Every now and then you meet someone whose output--in this case, Nik Meisel's artwork--makes you wonder about the input. Whimsical isn't quite the word (and besides it's often overused and misconstrued), yet there's a certain child-like wonderment with bits and pieces of everyday life that's both odd and charming. Rubberbands and string laminated to create a page, a jar filled with breadties and wrapped in fishing line, a book with all the images cut out. Things reference other things which reference other things. And places and states of being. As indecipherable as the neural networks inside the brain until you pull back and consider context.

Elemenoh, for example, is Meisel's most recent installation at Saranac Art Projects in Spokane. The title, said Meisel, "comes from my experience as a child trying to find my initials in the alphabet by repeating the alphabet as a verbal mantra where after "k" came the word elemenoh and then 'p'."

He adds: "It was an occasion where I was using the wrong tool to investigate and was consequently being misled."

The piece, which uses letters, pages from a book, a dead tree, yarn and other items, resembles the vaguely familiar form one might have in a dream. It's slumped along the floor like a body that could easily be about to evolve or decay back into the ground. Some of the pages float like tendrils hanging from the tree as you make your way through the forest, maybe lost, maybe not. Memories are like that; they can go either way on us.

On his website, Meisel talks about how his work develops out of play..."culminating in a sort of forgetting and remembering of assumptions and possibilities." There it is again--that fine line between odd and charming, an in-between quality that catches one off guard and invariably twists into a smile of recognition. Maybe even envy.

Whimsy at Tinman Artworks in Spokane

It's an effective pairing of two similar but unique artists at Tinman Artworks in Spokane's Garland district. Dara Harvey and Erin Crooks-Wallace are exhibiting through August 2 with works that share a bit of whimsy.

Dara's pop-surreal stylings invariably allude to darker things, even though her paint handling is expertly light and clean. With Harvey, color is luxurious wonder to be melded and blended and layered in such a way as to always suggest both movement and suspended animation. Her odd assortment of characters cavort on canvas, morphing themselves from 2D to 3D sculptures and back again, this exhibit showing numerous of her paper mache, cloth-formed and mixed-media figures.

Erin Crooks-Wallace starts with a painting surface and collages onto or builds up the surface with bits of text, painting, drawing, and ephemera that might range from a coin to a scrap of clothing. The overall effect is actually sort of scrapbookish, although her crafting is very clean and she has a strong sense of composition. The other plus for these works is in her ability to work in a variety of media--chalk, paint, sculpture--and still maintain a consistent feel to the work, which is generally light-hearted and fun to look at.

"Be wary of a fat gym teacher or a skinny cook."

Can you imagine an art teacher who didn't know his or her craft? While we take it for granted that teachers are, at least in some way, experts in their fields, some are more expert than others. And some, for whatever reason, ceased making art once they became a teacher. Having been in that situation--the only art I was making during my first 4-5 years of teaching high school was in the classroom and none of it for myself or for "art's sake"--I can appreciate that not every art teacher has the time or inclination to produce, much less show their work.

That's why it was delightful to get Eastern Washington University's announcement of their yearly showcase of area high school art teachers and their students. It's a glimpse into the future of what these capable young adults could be doing with their art. And it's a way to honor and highlight the folks behind the scenes, the teachers who help feed the rarified few who feel enough passion about it to declare themselves an Artist.

The exhibit opens July 9 (reception at noon at the art gallery) and continues through August 6. Telephone 509.359.7070.

From top left: Life, Eliza Johnson, University High School; Amongst Us, James Scarcello, Cheney High School; The Flower that Dances, Michelle Ferguson, University High School. If you can't tell which work is by the student and which by the teacher, so much the better.