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INSIDE & OUT : Tank with a Trunk

October 15, 1994|CYNDI Y. NIGHTENGALE

When it comes to fishbowls, no one does it quite like Tom Wise.

With a flair for the dramatic, Los Angeles sculptor Wise has crafted a functional aquarium out of acrylic, in the shape of an Indian elephant.

The free-form, 300-gallon elephant, with hand-carved howdah and pedestal, is 10 feet tall overall. The acrylic pachyderm, which has an aqua tint to it for better viewing of the fish, is 6 1/2 feet long by 3 feet wide by 5 feet tall.

The tusks, trunk and toes are embellished with gold leaf. The tank filter pump and electrical hookup are concealed in the pedestal.

Wise, who prefers to create monument-size pieces, chose acrylic because he feels it really comes to life. "It has a glow about it all the time. It looks just like crystal."

Why an elephant for a fish tank? "Elephants are in the water constantly," said Wise, an animal lover.

Wise, 49, endured some trying times during the 2 1/2 years it took him to perfect his molding techniques. He was inside the belly of the elephant in his Valencia studio when the Northridge earthquake hit.

"At first I thought it was some of the guys playing around with the dolly (on which the elephant stood), but then I realized it was an earthquake," he said.

Cleaning the tank is a breeze: You drain it and climb inside. "It takes about five minutes to swab it down," he said.

Paying for it, however, would not be so easy for the average person.

The aquarium, available through the 1994 Neiman Marcus Christmas Book (800) 825-8781, costs $120,000. Fish not included.

For more information on the elephant or other designs by Wise, call (805) 250-4268.

Cup of Tea

Teatime turns downright zany when John Groth of Hillsboro, Ore., puts the kettle on.

His porcelain pots named for everyday phrases and puns bring giggles and smiles to any tea party.

Among his 16 designs are an "alligator purse," a bag with an alligator in the middle; a doggie bag, a brown paper sack with a dog in it, and "monkey business," which, according to Groth's friends, is a self-portrait.

All of the teapots are functional, which wasn't an easy task. "After all, each one has to have a spout, a handle and a lid." To layer on color, Groth sometimes fires one teapot four or five times.

Groth, 34, a Wisconsin native who majored in art at Portland State, started tinkering in ceramics at age 12. Through the years, he has developed his own nontoxic glazes, clays and colored underglazes.

His pieces have a brilliant luster and sparkle because he paints on the overglazes by hand.

Groth's teapots ($95 plus shipping and handling) can be purchased from the Perennial Tea Room in Seattle.

For more information or to order, call (206) 448-4054.

Second Life

Limbs and branches of dead trees are fodder for furnishings such as book stands, shelves, spoons, room dividers and mirror frames by Richard Evans and Sherry Ford.

For their Reversion collection, Evans and Ford of Laguna Beach gathered elm, eucalyptus, willow and orange from around the county. Raw branches and logs are gathered, "bugs, termites and all," said Ford. The pieces are then dried, cleaned and sliced, before sanding and finishing.

"We're very careful to look at each piece, so the (grain pattern) is preserved when cut," Evans said.

Each work includes a handwritten "source story" card, which tells about the type of wood used, where it came from, and in some cases, the age of the tree.

No stains are used to enhance the grain. Ford and Evans use a natural Danish oil that penetrates the wood and gives it a low-luster finish. It also leaves a barrier against moisture, so spills will not soak in.

The next dead tree destined for Reversion is an avocado tree at the Phoenix House in Santa Ana. It has not shown signs of life for three years. "The trees we use have to be really dead trees," said Ford.

Prices for book holders start at $125. The Reversion collection is carried at the Cook's Garden and Areo in Laguna Beach, and the Laguna Art Museum at South Coast Plaza. For custom pieces, call (714) 497-6255.

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