Chewelah area artist makes art that can’t quite be defined
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff
David Govedare sits in a round room of his Stevens County house on a nondescript back road. Using straw house construction, Govedare has added on, modified and changed parts of his home – which he lovingly calls “Dave’s High Mountain Art House” and says the different parts of his house represent different parts of his life.
Having lived there since 1979, he laughs while saying parts of the house are under construction while others are in repair.
The round room, or staircase room greets most visitors. It’s also a perfect introduction to how Govedare approaches his art. You take a trip up the circular staircase that wraps around the walls and windows to the top. There it opens up to the roof deck where thanks to the remote Stevens County location with no light pollution, you can see the stars above.
“It’s an elaborate journey that doesn’t go anywhere,” Govedare said. “It’s a walkthrough of life and you’re going back to the galaxy.”
Space and size. Storytelling. Symbolic. Realistic. Abstract. Colorful. Minimalistic. It’s hard to get a bead on Govedare’s art. At the same time, it’s indescribable and tells a story. He can make a small piece of art that’s very personal, or a large public work that still has a human touch to it.
Having public art in seven states, including iconic pieces like the Bloomsday Runners at Riverfront Park or the Wild Stallion Sculptures at Vantage, Govedare has done big projects in a humble setting — one he picked years ago.
Govedare’s art begins from meditation. He tries to clear his mind and then begins to put together geometrical shapes, colors, shadows and ideas together. Inspiration, he said, is in everybody. Sitting in his round room, he points out the setting sun on the forest outside his windows. The late day light casts shadows and makes the forest look different.
“I see this and then ask myself how can I make this inspirational?” Govedare said. “I want to deal with the geometric way light hits it. There are so many ways to express this. I shut my eyes and try to feel nothingness. I can bring shapes into my head and that’s how I do my visualizing.”
Govedare doesn’t think inspiration is just exclusive to artists. He thinks every human have it inside them. When given the proper setting, moment or art, something triggers in the brain.
Govedare moved from Spokane in the early 70s and came up to Stevens County outside of Chewelah. He calls it a sanctuary, saying that it’s a community that while just 40 minutes from Spokane and a few hours and a plane ride away from Vegas, it’s also just as close to the edge of nature.
“From here you have remote Canadian backcountry, you have the Yukon and then you have the Artic Circle,” Govedare said. “It’s refreshing to think of it like that.”
This natural sanctuary — one where Govedare rode horses, skied and hiked for years — gives him that visual clarity. Some of his art has been compared to tribal art — which he appreciates greatly because he and native artists draw upon an appreciation for the great beauty of the earth.
“I look outside and see areas that are where Lewis and Clark would have roamed,” Govedare said. “And at night you can now see satellites fly over.”
Govedare remembers getting a letter from a museum looking to showcase his work.
“It said ‘we need to be able to take your past work and figure out where you are as an artist,’” he said. “‘The art critics need to be able to do this.’”
The problem, the museum contested, is that Govedare’s art doesn’t follow a traditional line of progression.
“It’s wherever my mind can go,” he said. “You’ve got classical art, realism and abstract pieces. It’s my job to do whatever I want, in a not very serious attitude to create something that inspires.”
Govedare said his public art tends to focus on positive gratitude and reflection of people. He sees us as a part of this creation, which is undefinable by size. It’s this playing with the big picture, and then having fun with size that defines the uniqueness of Govedare’s art. Along with artist Keith Powell in 2009, Govedare unveiled the Soap Lake sundial and the presentation was attended by the Colville Confederated Tribes in that city for the first time since the 1960s. Govedare was extremely grateful of the honor.
The sundial painted a bigger picture of nature. Sitting in the round room of his house is the metal miniature and Govedare can explain the story behind it. While the miniature is small, the actual sundial itself is nine-feet tall and alive. It plays with the senses and Govedare crafted a “Father Sky that was calling in the rains” that would fall into a bowl held by Mother Earth and drain into the lake. The wings of Father Sky served as the hands for the sundial.
