Prone to art and serendipity by Courtney Marchesani
Just one look and illumination. Traveling exactly where, I cannot tell. A waterfall of cobalt light pools beneath outstretched butterfly wings. As it pours forth slinking down hidden planes within me, Kim Merriman knows where it’s headed. She is it’s creator, “it’s a spark of light in the soul that it touches.” The slinking light descends subterranean layers and shines a little deeper. Kim is the owner of Garden Goddess Art. She molds metal like an alchemist cross bred with a blacksmith, boring holes through steel and pounding hard metallics with a sweaty vengeance. Her medium fuses glass with metal marrying one odd couple. Not Oscar and Felix either. Instead this is Lily and Bett-R-Fly. Two goddesses from the garden collection. Their brightness flows along a severe edge and bounces around a tiny portal Kim has carved with her graceful sturdy hands. Compared to the austere statuesque profiles, these small openings emit rays of natural warmth. With just one look, you know Kim is as natural an artist as the light with which she imbues her creations. In her youth she dreamt she would be a graphic designer. This hope was dashed since there wasn’t enough money to go to college. It would have to wait.
She was always kept one foot in the art world, and after a stint working on the annual at Bellingham High, she was offered a job with a local photographer. Although she modestly describes this as, “getting my feet wet in the world of photography” she was the youngest woman in Washington to achieve the professional associate fellow of photography award by the Professional Photographers of Washington. After receiving state-wide accolades she was offered a job by a photographer in Olympia. Kim and her husband celebrated by backpacking through Europe before restarting life in Washington’s state capital.
Then everything turned on a dime.
Kim suffered a traumatic back injury and wound up in traction. The couple faced a severe hand-to-mouth struggle. Thankfully her husband was a maintenance man in the building where they lived. His position allowed flexibility around the rent but he was also a full time student, so there were no earnings. Kim felt totally immobile to contribute at a time when there was no disability, no labor and industry claim, no nothing. “We were stunned by where we now found ourselves.” As she gradually recovered, she began to look for employment. Serendipity demonstrated its lovely sway when a girlfriend called with news the legislature was hiring. Over the span of the next ten years Kim worked in state government garnering a resume of prominent state senators. She says, “It was a fascinating time,” as she sat in the seat of state government. Literally, her first job was sitting at the rostrum every day working the microphones and with a keen ability to put a face, district, and party line to the name she leapt over massive hurdles on the job. Once again she is self-effacing about her learning curve, “[I learned] how much I didn’t know, how much I didn’t know about state government.” Armed with a desire to gain true knowledge of her surroundings Kim would not relinquish the wheel of political opportunity for over a decade.
In looking back through her career she says her interest in political issues, “was woven all the way through.” Specifically, her innate ability to understand individuals not able to go to school due to economic hardship. “I firmly believe in my own soul that people who want to go to school, should be allowed to go to school.” This belief led to her own challenges with higher education. She was unsure, after so long, whether she was college material or not. But she wasn’t facing these non-traditional challenges to go to college for the childhood graphic design dream anymore; now it was all about Political Science and Political Economy. Working for the state legislature was a fascination that stuck like a nail embedded in a knotty plank. She lined up her real world experience as a photographers assistant, political references, high school transcripts, and applied for admission at the only institution, out of the six major public schools, designed around an alternative model: Evergreen College. After gaining admission she worked full time for Mike Kreigler (then state insurance commissioner), and went to school part time. When Mike ran for congress and won the congressional seat she had to make a big decision: move to the upper echelon in government or finish her Bachelor’s Degree at home. “It was important to finish the degree. I couldn’t imagine moving to Washington D.C.” At this stage in her life she decided to finish what she started. Fate came knocking once again when the Evergreen College lobbyist took a leave of absence in 1994. Due to Kim’s intrapersonal understanding of a socio-political issues, especially the impact of being able to attain a higher education, she “vowed to have that lobbying job.” After working in the caucus for seven years, “loving every minute of it” Kim’s destiny pulled a strange new taffy-like like twist, affording a new career path with a very palatable flavor.
“It was the Spring of 2000, I decided to take a class at Evergreen (as an employee)”. The new class was Introduction to Metalwork 101 and Kim planned to make a few privacy screens for her home (something she knew nothing about). “I wanted something more welcoming than utility boxes, which were the first thing that you saw when you came to our home.” The class was for people who hadn’t a clue about metalwork. Experiencing the machines and making a few class projects was the objective. “I knew the second I walked across the threshold [that first night] I was going to be different when I left.” Something intangible gripped Kim, squeezing her with a desire to acquire all the equipment she had used at the college during session one of Metalwork 101. Her husband figured the compulsion would pass. It didn’t. After cordoning off space in the garage, she built a workbench and then bought a plasma cutter, drill press, and welder. While she was welding one of the screens, what she’ll call the creative process, she had an intuitive flash. It occurred to her to incorporate glass so that, “they were like nightlights, big welcoming beacons.” By the end of the course she had constructed the privacy screens she intended to and she installed spot lights to reflect light behind the creations.
As she and her husband edged down the walkway hand-in-hand in pitch black night, all was dark except illuminated pieces of steel, metal, and glass. Kim still remembers the rush of seeing her craftsmanship for the first time, “it was transforming.” Clearly she carries that transformation deep inside her. Kim decided to stick her neck out and enter the Olympia Arts Walk. After finding a sponsor for her work, in October of 2000, she set up another walkway but this time she used green Cedar boughs interwoven with her display piece luminaries. She finished the pathway off with a touch of light behind them. People perusing the art walk would meander through, tip-toeing through the lighting. “I sold six pieces, took ten commissions, and quit my job on Tuesday.” It was an instantaneous shift.
Kim started Garden Goddess, as with everything else, with much verve and gusto. Yet this woman with a wide sterling smile says, “I wouldn’t have jumped off this cliff if I’d thought of the economic side of it.” She’s gone down many roads to get here and I can see her captivated in her secluded “zone”, the smell of scorched meal rising as she begins to weld. The flicker of her torch’s flame, creating a million fractals and flecks of red-orange firefly sparks where she laid her claim in the garage so many months before. She is in solitude, surrounded by darkness. “Metal is the medium that deals with grief,” she tells me. A smoky stench fills the scorched lungs, leaving residual elemental fibers of metal. Pounding relentless seams sends pain shooting up the metacarpals. Metalwork is not glamorous but once finished, in all its completion, that one spark of light is, “salve to the soul.”