years ago Bonnie Meltzer felt isolated and alone
living on the North Portland Peninsula. Nowadays
the area is full of artists who network and coordinate
events including this summer's third annual
St. Johns Window Project, a partnership between
the artists and businesses. Bonnie's studio, which
she compares in size to the Irvington, N.J., apartment
she grew up in, is stuffed to the rafters with all
her materials and tools. Visitors can make an appointment
to see her artwork and the studio.
Ties that bind
Using unusual materials and techniques, Bonnie Meltzer
combines crocheted wire, digital photography and
recycled computer parts in her work.
Psykter," crocheted wire, found objects, digital photgraphy.
"As new materials become available to me I add them to my
toolbox," she said. "Recycled computer parts and wire
became part of that box in 1974, long before I even knew how to
turn on a computer."
Since '85, Bonnie has been using a Macintosh to design her art
and, for more than a decade, she's added manipulated digital photography
to the pieces.
The crochet ties the disparate materials and techniques together
with structure, transparency and pattern.
"My goal is to use the materials and techniques that best
express a particular idea and integrate them thoroughly into an
artwork," she said.
One of her recent devices for using mixed media is to make a wood
armature for her crocheted figures or vases. The wood framework
opens up possibilities for adding color and for screwing on found
"I started doing this because my hands didn't like crocheting
all day," she said. "I needed to vary my activities.
"What started as a way to save my hands forced me into a much
more interesting way of working."
Bonnie thinks of herself as an observer of our time and place, and
uses the Internet as a major source of information. Though she may
put in a lot of time doing research for a piece, 99 percent of it
could end up unused.
Shirt," digital photography printed on maps and found objects
on painted wood.
"The journey is still incredibly interesting," she said.
"I can hardly read one article online without doing a search
on something within that article.
"The Internet has validated how I think; one thought jumps
to another and another until the last thought doesn't seem to have
any relationship to the first, but the connecting thread is there."
Bonnie's art doesn't always begin with a plan or idea. Sometimes
she simply starts manipulating materials, layering computer parts
and bits of crocheted wire on painted boards, screening or a metallic
"I like to let the serendipity happen," she said. "Sometimes
the mind's eye fools me and I have to redo a part, but more often
than not I plan things out using my best apprentice in my studio
Bonnie scans computer parts and other objects then puts them together
using Photoshop. This is especially useful for her commissioned
"I can shrink the resulting plan and place it in a photo of
the room," she said. "I can enlarge the drawing, make
a template for construction, then take the template to the client
so they can see how it fits in the real room."
Supreme Court: Torn, Tattered & Tarnished," collage,
crocheted wire, found objects, metal on painted wood.
Ideas and themes Bonnie likes to express in her work include: social
and political commentary, communication, memory, technology and
portraits showing the cycle of life or a particular stage in life.
Her Greek vases are both abstract and pictorial with scenes from
Hands," manipulated photography.
"Many times all the themes are wound into one piece just as
the materials I use cross borders of categories," she said.
Although some of her work is abstract, even those can incorporate
themes from the materials she uses: namely, computer parts.
"The very names of the computer parts are ripe for subject
matter and metaphor," she said. "It's no accident that
so many of my pieces have the word 'memory' in their titles."
Several of Bonnie's pieces pay homage to mentors her mother
who taught her to embroider, her grandmother who passed on the making-things-from-scratch
gene and her college textiles teacher who took a special interest
in Bonnie and her development as an artist.
"I grew up in the days when there were still art teachers
in grade school," she said. "They all kept their eyes
out for me, giving me art materials and taking me to New York to
see museums, art schools and musicals."
The encouragement Bonnie received from her teachers continued through
college and graduate school.
"Maybe it was the schools I went to or the particular grouping
of individuals," she said, "but I didn't experience the
put downs or shunning that many women artists my age experienced
"The caring treatment I received as a student has shaped me
as a teacher."
Family," found objects, digital photographs on old maps
and crocheted wire on painted wood.
Bonnie began her teaching career as a high school art instructor.
After three years she left to get her MFA at the University of Washington.
Since then, she's taught short-term workshops all over the country.
"It was logical that I taught crocheting and other fiber techniques
in the '70s, but then a career-changing event happened I
became an early adapter of technology," she said.
That's when Bonnie bought a Macintosh and taught herself how to
After an article in the Oregonian told how Bonnie used her Mac
to design an exhibit at the Children's Museum, she was asked to
speak at a computer-education conference.
Since then, Bonnie has gone to schools, conferences, colleges and
clubs to teach hands-on digital drawing and digital photography
to artists, teachers and children.
Memory Totem," painted wood, floppy disks, hard drives,
pencils, USB cords and other writing tools.
She also gave illustrated lectures on art and technology and how
artists use computers to make their work and run their businesses.
Her most popular class is still Ethics of Digital Photography.
"Once you have the ability to change a photograph you have
to ask yourself, 'Do I have permission?' and 'What are the consequences
of changing this photo?'
"I have great pictures from art, politics, journalism and
advertising that illustrate the main points," she said. "I've
been giving lectures on the subject for over a decade. In the early
years people didn't even know what digital photography was. Now
they're taking pictures with their phones."
Bonnie doesn't teach many hands-on classes anymore, but she is going
to the native village of Allakaket in the Arctic Circle to teach
computer drawing to Athabaskan children as part of the Alaska art-in-the-schools
"I'll spend two weeks working with 50 students using a Wacom
drawing tablet and pen instead of a mouse, and some wonderful software
that mimics the line quality you get from a variety of media, like
chalk, oil, paint, pen or pencil," she said.
Bonnie has taught both in village and small-city schools in Alaska.
"It's always an adventure because life there is so different,"
she said. "A big difference is the light. It changes what you
know about time and your perspective of things."
Around the block
Through May 9, Bonnie has an installation in the North Window at
Contemporary Crafts Galley, 3934 SW Corbett Ave., Portland.
on the Edge" (left), "Memory Quilt 1."
The idea to do the pieces like real quilts, but using screen and
floppy disks rather than fabric, came about because inside the gallery
is a national art-quilt exhibition.
"It's a natural fit," she said. "However, because
my work isn't geometric, I had to fit the geometric idiom into how
I work make it less rigid. To make this piece I played with
the disks on a large table, then photographed each result.
"It was just like a kid playing with blocks."
For the second panel Bonnie used the disks, print-side up. She
was well into the piece when she noticed the company name showing
up along the edge. Every six inches was the word "Liberty."
The title of the piece became "Liberty on the Edge."
"I just can't resist making a piece political," she said.
at Middle Age," painted wood, crocheted wire, found objects,
Food for thought
Bonnie is also excited about a project she's starting for Maryhill
Museum and the Farmland Trust. A dozen artists, four each from
Idaho, Oregon and Washington, were chosen to do artwork about sustainable
agriculture. They'll visit a farm to see agriculture first hand
and to get ideas. The art will be exhibited at Maryhill starting
March 18, 2006.
"I'm a long-time, organic gardener," she said. "I
don't know what form the art will take but it will be a logical
extension of what I do that mixture of materials that will
tell a story about growing our food."
Even after a lifetime of being an artist, Bonnie's goal is to keep
making art and to keep the making of it interesting and engaging
to her and the people who look at it.
"If the fates are good to me I'll continue to have more ideas
for art than I can make," she said. "And new tools and
techniques will pop up every so often and influence me."
If you're a North Portland artist and want to be
added to the Art on the Peninsula database, or if you'd like info
on the annual Portland
Open Studios in October, e-mail