From Snow Caps to Bottle Caps: Max Grover and Loran Scruggs at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts • Bainbridge Island, Washington

Wednesday, March 02, 2022 12:38 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

The more familiar you are with the arty charms of Port Townsend, the more you appreciate its unofficial motto: “We’re All Here Because We’re Not All There.” The quirky logic captures the spirit of the place. Two artists that embody Port Townsend’s whimsical nature are Max Grover and Loran Scruggs. They are showing their work together this month, but it won’t be all there in Port Townsend. Instead you’ll find it all here at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts (BAC), the non-profit art gallery on Bainbridge Island. The show opens on March 4, and runs through March 27. There are toys.

BAC’s choice to pair these artists is an inspired one. Both artists revel in bold colors that border on loud; they favor direct statements and are A-OK with child-like simplicity. Grover and Scruggs work in different media, giving the show a built-in contrast. Grover produces oil and acrylic paintings on canvas; Scruggs works three-dimensionally, often repurposing tin cans, or bottle caps, to make her light-hearted creations. In BAC’s Sally Robison gallery, some zany call and response is bound to take place between Grover’s paintings and Scruggs’ tin constructions.  

Max Grover is no stranger to galleries and museums around the Pacific Northwest. His popular children’s books also place him into libraries and living rooms. A painter who delights in a flat picture plane and simplified forms, Grover makes witty color choices, and arranges basic shapes into rhythmic patterns that swing and groove. Grover’s whole world is animated, and through his curious looking glass things appear out-sized and outlandish. In his cityscapes, cars resemble board-game pieces, and apartment buildings have a chucklesome aspect, as if leaning in to gossip about their inhabitants. In his seascapes, the ferry boats look like 1950s toasters, except their colors are so cheerful, and they have smokestacks shaped like giant tubas. He’ll paint a still-life now and then, but its objects won’t sit still. 

Not everything is jocular. The mood of Grover’s “Dreadnought” stands in contrast to his usual lightness: the painting depicts a Navy ship that aims its absurd gun barrels in every direction. The somber palette here—all gun-metal blues and grays—and the inert composition (the ship sits in the dead center of the canvas) reveals a side of Grover not often in view. Port Townsend sits across the bay from a major US Navy munitions depot, after all. Maybe Grover can see it from his studio.

If in Grover’s work there’s some nostalgia for a more innocent time in our national past, for Loran Scruggs the hint of nostalgia may attach to her own childhood, the timelessness of child’s play. She loves to toy with toys, that’s for sure. In fact, Scruggs often seems to be playing games with the distinction between play-toy and art-work. In one series, Scruggs takes on preschool building blocks (“Q is for Quail,” and “T is for Turtle”) though these wood-and-tin cubes are not the right size or the right materials for a small child’s hands. Or consider her fully-functional tin whistles: each one is a shiny thoughtful visual feast, one that also provides a pleasing sound, a tactile experience, and use value. Several of her other pieces are similarly hand-crafted hybrids of play-thing and fine art object. “King of Hearts” is an eight-inch-tall rodent assembled from the tin shards of the iconic Hershey bar package design: does the piece qualify as a sculpture or a pull-toy? The answer may be “yes,” even if no toddler has the fine motor skills or patience required to pull the “King of Hearts” pleasantly along without it toppling over.  

It’s the bottle cap creations that may steal the show. A bottle cap folded in on itself forms a sort of bivalve shape, a mouth, a seed pod, a flower petal, a chile pepper (if the color is right). Scruggs repeats that shape a few dozen times with more caps, or she’ll group three or more folded caps into yet another more ornate shape which she then repeats. Chaining the caps together is another strategy Scruggs deploys. This artist’s game is to find yet another fresh way to express beauty and evoke wonder with a simple bottle cap collection. Top that.

Hot Tip: The show’s opening reception on March 4, from 6 to 8 P.M. doubles as a release party for Tideland, a new quarterly magazine covering Bainbridge Island and other Kitsap communities. Led by veteran journalists Alorie Gilbert and Leif Utne (whose family founded the much beloved Utne Reader), Tideland aims to “celebrate the vibrant communities, creativity, and natural beauty that define our region.” Feel the need for “in-depth regional journalism on social and environmental issues like housing, equity, inclusion, and conservation”? Come out to connect with the folks who not only feel that way too but are doing something about it.

Tom McDonald

Tom McDonald is a writer and musician living on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

The Max Grover and Loran Scruggs exhibit is on view through March 27 at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, located at 151 Winslow Way East on Bainbridge Island,  Monday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M., and Sunday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. For more information, visit

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