CLARK COUNTY — If you’ve ever looked at a painting, sculpture or beautifully crafted piece of jewelry and wondered how the artist created such a unique work of art, the upcoming Clark County Open Studios Tour may be right up your alley.
Now in its fourth year, the countywide, self-guided art tour allows art lovers to enter the space of some of Clark County’s best artists, connecting them to the art in a way that is nearly impossible inside a gallery or museum.
In fact, says tour director Jennifer Williams, many of the people who find themselves drawn to the annual Arts of Clark County studio tour are much more comfortable entering an artist’s studio space than they are going to an art gallery.
“I find it interesting that many of the people who come to my house on the tour say they don’t go to galleries,” says Williams, herself an accomplished artist who has been on the Open Studios tour in the past and will again show her Pacific Northwest-inspired, mixed-media paintings at this year’s event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sat., Nov. 12 and Sun., Nov. 13. “The galleries in the area do a great job, but I think that, for some people, this type of thing is maybe more accessible.”
This year’s art studio tour includes 50 artists from all reaches of Clark County, including several who have shown their work on the tour in past years as well as a few new additions.
All of the artists on this year’s tour were selected through a juried process and roughly half of the 50 participating artists are new to the tour, Williams says. Jurors for the 2016 studio tour included Ruth Offen, owner and director of the Waterworks Gallery in Friday Harbor, Wash., and Mark Smith, an artist and professor at Portland Community College in Oregon.
This year’s tour also has sponsors for the very first time in its four-year history and Williams said the sponsorships — mostly from regional galleries, wine bars and other businesses that regularly support local artists — allowed the Open Studios tour to print 5,000 free tour guides. The guides are available at participating sponsors’ businesses. To see a list of 2016 sponsors, visit the Clark County Open Studios website, click the “About” button and scroll to the bottom of the page. The website also has a list of participating artists and a customizable Google map of the 50 studio locations.
For people who love art and haven’t been on the tour yet, Williams says they may be surprised by the range of artistic talents in Clark County.
“I don’t think people know how many artists live here,” Williams says. “And many of the artists on this tour have been able to turn their art into a full-time business.”
That is certainly the case for one artist new to this year’s Open Studios tour: Ariel Young, owner of Allotropy Designs in Vancouver.
Today, Young makes a decent living selling her jewelry, sculptural art and functional glasses and bowls — all crafted out of recycled bottles and other recycled materials like surplus electrical wire — but just five years ago, Young’s art was more of an afterthought, something she did for fun after a long shift as a cardiac nurse at Oregon Health and Science University Hospital in Portland, Ore.
“I remember going into this deli when we were at a conference in Lake Chelan, and seeing all of these drinking glasses made out of wine bottles,” Young says. “And I thought, ‘How do you cut a wine bottle the whole way around?’ I stayed up all night trying to figure it out.”
Her blend of scientific know-how, artistic spirit and love of reusing and recycling led Young down a road that would eventually lead her away from nursing and into a full-time job as an artist.
“My husband asked me, ‘In 30 years, do you want to be a retired nurse or a retired artist?’” Young says. “And I loved nursing, but I knew I wanted to be an artist.”
With the support of her nursing colleagues — none of whom were surprised that Young wanted to work on her art full-time — and her family, including husband Jonathan Young, an attorney for the city of Vancouver, and elementary-school-aged son Benjamin, Young resigned from her nursing job, renovated a garage into a light-filled art studio that overlooks her family’s backyard, built a website, started going to art sale events throughout the Pacific Northwest and turned her hobby into her full-time job.
Now, Young spends her time collecting wine, beer and liquor bottles from neighbors and friends in the Vancouver area, carefully cutting the bottles into glass pieces — the round bottoms might be slumped into glass bowls, the julienned side pieces could become a glass bead bound for a pair of earrings, or maybe shaped by hand into a leaf to go on one of Young’s newest creations: sculptural trees made from recycled electrical wire, courtesy of a Vancouver electrician who helped her rewire her garage-studio, and delicate glass “leaves.” Bottles might have their tops removed and become part of a modern-looking lamp with a concrete base and exposed wire-and-bulb guts.
Creating unique, functional art out of recycled materials is what Young’s Allotropy Designs studio is all about. In fact, the name of her business speaks to Young’s penchant for recreation. The world “allotropy” means “the existence of two or more different physical forms of a chemical element.” Young points to the molecular sameness of a coal and a diamond — exert enough heat and pressure on a piece of coal and you will get a diamond. It’s not magic. It’s science. And while what Young is doing isn’t technically “allotropy,” it’s close.
“I’m taking something that was trash, applying heat … and turning it into a diamond,” Young says. “It appeals to my science side and my artistic side.”
