A life set in stone
Mason’s daughter combines geology, art and history at circular Brownsville studio
BROWNSVILLE — The walls are dotted with rocks, crystal and fossils. Pillars of petrified wood provide support, and paintings and mosaics line the walls and recesses of one of the most unusual buildings in Linn County.
The Living Rock Studio in Brownsville combines geology, history and art in a circular structure that itself is an 800-ton art form of stone, wood and local geology.
Nancy Bergerson and her husband, Luther, oversee a collection that borders on the incredible. And they want people to see it. It’s a tribute to a lifetime of family artistry begun by her father, Howard B. Taylor, over 60 years ago as an extension of the family home.
“Daddy was an artist and a stone mason,” Nancy said. “He loved working with rocks that normally would not be used for stonework.”
Taylor painstakingly infused his own art — painting, sculpture and rock mosaics — throughout the two-level studio that he began in the 1950s. The family moved from Cottage Grove to Brownsville in 1952 and brought their pioneer roots with them.
“Our ancestors came across in the 1850s,” Nancy said. “Part of what is included is a family history.”
Contributions from the three surviving sisters and other family members are included throughout. Petrified wood is common. It surrounds the outdoor sign and makes up most of a fountain in the backyard.
Most of the materials are local but Taylor drew from collections donated by friends that include rock from around the world.
“I think there were about a thousand rock hounds who donated to dad’s work,” Nancy said.
Some 114 paintings of Oregon birds are featured along a spiraling pathway to the second floor, which can also be accessed from a rock stairway that includes rails made from wagon wheels.
Insets house other historic items like grind stones, buckets and Native American artifacts. Several unique carvings using 75 native woods include a large 32-page wooden book with revolving pages. It tells the history of Oregon logging. Each page is about 3 feet high.
A retired florist, Nancy has added several design touches and her sister Penny Mackey has fiber artwork on display.
Highlights are the seven
mosaic-like pictures that Taylor created from local agate and other rocks. Recessed between petrified wood pillars, they depict seven biblical scenes.
“They’re one-of-a-kind pieces. I think it took dad about four years to finish those. He had it mastered by the time he got to the last two,” Nancy said.
The structure has grown over the years, adding pieces and rooms through the 1970s. They are currently putting in a solar room to provide power for heat.
The studio is open to the public to view for free. Donations are accepted to help keep it going. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This year the Living Rock Studio will open during evening hours on consecutive Fridays from 6 to 7 p.m.
The special Christmas viewings will be Dec. 7, 14 and 21. According to Nancy Bergerson, there will be free gifts for children at the end of their tour. Luther Bergerson will play Christmas carols at the organ. Although it is not required, Bergerson said it would be helpful if those planning to attend the evening viewing call in advance. The number is 541-466-5814. Information is also available online at www.livingrockstudios.org.
Article by Steve Lathrop for the Albany Democrat-Herald, published on December 06, 2012.