“This is mythology, but not something that has been previously told or established,” he said. “This is my own mythology.”
His workshop is known as the Great Wheel Studio, a space he admits isn’t big enough for some of his projects. Still Govedare’s humble space presents it’s own energy. His house and property is a display of his personal art. Working with a modern plasma torch and just plain hard elbow grease, Govedare continues to do what he’s loved for years. Work out in the shop on large and small projects — calling items “jewelry for buildings” and providing a unique artists perspective from a professional architect.
He gave up the structured lifestyle of an architect in the late 70s, for a more organic schedule as a public artist.
“When you have to take a year to make something, you can’t go in thinking it will look good ‘tomorrow,’” Govedare said.
For Dave’s upcoming First Thursday Art Walk in Chewelah, a “Cosmic Pictograph Show” that go back to a time before history, ancient cave paintings serve as the inspiration for these art pieces.
“You see a pictograph that somebody carved into stone 25,000-50,000 years ago. You reach out and touch it and you just feel like ‘wow, a person was making this thousands and thousands of years ago right here,” Govedare said.
His art for the walk will be smaller pieces, with different figures containing “energy lines” that can showcase movement and have the same effect that the prehistoric paintings have. The pieces are something he calls “people’s art” since they wouldn’t be lavishly expensive or hard for someone to bring to their house.
IT’S JUST A WORD
Govedare doesn’t take things too seriously. When asked about why he moved to a small community like Chewelah, he said small is just a word. It’s this type of flippant defiance at the thought of size that finds its way into his expressions. The large aluminium feathers he created in Spokane almost jokingly make people feel like they’re the size of squirrels when they drive by them, Govedare said. The Bloomsday Runners in Riverfront Park were purposely set up by the former architect to seem like they’re running by you when you cruise along the one-way street. It’s a play on space and size. Govedare’s own self-deprecating sense of humor gives him the ability to constantly challenge himself with his art and have fun with it more than any self-important, serious artist might have.
For the Bloomsday Runners, race founder Don Kardong asked Dave to run the race. As part of 50,000 runners, something then stood out to the Chewelah artist.
“It had its own sound,” Govedare said. “You had 50,000 heartbeats, you had 50,000 pairs of shoes and 50,000 people breathing.”
This group of people ceased to be just that and became its own living thing that he wanted to recreate.
“It was more like athletic meditation because those people at that moment aren’t worrying about what car they’re going to buy or what they’re going to do on Monday,” he said. “You’re just concentrating on breathing.”
He stood people up along a wall and shined a light at them to sketch out silhouettes of people of all nationalities. It took him a year to fabricate all the cor-ten steel runners and for a time instead of running alongside Riverfront Park they were roughing it alongside Cottonwood Creek.
“I used people of all nationalities, young and old and handicapped for the silhouettes because that’s what that race is,” Govedare said. “If I had just sketched out people myself it just would have been Dave’s people.”
Again, it was a big public work of art, coming from a small town community. Small is just a word.
Govedare calls his home humble and his attitude grounded in nature. He’s quick to point out his own ridiculousness or the ridiculousness of a situation he got in with friends.
“I think the best mental image I have of this area is my spaceship parked next to Sasquatch,” Govedare said.
When first viewing his property in Stevens County with a real estate agent, he swore he had picked huckleberries on the ridge overlooking where his house now sits before moving to Chewelah. For years, he was quite aware of this area as he hauled hay from Montana for years and took trips through Glacier National Park up through Canada and then down Highway 395.
Being “in the spotlight” isn’t part of his style. Govedare didn’t want to live in and rely on a city for his survival. He said he thinks a community like Chewelah has everything you’d need in everyday life.
“And if you have to complain about it not having something you can always drive 40 minutes and get it,” he chuckles. He enjoys the secluded nature of his home, his community and the focus and clearness it affords him in his art. Govedare’s life is very much reflected in his art, and his art is very much reflected back into his life.
“Follow your life,” Govedare said. “Keep your senses aimed in the direction of things you love to do and keep focused on humor and family.”