During the days, Young works inside her cozy studio space, heating recycled glass into molten pieces of dripping liquid, spinning them on a clay-coated metal rod until they form a glass bead and then sliding them into a kiln heated to more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit and slowly, gently cooling them to produce sturdy beads that can be strung into necklaces, bracelets or earrings. At night and on the weekends, her 10-year-old son Ben comes into the studio to help design jewelry, think up creative new processes and help his mother plan her burgeoning art business. Not yet in middle school, Ben has an eye for business, Young says. Recently, he decided that his mother should go to a wine tasting art event to sell her wares, even though it meant that he could not attend because the event was only open to participants age 21 and older.
“He’s my partner in this,” Young says of her son. “He comes with me to the shows, unless they are 21 and older, and he helps design. He’s always been very artistic.”
Thinking ahead, Young can see herself maybe even transitioning out of the smaller art works and concentrating on more personalized, time-intensive pieces … or maybe teaching small, one-on-one art classes someday.
“I love the idea of teaching people one on one,” Young says. “Some places have ‘small’ classes, but they have 15 or 20 people, and that’s too many. If I had one or two students at a time, I could show them how to get started, show them that it’s not as difficult as they might think.”
Young finds that, once people see her work in action, they become mesmerized with the process and realize the amount of scientific and mathematic skills that go into it. She won’t be able to show the Open Studios Tour participants her work in action during the tour since fire and crowds don’t mix, but she will be able to give people an idea of how they might find a cozy space for their own artistic processes.
“I think that’s the best part of something like this,” she says of the studios tour. “It can inspire people.”
Williams, the tour director, agrees: “People love to get a look behind the scenes of the creative process and if you plan on shopping for art, there is nothing more gratifying than knowing the artist. No matter which stops you choose, the tour is guaranteed to inspire.”
Artists on the Open Studios tour will be showing a diverse array of artwork and visitors can learn first-hand about techniques in painting, printmaking, sculpture, glass, ceramic, jewelry, fiber arts and photography.
“It’s amazing,” says Karen Madsen, Arts of Clark County chair. “Each year we hear from more people who want to participate, either as artists or visitors.”
Williams says she advises the artists to tidy their studio spaces, but to not go overboard with the clean-up.
“Clean but not pristine!” Williams says, adding that she wants visitors to experience the authentic workspace of each artist, not the sterilized version of that space.
Kelly Keigwin and Sam MacKenzie, of KeigKenzie Studio, laugh about Williams’ “clean but not pristine’ advisory. The couple’s ceramics studio is located on MacKenzie’s family farm off Highway 500 in Vancouver and accessing the space means a short walk past the family’s chickens and pet turkey, up a short driveway and around a slightly muddy pathway. Pristine it’s not, but the space is perfect for KeigKenzie Studio’s whimsical, farm-animals-inspired line of pottery.
More than a week before the Open Studios tour, Keigwin and MacKenzie were starting clean-up preparations and working on a line of ceramic mugs, cups, bowls and planters to sell on Open Studios weekend.
“Some people are happy going to a studio and working,” Keigwin says. “Others like to stay home. That’s us. We’re happy working here, surrounded by our critters.”
Before they met in 2010, Keigwin and MacKenzie had already been working in and around the art world for some time. Keigwin had once co-owned a quirky gallery in downtown Gresham, Ore., and had been a photographer and mixed media artist. MacKenzie, a Vancouver native, was involved with darkroom photography, fiber arts and mixed media. She also created a zine detailing life on an urban farm and had a following of readers who tuned in regularly for her tales of adopted chickens. Both had been art teachers at the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland.
After meeting in 2010, falling in love and marrying in 2012, the couple decided to merge their respective art studios and create KeigKenzie. The result is a mix of MacKenzie’s pottery shapes and Keigwin’s light hearted, endearing drawings, which often feature characters like bicycle-riding chickens and ceramics-making cats.
The couple used to drive their art from Vancouver to a kiln in Washington County, Ore., and say they always feared getting into an accident since even a minor fender-bender could destroy a few months’ worth of artwork. Today, however, the two artists work together out of their farm/studio/living space, where they keep two kilns and have a third kiln on its way.
“This is definitely better,” MacKenzie says.
Keigwin agrees and says she also hopes the studio tour, which she and MacKenzie are new to this year, will inspire other would-be artists who might think their own space isn’t good enough to create art.
“For someone who can’t afford to build a studio or to rent studio space, they can come here and see where we work, see this very casual place, and maybe they’ll realize that there’s another way of doing things,” Keigwin says.
The Nov. 12-13 Open Studios Tour is free and open to the public and visitors can plan their own specialized tour. If you want to visit one artist or all 50, that’s up to you. There are artists throughout the region, including several in Battle Ground, Ridgefield and Camas.
A Preview Exhibit and Artists’ Reception, also open to the public, will be held from 5 to 9 p.m., Fri., Nov. 4, at the Esther Short Building, 610 Esther Short St., Vancouver, as part of First Friday Art Walk. Artist Chris Bidleman’s Upfront Band will provide music and Trusty Brewery will be pouring tastes of their award winning brews. A portion from art sales during the preview show will go to Arts of Clark County.
For more information, to visit the participating artists or view a map of this year’s studios tour, visit Clark County Open Studios online at http://ccopenstudios.org/.