Helen Lessick Bonnie Bronson 1940-1990 September 1990
sees the beginning of things, but only the middle.
Portland artist Bonnie Bronson stopped in mid-exploration, killed in a mountaineering accident on the slopes of Mt. Adams on August 4th. A summation of her 25-year career remains unformed. Ideas and experiments are stilled in her studio.
Bronson at 50 was a sculptor. She was investigating sculptural movement in her final works. Born in Portland, she studied painting at art schools in Kansas and Eugene before returning to the Portland Museum Art School (now PNCA) in 1959. Bronson was an artist whO needed to travel, physically and mentally, to glean new ways of approach.
Bonnie Bronson created a wealth of works in steel, wood, and impermanent cardboard. In 1973, with a grant from Art Advocates of Portland, she developed an inventive industrial enameling process, which allowed for gradations of color and illusionistic depth in her architectural steel shapes. Her works using this process brighten the public collections of the City of Portland Justice Center and the Wy'east Day Lodge on Mt. Hood.
Bronson also worked in more traditional forms: tapestry and woodcarving. She elaborated on the motifs of other cultures, actively seeking new ways to see. With her husband, sculptor Lee Kelly, Bronson sojourned repeatedly to mountainous country. The influences of Nepal, India, and central Mexico are evident in her work.
At the time of her death, Bronson was investigating sculpture to be scaled. A rock climber of some accomplishment, she fabricated a climbing wall with technical holds bolted on to her studio walls. These holds were sculpted from rosin and grit, and the artist was again infusing color into industry. She was working with composer Michael Stirling to create sound for this sculpture: music which would respond to the route of the climber. To Bronson, it was interaction which livened the world.
A continuing aspect of Bronson's work is the garden planted in the outskirts of Oregon City. These grounds are both sites for sculpture and sculpture itself. As in her steel work, Bronson used gradated color and texture to create miniature environments reminiscent of a Zen garden. The continuing focus is on subtlety: the slowing of the eye, the sensitizing of the body, the shifting of the sun. These gradations, inherent in all of Bronson's work, may well be lessons in the course of a life and how we choose to experience the living.