Artist Spotlight: Harry Calkins

I am excited to present the first Artist Spotlight for The Spaces In Between: Harry Calkins.

*Note: All images link directly to higher quality versions at Harry's online gallery:


Harry is an instructor, educator, and mystical oracle of Mathematica, the esoteric programming language/technical computing platform developed by Wolfram Research of Champaign, Il. I stole this picture of Harry from their website. He currently travels all over the country teaching the world's greatest technical minds how to use Mathematica to design tomorrow's scientific and engineering breakthroughs. He is well respected for his in-depth knowledge of the system, and he is extremely effective both as an instructor and as someone who can show you the beauty and power of mathematics.

I first met Harry while working behind the cheese counter at the Art Mart. While cutting the cheese at his behest--a large wedge of New York Herkimer, to be exact--I noticed that he was wearing a Wolfram Research T-shirt. I was familiar with Mathematica as I'd been briefly tutored as a child by Jerry Glynn, one of the early Mathematica gurus. After chatting a bit with Harry, we decided that I'd be better off working at Wolfram as a technical support engineer. Despite my ability to eyeball the weight of a piece of cheese to within hundredths of a pound, the cheese business just didn't pay. On Harry's recommendation, my life and career made a drastic leap and I gained the friendship of a wonderful human being.

But enough about me, let's get back to Harry. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, Harry studied and taught mathematics and art in various places, including Washington state and Alaska. His exposure to the people of the Pacific Northwest, both past and present, strongly influenced his art. Harry is inspired by the Northwest Coast Indians as well as the people from the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta area of Alaska. He is also influenced by the art and architecture of Chinese, Indian, and Greek cultures. A peek at his iPod playlist shows the diversity of his taste for culture. [Harry is an avid Mac exponent. His iPod was the first I'd ever seen.]

It Flutters In The Fog

Harry is one of the most creative people I know. He will not hesitate to play with a new idea, be it mathematical or design oriented, until he's found what he's looking for. When asked for help--he is constantly bombarded with questions at work--he can break down the most complex idea to its simplest principles and will encourage you to experiment with it until you grasp its meaning and variations. He embodies the true spirit of teaching by always remaining a student himself--always seeking, always learning.


What is your definition of "art"?

Something created with the intention of communicating with others, that elicits an emotional response, and continues to do so over time and works across cultures. (There's lots more to this, but that is the basic idea. Whole books have been written on this topic.)

What was the first piece of art that you ever created? A popsicle stick log cabin is a totally acceptable answer...

All I can remember is that about the time I was two, my parents would let me stay up past bedtime if I did good work. My dad was a commercial artist, so that consisted of drawing. I'm not sure how late I would stay up, but it was past my bedtime.

Narrow River

When did you realize that making art would be an essential part of your life?

I don't think I have ever thought otherwise.

What thoughts/feelings/impressions go through your mind and heart when you are designing, making, or building something?

For me, art is a kind of relaxation, and my best work comes from those times I don't have a goal and just become immersed in my work.

What would you consider one of the most overlooked/under-appreciated forms of art?

Art earns its own rewards, so over time I don't think that anything that really counts as art is truly overlooked.

What would you say to encourage people that have yet to develop their own artistic ability?

If you are destined to be an artist, whether poet, painter or composer, you will not be able to leave it alone. Give in to your natural drives and create. Even if you don't become famous or rich, the rewards of creation more than make up for any rejections you experience.


Why is art important to you? society?

Art plays a large role in forming our ideas about how the world works. If we let ourselves open up to the underlying ideas we learn more about ourselves and the world around us.

What are some projects you have planned for the future?

I am not really active as an artist right now, but I get ideas in the shower and find I cannot leave them alone until I have at least experimented with those ideas.

Do you have a formal art education? Are there any artists or teachers that have greatly influenced you?

I have (almost) a master's degree in art history, but other than that I have not taken any art courses other than those required in the first few years of school. Almost all my knowledge and influences come from spending lots of time in museums and other art resources.

In what direction is art headed?

Where is art going? Who knows what will inspire the artists of the future?

Custom handles for Kestrel carving tools


The foreign country I would most like to visit is:

To know people is wisdom,
but to know yourself is enlightenment

To master people takes force,
but to master yourself takes strength

To know contentment is wealth,
and to live with strength is resolve.

To never leave where you are is to abide,
and to die without getting lost--
that is to live on and on

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu, translated by David Hinton

The best book I've read in a while is:

Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri

The best movie I've seen in a while is:

I don't know, but the one I seem enjoy most is Chungking Express (Chung Hing Sam Lam), by Wong Kar Wai, 1994.

The best album/song I've heard in a while is:

Djelika by Toumani Diabate

My favorite kind of food is:

...well and thoughtfully prepared and shared with friends. [Harry is a wicked good cook, but watch out! We're talking Thai/Indian levels of spicy!]

Coffee of tea?

I tend to favor tea. High quality Earl Grey, Wuyii Oolong and Ti Kuan Yin.

Beer or wine? If beer, lager or ale? If wine, red or white?

Absolutely, especially with good food and friends.

Meat or Veg?

Some sea food, though I eat less of that now because I would like to think these creatures might survive a bit longer.

Thank you, Harry, for all that you've done to support and inspire me (without judgment) throughout the years. I am a better human being for knowing you.


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posted by David @ 1:08 PM,


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