every piece. It gives us grace of shape, strength and durability. Over these bones are laid the flesh of weaving in colors and textures ranging from the brilliant to the sublime.

Color is the domain of Marilyn. Watching her work, like some combination of chef and chemist, she mixes her potions and powders to some recipe known only to her through her years of experience as a master dyer. I see her take bundles of rattan and raffia, jute, seagrass and sisal, plain drab and common, place them in her magic vats, and then hours later draw them out, gleaming with all the scintillating color our work has become known for.

From the dye-works, the hued weavers are taken to the rinse tubs and then to the vats of soda-ash and salts where the colors are fixed. Hung to dry in a breezy shade, the ritual is complete. The only further color pertinent procedure comes with the final weaving of a piece. The last thing we do with each and every one is to spray them with and acrylic, ultra-violet coating, thus ensuring, to the very best of our ability, a color as strong and long lasting as the willow underlying it all.

Another feature of note in our work is our use of antler and wood, not as an adornment, but as an integral form affecting part of the piece. The antler demands little of us except judgment as to its applicability; does it work? Does it lend itself to the form we are creating? The wood, however, requires more. The antler is purchased while the wood is hunted for. The pieces of Aspen or Pine used to frame our unique wall hangings, Aspen tapestry floor pieces, and our Harlequin and Dancer sculptures, must be found, sanded (3–4 finer and finer sandings), oiled (usually three coatings of Tung oil), joined and/or attached to the willow ribs, before becoming the final and often most dramatic element of the piece.

And that, fundamentally, is our story. To sum it all up, it would be fair to say Form, Color, Texture and Imagination are the ingredients we employ and seek to pass onto our patrons and clients. And No our fingers never get tired!

Thanks for your interest!

Wm. Stevens