Tenino Area Artist’s Work Takes Her Out of This World


Myrna Orsini is floating in the “Pig’s Brick House” somewhere in space between Mercury and Jupiter.

Quite the trick, considering the 76-year-old has not physically moved a foot from her Thurston County home on the border of Tenino and Rainier.

Orsini’s in her mosaic studio, in fact, cutting out finished sheets of designed glass that will adorn her outdoor pig house — but her mind’s lightyears away.

It’s Friday, Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day 2020 — as good a day as any for the prolific sculptor to fly off into creative uber-consciousness.

“I’m lost in space,” Orsini says, describing her mindset when sculpting. “I’m caught in that creative womb where time just passes. It’s only when I finally realize that I’m tired that I come back to Earth.”

Orsini has been plying her artistic trade for the past 45 years. Her property encompasses the Monarch Sculpture Park, a non-profit 5-acre wonderland she and a partner opened in 1998 that features 110 contemporary sculptures. 

Her Pig’s Brick House — one of three whimsical outdoor representations of the “Three Little Pigs” fairy tale — is just one of the Spokane-born sculptor’s many artistic flights of fancy that delight children of all ages.

On this particular morning, a couple of visitors roamed the park, dazzled by the variety of mesmerizing artistic displays they saw.

“Golly, this is great. I’m just speechless,” said Tumwater resident Billie Pace, 66. “I especially like the Three Little Pigs. The park is unbelievable that someone would create something like this.”

Pace’s friend, Rainier resident Kathy Strand, 70, was just as awed.

“I really think it is very valuable and an inspiration to display so much imagination from so many artists from around the world — and it’s here locally, which is totally amazing.”

Orsini, who grew up in a nurturing foster home in Washington, thought the sculpture park would be a perfect way to help nurture her community as she herself was embraced as a child.

“I opened the park to give back to Washington’s citizens, because Washington had supported me as a foster child,” she explained.

Orsini, who has two daughters and has been married for three years to Patrick Cavendish, 82, began her artistic career innocently enough — and early.

“I loved art in school,” she said. “I would wait the entire day just for that last class in elementary school, which was art.”

And though she had tentatively found her niche in the art world before she was old enough to drive, Orsini realized early on that she’d have to broaden her horizons if she wanted to further her education.

“After the ninth grade I really hit the books,” she said. “I wanted to go to college. and I ended up getting a scholarship to Western Washington University.”

From there, Orsini taught middle-school English from 1969-1974 in the Tacoma School District before finally quitting to open “Orsini Studio” in Tacoma where she made her living through public and private art commissions and art gallery sales. She went on to gain a master’s degree in 1974 from the University of Puget Sound.

Since then, Orsini has garnered accolades for her work both near and far. Most recently, she created “The Portal,” a colorful, wooden abstract sculpture that highlights the center of Rainier.

Dennis McVey, chairman of the Rainier Arts Commission, who recently christened the town’s art gallery in the basement of the Rainier School District office, credits The Portal for helping enhance Rainier’s appearance along the Tenino-Rainier-Yelm trail.

“The Portal is bright and colorful, and we have received positive comments about it,” the 78-year-old said. “We hope it spurs other artists to donate their pieces, too.”

Spurred on by her own creative drive, Orsini’s accomplishments over the past decade have included several “monumental” (think “large”) commissions. She has 22 monumental pieces worldwide.

In 2009, she created “Pathways to Pride,” two pieces of Tenino sandstone with embedded bronze plaques commissioned by the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. The sculpture commemorates the history of the people who have lived in the area near Maynard Avenue and King Street in the Chinatown International District.

Then in 2015, Orsini designed and managed a project for the memorial commission by the American Cancer Society to honor Dr. Gordy Klatt, founder of Relay for Life.

“The installation included a globe of the world with the Tacoma location where Dr. Klatt ran the first Relay for Life,” Orsini said.

Orsini has garnered international accolades as well. In 1992, she received first-place in Ukraine for her granite piece “Firebird,” and in 1993 took another first in Ukraine for her sandstone work “Bandura.” She also toured Lithuania and Ukraine in 1994 with an exhibition of 22 of her works.

Along the way, Orsini — who works out of two studios adjacent to her home — has created pieces out of wood, clay, stone, steel, glass and bronze. She estimates that over the years she has created more than 1,000 sculptures.

They may take as little as 20 hours or as much as nine months to complete — the nine-month version her painted steel piece “Pick Up Sticks,” a centerpiece of her Monarch Sculpture Park.

And though she still consistently works — the creative mind never seems to rest — Orsini no longer produces large works in stone.

“I lack the ability to do things now that I could do before,” she said. “I used to be able to shift 200 pounds of stone, but not now.”

These days she’ll design metal pieces, for instance, and someone else manually welds them for her.

But even if her body sometimes yells “no,” her mind still screams “yes.”

“You live and breathe sculpture, and I see the designs in my head,” she said. “It’s very rare that I will alter a piece when I’m working on it, because I’ve seen it finished in my head.”

Those finished sculptures have earned Orsini from $85 to $125,000 apiece throughout her career — bronzes selling from $2,800 to $30,000.

“I still make part of my living doing this work,” she said, “though it’s different now physically and financially. I’m always coming up with ideas, but sometimes I just have to rein myself in.”

Orsini’s colleague, Olympia metal artist Kevin Crigger, has for the past 12 years produced such creations as gates, railings, sculptures, marine themes and flowers. He credits Orsini for much of his inspiration.

“She has encouraged me to continue producing art pieces when it felt like the economy couldn’t support the trade,” Crigger, 52, wrote in an email. “I would say that Myrna has the ability to see the world as a fresh canvas making the right connections at just the right time. She’s always improving and adapting to our ever-changing world.”

Even when she’s lost in space.