Though their Coeur d'Alene-area studios couldn't be more different, the work that Mary Dee and Allen Dodge co-produce is a seamless blend of artistry and execution.
Menagerie, for example, which now lives outside the Spokane Central Service Center, consisted of seven different animals cavorting on the grass, each at least 5 feet in height.
Another piece, Intersection, pairs a sculpture of a huge beaded wristband and a giant circular sawblade. Located on one of the roundabouts heading into the campus of North Idaho College, Intersection embodies two cultures: the Schitsu'umsh or Coeur d'Alene people, and the logging industry.
"I think it's respectful of both worlds," Allen says.
Both artworks are typical of the Dodge's numerous public and private commissions. Allen designs, cuts and welds the main form, typically leaving the metal to oxidize and turn a brownish-orange, before applying sealant. Mary Dee's contribution is the color and visual vibrancy of numerous smaller pieces of enameled metal pieced together on the surface.
"Mary Dee and I are deeply into the collaborative work," says Allen, who describes their process as fairly loose. "We don't discuss it much," he says, "just trust each other and wait for the surprise!"
It's a process honed over a lifetime of personal and professional collaboration.
The couple, who met while students at Kansas City Art Institute, relocated to Coeur d'Alene in 1974 after falling in love with the area during a cross-country trip. They participated in Expo '74, exhibited their work, taught classes, and pursued their art — his specialty was cartoons, while hers was pottery.
They built and ran a screen-printing business featuring Mary Dee's designs from 1985 to 2005, all the while teaching classes, developing their own artwork, raising a family, and immersing themselves in local arts. They were instrumental, for example, in helping grow Art on the Green, where they benefited from the friendship of local artists like Pat Flammia and Harold Balazs.
In fact, Allen's shop walls are hung with pieces from Spokane's Union Iron Work that Flammia and Balazs scarfed up when the plant closed: steam engine parts, boat cleats, and other reminders of Northwest life during the 1800s. When Flammia died, the collection went to Allen.
Allen's workspace consists of a converted garage, with its hodgepodge of metal and woodworking tools, a large enamel kiln and the tang of metal in the air. It's a busy, noisy place that occasionally spills out onto the lawn and driveway, depending on the latest project.
Compared to Allen's space, Mary Dee's studio is colorful, orderly and more likely to sound like jazz than the grind of metal. A large picture window overlooks the lawn and distant trees, flooding Mary Dee's wraparound countertop with light. Here she carefully applies fine colored powder to pieces of metal, then heats them in her countertop kiln to the point where the powder magically transforms into the eye-popping glassy surface characteristic of enamel.
Projects range from her own jewelry designs, layered images created with numerous smaller pieces of enameled metal and her collaborations with Allen.
"We really love the embellishment and decoration of the home place," Mary Dee says. "We've created mirror frames, light fixtures, kitchen cabinet fronts, backsplashes, garden gates and fireplace surrounds."
Their most recent project, she says, is a set of enameled panels for both interior and exterior doors.
In between Mary Dee's studio and Allen's workspace is their '50s-era home on a modest hillside property in southeast Coeur d'Alene. It's where, at the end of a day spent in their respective spaces, they reunite over one of Mary Dee's elaborate meals and a glass of wine to celebrate another day together and look forward to the next adventure.