When we first laid eyes on Deborah and Richard Bloom’s obsidian wind chimes a few years back, we knew we had to bring them into our shop.
You might not think of stone as resonant. Neither did we. But the sound of these chimes is truly something to behold, and each piece resonates differently. The husband and wife team have struck on something entirely unique, foraging their materials on long trips around the Western US and creating sonic sculptures.
As part of our Meet the Maker series, we recently chatted with Deborah and Richard about their creative process, the history of their obsidian wind chimes, and what its like to collaborate as husband and wife.
Pistils Nursery: The sound of your obsidian wind chimes is truly magical. How did you first learn of the unique resonance of obsidian? How was the idea for the obsidian wind chime born?
Deborah Bloom: Richard originally saw a few obsidian needles in a small rock shop in Redding, CA back in the early 1970’s. As a geology student and a working jeweler, he was intrigued by the amazing sound and eventually learned where to find them. You have to locate an obsidian flow in a fault zone — needles are caused by volcanic pressure after the lava cools.Once he began to dig obsidian, it became obvious to him to try making obsidian wind chimes. Early chimes were primarily driftwood and antler. The response was strong and he switched from jewelry to obsidian wind chimes. This was in the very early days of the Portland Saturday Market.
PN: What is the most gratifying part of your work? The most frustrating?
DB: It is most gratifying to see a design in my head and watch it come to life. Most of the time, the result is even better than imagined because of the sound factor. Each chime has it’s own unique sound and you never know what it is going to be. There is a little more control over the visual aspect, although working with Nature, you are constantly surprised with the variations. This keeps our craft really interesting and stimulating.
The most frustrating part of my work is having more ideas than I have time. Also, occasionally, I break a really beautiful specimen by drilling at the wrong angle. And once in a while, I drill into my finger, which is also frustrating, not to mention painful!
Richard Bloom: The most gratifying part for me is to watch someone discover the magical sound that obsidian makes, and to understand that this happens with very little human intervention. The “Aha!” factor is delightful and you can see the wheels turning as people take in the implications.
It is frustrating for me right now to know of some incredibly intriguing materials out in the world, but not have enough time or resources to go find them and check them out. I have been wanting to go to Madagascar for the past several years to scout materials… Maybe a Kickstarter campaign some time soon?
PN: Tell us a bit about your process. Do you collaborate on each chime together or work individually? What is your studio space like? How do you develop your designs?
DB: We work both individually and collaboratively. We each have our own designs that we make start to finish, and then there are some that one of us imagines and the other helps execute. Other designs develop within the back and forth between us as we work (“How about this? What do you think? Is this awesome or what?”). We share a lot of laughter as we enjoy our own little inside jokes and nicknames for the various weird materials in the studio.
Our studio space is about 400 square feet with one whole side of glass (sliding doors) opening to our back yard. We also have skylights, so lots of great natural light and lots of Nature to take in as we work. We helped design our space and had in built in 2005. Prior to that, we always worked in small spaces, sometimes basements. We appreciate the light every single day. We have a funny pair of resident critters – squirrel and blue jay, who are hilarious to watch scolding and pestering each other. (better than tv!)
PN: We understand that you travel around Oregon and the Southwest collecting materials for you works of art. What’s one discovery you’ve made in the natural world recently that was particularly exciting?D&RB: We found an amazing Eucalyptus macrocarpa in San Diego this past fall. They had the largest pods I have ever seen. What a voluptuous, amazing plant! We don’t use a lot of these as they are somewhat rare, but they are one of our favorites. We also found a new area in Northern California for Manzanita, and the latest harvests are particularly branchy, which makes a more interesting design. We got together with friends in Davis, CA for our annual Devil’s Claw gathering, and it was a great harvest. We have been seeding some of the agricultural roadsides outside of town where they are already growing and this has really increased the abundance. This is still probably our most popular seedpod.
PN: When you’re not searching for seedpods, digging obsidian and making chimes, what other sorts of art and craft do you explore?
D&RB: We do a lot of kids arts and crafts projects with our granddaughters. Last year, we made party hats over several months for Deb’s birthday tea party using paper, fabric, flowers (and pods!), feathers and lots of bling. We have also been working on a puppet theater we built, and making furniture and other props — we brought back marionettes from Prague in 2013 and have been kind of wild about puppetry ever since. Now we are into sewing doll clothes. We have so much cool stuff lying around that all of these projects have a different flavor than your typical kids art. For example, the king and queen have a scepter with real gemstones and clothing with beadwork. Over the years we have been involved in drum making, beadwork, collage, drawing and painting. We have had a great garden in the past and are hoping to travel less this year and get back to that.
We have a constant and rotating selection of Deborah and Richard’s obsidian wind chimes available in our nursery. If you’ve never heard them, you should definitely plan a visit to hear them resonate. Not local to Portland? We ship obsidian wind chimes from our online shop.