Leroy Setziol

Leroy Setziol, the most accomplished and respected wood sculptor in the Northwest has long been recognized by the art and architectural communities as an outstanding sculptor and an artist of great integrity. For more than 53 years, he carved works ranging from small figurative pieces to monumental carved reliefs and free standing sculptures.

Roy lived on 22 acres of Oregon Coast Range above Sheridan. He and his wife Ruth had been planting trees such as black walnut, Alaska yellow cedar, chestnut, redwood, Japanese black pine, pin oak, locust, giant sequoia, and Thai teak since 1973. The purpose was not for Roy to carve, but to grow a whole forest hillside that would someday provide free wood for young sculptors. Some trees are over 20 feet tall now. Roy built their house on the property out of oak railroad ties and many carvings such as cedar posts, a teak dining table, carved walls from the art museum exhibit of a carved cabin, and carvings everywhere.

After high school in New York State and marriage to Ruth Davis in 1940, Roy received a Divinity degree in 1941 from Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Missouri. He attended the US Army Chaplain Training School, Harvard University and then served in the US Army 43rd infantry, South Pacific from 1943 to 1946. In 1947 he did post-graduate study in voice at the Peabody Institute, Baltimore and then studied philosophy at Johns’ Hopkins University, Baltimore. In 1951, Roy moved to Portland, Oregon where Ruth had taken a teaching job and there he began his wood carving career.

Some of Roy’s first exhibts in Oregon include 1954 Friendship House; 1955 Marylhurst College; 1964 Oregon Ceramic Studio, Portland; 1968 Rogue Gallery, Medford, Oregon; 1969 Salishan Lodge, Gleneden Beach, OR; 1971 Portland AIA “Artist of the Year”; 1975 First of many joint shows of wood and weaving with his daughter, Monica Setziol Phillips, Salishan Lodge; 1974 First of many Attic Gallery Exhibits (this one in actual attic); 1976 “Carved Cabin” for Northwest Sculpture Invitational Show, Portland Art Museum: Works in Wood; 1983 One-man “Unemployment Show” Carole Smith Gallery, Salem and Exhibition of carvings honoring Russian dissidents, Attic Gallery.

A selection of Roy’s commissions over the years include: 1965 panels for Salishan Lodge, Gleneden Beach,Or; 1970 Two story teak carving for Child Development Rehabilitation Center, Crippled Children’s Division, Portland, OR; 1977 “Ode to a Tree” Alaska yellow cedar and front doors for Pacific Northwest Forestry Lab, Corvallis, OR; 1978 Black Walnut relief carving for lobby of Salem Hospital; 1981-83 140 relief panels of Alaska yellow cedar for Kaiser Permanente medical offices,Salem; 1984 Three relief oak carvings for lobby of the NW Natural Gas Co. Building, Portland; 1986 Black walnut entrance and doors for Porland University Chapel; 1987 Oak relif carvings for Lake Oswego City Hall; 1990 Nigerian Panel, Lagos, Nigeria and 1991 “Journey of Faith” Honduras Mahogany relief carving for St.James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Portland.

In 1991, Roy had a Retrospective Exhibition of 66 of his carvings (selected from more than 1000 works at that time) at the University of Oregon Museum of Art, Eugene, Oregon including a major catalogue.

Roy said that he is a sculptor who happens to work with wood, an Easterner transplanted to the Northwest, A city boy in the country, carving on the site where Native Americans once carved wood, and an untrained sculptor with a highly developed style of a grid system of interwoven patterns. “Our relationship with the primitatives is direct, the struggle is in the spirit, the genius of native sculpture is their ability to approach the myth that lies beyond the bear or fish to say something about existence. As an artist, I don’t recognize any distinction between us.” “People who work with clay totally dominate their material, but you can’t do that with wood. Working with wood is a much more sensual experience. With wood, an artist is halfway home. Even if people hate what you do, they still love the wood. In wood a defect becomes an opportunity as a troublesome knot may illuminate the richest color and grain”

A quote from Roy’s 1991 University of Oregon catalogue by architect Joachim Grube, “There is a precision about his designs and textures ….even the most free-spirited designs …. which is reflective of good architecture. It ennobles its environment. The source of his art is not studied or intellectual, comes more out of his hands, his muscles, his bloodstream.”

Leroy Setziol died on November 17, 2005.

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