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Civil vs savage nature

Kellë McLaughlin's wood cut prints and ceramic sculpture to show at Fulcrum Gallery

Kellë McLaughlin works at Northern Pacific Coffee Company before heading to work at Tsunami Tattoo. Her upcoming art show "Bestial Reflections" will be at Fulcrum Gallery Dec. 5-Jan. 15. Photo credit: Kevin Knodell

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"This community saved my life," Tacoma artist Kellë McLaughlin said as she sipped on a beer at Northern Pacific Coffee Company (NPCC).

Her upcoming show, "Bestial Mirrors,"at Fulcrum Gallery, is meant to give something back as a tribute to all the people who have supported her as an artist.

The pieces in the show are animal heads on human bodies, and each is representative of a member of the Tacoma community. Each animal is a "reflection" of the person depicted in the piece. The show is a mix of traditional Japanese woodcut prints and ceramic sculptures, heavily skewed toward the former.

That's a change for McLaughlin, who considers herself primarily a ceramic artist. But she's been doing woodcuts and prints for years. Mostly she did them just for fun, but when she started selling prints and T-shirts, they became popular in Tacoma.

"I never thought for a second it would become such a thing," she said.

In many ways, McLaughlin added, her work fits into a printmaking revival in the Pacific Northwest. Thus far, it has primarily been centered around Olympia and Seattle and has largely bypassed Tacoma. But she said the prospect of more printmaking has excited artists in the area, and she's glad to be promoting it.

She's put tremendous care and thought into every aspect of the show. For instance, she didn't use machinery while carving the woodcuts and instead used hand tools and hand printing for many of them. She also mixed the ink herself.

"Everything is done by hand," she said.

Her love of the arts runs deep. McLaughlin said she knew from the age of 3 that she wanted to go into the arts. By age 7, her hero was Leonardo DaVinci.

But her path wasn't exactly a straight line. Moving to Tacoma from Yakima for college posed a host of challenges. She didn't immediately take to campus life and often felt like an outsider. Eventually, she decided she needed to leave school.

"When I dropped out of PLU, I didn't know what to do," she said.

But she explained that the decision led to an important journey of self-discovery. As she tried to make her way, she found support in Tacoma's art scene and in local businesses.

She would often stake out a table and spend hours at NPCC to carve woodcuts and draw in her sketchbook. Not only did the management not object, but owner Ed Cedras also frequently showcased her work. He still does: McLaughlin's prints and T-shirts are available for sale at the counter at the Parkland coffee shop.

She made friends with artists of all types ranging from fellow sculptors and illustrators to musicians. She's done work for many of them, designing album covers and T-shirts for local bands such as The Rusty Cleavers and The Cottonwood Cutups.

Not all of it was art, and she had to take up other gigs to make ends meet. But she's quick to say that all of her employers were supportive of her artistic aspirations. For instance, she said that while waiting tables at Marzano Italian Restaurant in Parkland, the management was exceptionally accommodating in letting her take time off to work on projects.

She feels blessed to live in a community that values her contributions as an artist, McLaughlin said.

"In the journey of an (artist), nobody really supports you, but in Tacoma they do," she said, noting that she was blown away by how much people cared not only about her work, but also about her personal well being.

McLaughlin did eventually make her way back to PLU and graduated with an art degree in May of this year. Since then, she has kept very busy. She's begun working at Tsunami Tattoo, and the Fulcrum show is her second gallery show this year.

Even though she has a studio to work in now, it's not uncommon to find her working at NPCC and catching up with friends between carving sessions. She says she hasn't forgotten who helped her get here - and she insists she never will.

The Fulcrum show is "not about me and my work," she said. Rather, it is about paying tribute to her Tacoma family and showing the community how thankful she is for the opportunities the city has given her.

An opening reception will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5 at Fulcrum Gallery, 308 S. MLK Way on Hilltop Tacoma. McLaughlin's show will run through Jan. 15. For more info, visit

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