Pulling into Sam Roderick Yao’s driveway (he prefers to be go by Sam Roderick, or Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua, his mother’s maiden name), I’m immediately introduced to his neighbors. We exchange greetings and admire yard work being done at Sam’s house, on top of a hill, just off Timberline Drive in the Churchill neighborhood.
Walking in the house, I am greeted by an enthusiastic energetic 3-year-old Jack Russell terrier named Rabbit. Sam has a bite mark on his face from his dog and tells me that Rabbit will have to see a behaviorist. Rabbit is very curious and friendly when greeting me, but gets easily excited and has a cute, but bad habit of interrupting our conversation with his own agenda.
Throughout the process of the interview, it becomes apparent that Sam likes people and challenges.
Sam was born and grew up in the Philippines, where he lived in Manilla with his adopted parents until the age of 10. He was taught Tagalog, Mandarin Chinese, and FuJian Chinese as a child. He later moved to Glendale, California, where he enjoyed the underground music scene of nearby Los Angeles and learned Spanish. Around the age of 22, Sam moved to Washington state and eventually discovered respect for Buddhism which he says keeps him in check. His Buddhist interests prompted him to learn the Tibetan alphabet.
Sam has lived in Eugene, Oregon since 2002. He has worked with Hospice patients for Sacred Heart Hospital for three years, where he conducts life interviews with terminally ill patients. He also started Wonderland Craft Studio, where he makes a variety of ceramics varying from dual purpose water pitcher/plant-watering device to something Sam calls ‘wish people’.
In January of this year, Sam says he had a friend who underwent surgery and he wanted to do something more than simply wish her well. His initial idea was to use clay to sculpt an egg without a center. He wanted to write his friend’s name and a prayer for her on a piece of paper and put it in the open space . Unfortunately, he found that crafting the egg proved too difficult. Fortunately, Sam didn’t stop thinking of a way to create something that could hold a prayer or a wish.
Sam was inspired to start his Hospice work and explore pottery when his mother, Betty Roxas-Chua, suddenly passed away on December 28th, 2005 of an aortic aneurysm. Sam said his mother was a business woman who started a dress shop at an early age. He said she started many businesses throughout her life and thought she was very courageous in doing so. One of the reasons he creates with clay is to give tribute to her.
Sam hopes to enter a piece he calls ‘teacher and students’ in the upcoming Mayor’s Art Show. He says people who have purchased his wish people have also expanded their original intended use to include sending them as birthday cards and wedding presents. He’s also expanded their functionality by making wish people design inspired bowls.
Sam says that he hopes that his wish people can create a new type of ritual for people who want to send out more than verbal prayers and wishes. He says that people of any faith or even atheists can use them to find a way to connect.