Pepper Kaminoff crafts a wax sculpture with a soldering iron in his garage workshop on Mercer Island Monday, June 30, 2008. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Pepper Kaminoff crafts a wax sculpture with a soldering iron in his garage workshop on Mercer Island Monday, June 30, 2008.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Now summer, the garage doors to Pepper Kaminoff’s atelier are open so that all can watch him deftly sculpt away at wood, metals and other material.

His dog mailbox stand greets the postman; a concrete sleeping giant peers from among the potato plants; two statues of acrobatic children frolic in the back yard; and a recently stripped 13-foot timber awaits inspiration for Kaminoff’s next work.

In progress in the driveway is a 450-pound concrete and steel statue of a woman about to hoist a helpless child, which was conceived in response to the 9/11 event, but which became a more universal Madonna expression as it evolved. Once bronzed, he will seek out a new home for her.

Kaminoff, who graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1967, is evolving too. He is the acrobatic clown we wrote about in 1981 who had performed on most continents with big-name circuses. Now, at 59, he still performs harlequin antics on cruises, in Germany and more recently on New York’s Radio City Music Hall stage. He has taught classes in dance, movement, gymnastics, mime, magic, nutrition, prop construction, makeup, unicycle, stilts and elephant riding.

Kaminoff now reserves the bulk of his creative energy for commissioned art that also moves. Such examples are his circus pieces at Mercer Island’s Yoga Bliss; a young girl floating on a book in the library; two huge anthropomorphic chairs in a South-end home; and a small bronze of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, which captures Kaminoff’s persona.

He has also taught his children, Alex, 21, and Laura, 17, how to “take good falls,” he says, always being ready for life’s tumbles. They have practiced many shoulder rolls in the back yard.

Kaminoff’s heart often is attached to his works. For instance, the bust he made of his neighbor’s late-wife as a young woman; or a ship’s figurehead of the mermaid; or the hands of a 65-year-old, which told who she was more than her face. He loves to sculpt from photos and see people’s reaction to 3-D.

He tackles the practical — a computer station for six persons — or the ephemeral — a transitory shape made of chicken wire that was discarded after it rusted.

That is why his yard has become a neighborhood curiosity, evolving with his notions. He invites all to drop by.

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