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Couple share talent for art in home studio
Alan R. Hayakawa, November 17, 1983

by: The Oregonian

Not every artist starves in a garret. Not every painter luggs a portfolio from gallery to gallery depending on the art press for recognition.

Fred and Sara Harwin are both professional artists, but when he receives critical acclaim it appears in medical journals, and when she mounts a show it often goes out in the mail. Their two dissimilar and unusual art careers based in a comfortable home in Southwest Portland.

Sara Harwin is a painter and printmaker interested in folk-art themes, who her work nationally through traveling shows, by mail and through [missions. Her only gallery connection in Oregon is the White Bird in Cannon Beach. Two prints from her series "Dance! A Celebration of Life" were reproduced last summer in the Ackerly Communications billboard series on

Fred Harwin is a medical illustrator who spent 10 years on the faculty of Oregon Health Sciences University and was head of the department of medical illustration before he left to pursue a free-lance career.

The Harwins work out of a studio that takes up two stories in what used to be their garage. Downstairs there's a concrete floor supporting two heavy, cast-iron presses, one for lithography and one for relief prints. Upstairs a huge desk dominates the center of a bright. sunny room. On the walls, the happy themes of Sara Harwin's prints of quilt patterns, wedding celebrations, folk dancers and Jewish holidays contrast with the delicate, bloodless detail of Fred Harwin's illustrations of heart surgery spread out on his smaller desk in the corner,

The two met in Ann Arbor, Mich., as students at the University of Michigan, but they've lived in their Portland house and pursued their art careers far the past 15 years. They plan a studio open house for the public Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 26-27.

"What interests me is the idea of folk traditions brought to the level of fine art," Sara Harwin said, "Traditions are brought dawn to us, and they become very important to us, and we pass them down to our children and grandchildren."

Her silkscreens and paintings follow her interest in celebration and tradition. The symmetrical composition, repeated patterns and primary colors are all associated with folk art, and they carry the subliminal message of positive feelings and cherished values, repeated through generations as in an unbroken circle.

Although she once took a printmaking class at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, Sara Harwln has few ties to the Portland art world, she said. Her work is so different from the kind of art In vogue In Portland that she hasn't felt a need to became part of the local art whirl, she said.

"It's kind of a small town in that respect," she said. "We see our work as applying not just to the Northwest area. One of the ideas in doing multiples (prints) is to reach much larger markets."

Sara Harwin, 36, markets her work by circulating a traveling exhibit of framed prints and paintings. The show just closed in Vancouver, British Columbia, she said, and will be shipped to Boston in the spring. She recently completed a painting of folk dancers for photo-reproduction an the cover of several thousand invitations to an event planned by the Los Angeles Women's Division for State of Israel Bonds.

Fred Harwin recently wrote a "Manual of Cardiac Surgery" with Dr. Bradley J. Harlan of Sacramento; Calif., and Dr. Albert Starr of Portland, two noted specialists in the field. The significance of the volume, he said, is "using illustration as communication itself rather than filler accompanying text."

"The concept of using Illustrations as entities unto themselves has been accepted by the medical community," he said. The book relies so much on pictures as well as words, he said, that it has been enthusiastically reviewed in several languages.

Fred Harwin, 41, said his free-lance work had expanded beyond Illustrating to selecting other medical illustrators for publishing projects and consulting with book editors.

"It's a small field, but it has a lot of potential," he said. "We're a visual society now".

Despite the strict limits of medical Illustration and what could be the life-or-death importance of accuracy, Harwin said his work isn't much different from that of other artists.

"I'm in the same spot when I'm in one of my 'Illustrations' that I was in when I was doing non-objective painting," he said. "There's the same anxiety. "Once the parameters are set, then I'm free. When you pick a canvas as a painter, you're immediately restricted by the size of that canvas."

Fred Harwin spends two or three days a week making artificial eyes out of an acrylic plastic far patients at Portland's Devers Memorial Eye Clinic - It must be the medical illustrator's equivalent of dividing time between painting and sculpture. And he's doing a series of commercial illustrations far W.L. Gore and Associates of Flagstaff, Ariz., an affiliate of the company that makes Gore-tex rain gear, showing how the company's fabrics can be used in surgery to patch veins and arteries.

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Harwin Studios   |   9101 SW 15th Ave.   |   Portland, Oregon 97219   |   Phone (971) 998-4007   |