MORAGA -- Sam Perry believes that wood isn't just plain old lumber -- he says it has a life of its own.

Growing up with an idyllic lifestyle in Hawaii, where he spent time with his father, a competitive paddler and master canoe builder and his grandfather (one of the founding members of the Lanikai Canoe Club), Perry learned how to sculpt wood at his grandfather's canoe shop.

One of his first projects as a teen -- a skateboard.

"I used koa, the main wood that only grows in Hawaii," said Perry, who lives in Oakland. "My father still does restoration on canoes."

He moved to the mainland for college and enrolled at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1983 to study ceramics, only to switch to his earlier affinity to wood several years later.

The director of installation and conservation at Runnymede Sculpture Farm On the Peninsula has used logs, wood from naturally-fallen trees from Runnymede to sculpt sculptures that mirror natural forms and patterns.

"I've had all these sources of natural material so I started experimenting," he said. "It a struck a chord with me. Clay and wood couldn't be much more different. Carving wood has been a reductive process, as the wood comes in different shapes and forms."

Perry's sculptures will be on display at the Saint Mary's College Museum, along with the work of other notable artists, beginning June 1. Perry and fellow artist Pamela Blotner will take part in the opening day panel discussion to be moderated by museum director Carrie Brewster from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Soda Center.


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Rather than have the wood conform to his vision, Perry said the inspiration comes from the shape of the wood itself.

"I adapt my idea to the shape or form of the log," said Perry, whose wood choices include coastal live oak, madrone and "anything I can get my hands on."

The logs he collects take up to three years to cure before they are ready to be carved, he said.

"Wood is an entity that parallels our lives," Perry said. "It reveals its history -- you can see whatever happened to it early in its life. Trees have suffered from the same infirmities as every living being."

June 1 also marks the opening of "Face to Face with Movers and Shakers," featuring a sampling of work from the 30-year career of portrait photographer and East Bay resident Michael Collopy, a Saint Mary's alumnus. Collopy has photographed some of the most notable personalities in the world, including Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Pope John Paul II, five U.S. presidents, Paul McCartney, Mikhail Gorbachev and several other famous entertainers, athletes and business leaders.

Collopy released "Works of Love are Works of Peace," a critically-acclaimed documentary in 1996 that profiled the work of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in India and throughout the world.

The photographer's biggest influences include his mother, who was a ceramic artist, and his father, an internationally-acclaimed graphic artist.

"My folks brought us as a family on almost every weekend to an art museum or gallery. I grew up immersed in the arts and having a deep appreciation for all mediums of artistic expression."

Knowing that he wanted to be an artist from an early age, he took an interest in photography but never took photography in school. A self-taught education in the art provided its share of challenges initially but realizing this was his passion, Collopy's wife Almi, and sons Sean and Paul also inspire him. He said that as a young boy, he got to see Robert F. Kennedy with his parents, and it made a lasting impact on his life.

"To this day, I can remember his smile, handshake, humor and specifics about his face, suit, the day, surroundings, etc. as if I met him yesterday," Collopy said.

Encouragement and advice from photographers Ansel Adams and Richard Avedon provided the defining vehicle to Collopy's path in his vocation as a portrait photographer.

"My life's journey from there led me to Mother Teresa and my quest to fulfill my vocation documenting world peacemakers in hope of educating and inspiring others," said Collopy, who formed the Architects of Peace Foundation and received the Martin Luther King Peace Award from Stanford University.

The photographer's favorite subject was Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

"She was like a second mother to me and my family," he said. "She treated me always as one of her own family members. I learned to treat each person that I come into contact with great dignity and respect which has also been a great tool in my profession as a portrait photographer."

Saint Mary's College Museum will also feature 72 glass artworks from Dale Chihuly's Stunning Glass Venetians, the most resplendently baroque work in his remarkable glass oeuvre and some of Chihuly's preliminary drawings.

Venetian glass art, wood sculptures and portrait photography of notable personalities
  • WHEN: Beginning June 1
  • WHERE: Saint Mary's College Museum of Art, on the Moraga campus
  • INFORMATION: Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Call 925-631-4379; visit stmarys-ca.edu/museum