Wednesday, June 28, 2017 This Week's Paper

Art and activism: One couple’s love of Tacoma includes both

Claudia Riedener was born on a Swiss farm that had no plumbing, where her mother cooked on a wood stove and the house was attached to a horse barn.
When she came to America, it was aboard a 35-foot boat.
John Carlton was a right-wing fundamentalist Christian when he enrolled in Chicago's Moody Bible College. He graduated as an agnostic, returned to school and got a degree in film and multimedia.
They found one another in 1993, and found Tacoma five years later. Each fit into the arts community, and both loved their access to nature. Riedener and Carlton also became Tacoma advocates and activists, taking on everything from newspaper plastic bags to a proposed methanol plant.
Carlton is a former Marine. Riedener is an artist with a fiercely protective streak for nature.
Together, the couple helped form Redline Tacoma, recruiting volunteers to protest that methanol plant. Alongside the opposition of the Puyallup Tribe, Redline was instrumental in stopping the construction of that plant.
Now both have lined up against a new adversary: Puget Sound Energy's proposed liquified natural gas (LNG) plant.
Neither Carlton nor Riedener sought out activism. It more or less found them.
“We love Tacoma, and we were not about to sit silently and watch a methanol plant built in our community,” Carlton said. “There are a lot of people like us – they don't want to move; they'd rather stay and protect the community.”
Riedener is proud of helping stop the methanol plant, and of the way in which it was done.
“We never broke any law. We didn't block sidewalks, we didn't break windows,” she said. “We didn't miss any meetings, though. We showed up at all of them.”
When the couple moved to Tacoma from Chicago, they each quit their jobs before relocating. They were starting over, with motivation beyond what they might do for a living.
“There wasn't much nature available in Chicago,” said Riedener, who had worked in the botanical gardens there. “We love the nature in this region – but nature can't take too much more.”
On her birthday, Jan. 28, in 2014, Riedener and husband Carlton began one of their regular long walks through their neighborhood.
“I saw the News Tribune plastic bags advertising local businesses, and they were all over the gutters and driveways, and I blew a fuse,” she said. “We got a big plastic trash bag, filled it with those little plastic bags and dumped it back at the Tribune.
“We took photos of those bags on our streets, blowing down the road. They wound up in Puget Sound.
“We called the advertisers and told them why we were so against the bags – they were ruining the neighborhoods we liked to walk, and endangering the Sound.”
Carlton did graphics work for Microsoft and other software companies, most of them based on his career in Chicago with Midway Games.
“I got tired of the daily drive to Redmond, and I scrambled for work,” he said. “I even did lawn maintenance for awhile.”
Today, he's a senior developer for Kompan playground equipment, and working on a new draft of a screenplay set in Tacoma, circa 1951.
Riedener is a decorative tile artist who came to her craft out of necessity.
“When we bought our house in Tacoma, we wanted to tile our sun room but the bid was for $4,000 or something outrageous,” she said.
“So I bought and read a $17.95 book on tile decorating and did it myself. That was 15 years ago and it still looks fine, and I've branched out to do decorative tile – and I make my own in my workshop.
“The first decorative tile I made I put around our fireplace. Now I do them for others, for schools and restaurants and homes,” Riedener said.
Her online business,, is doing well, and the website displays samples of her work. Much of it is nature-based, vined plants that run from one tile to another up a wall, around a doorway.
The home they bought had room for a garden, and Carlton watched his wife disappear into that project, then move to another.
“We had a garage that we thought might have to be torn down, but she made a workshop out of it,” he said.
It wasn't perfect.
“Among other things, it leaked whenever it rained, and I'd put all these buckets out to catch the water,” Riedener said. “I had to have John help me empty them.”
The garage has been renovated now, and is filled with tile projects, shelves of tile supplies and a kiln.
Still, both Riedener and Carlton devote hours each week to causes close to their hearts.
“Activism isn't a hobby,” Carlton said. “It's a passion. We have hobbies.”
Riedener laughed at that.
“We're volunteers,” she said. “People call, we volunteer.”