Creative Collaborators

Art and appreciation in Skagit Valley


When Jean Behnke and Maggie Wilder first met, they knew right away they were meant to be friends.

And, since the two women are both active in the arts community in Skagit Valley—Wilder is a painter who owns and operates Gallery Cygnus in La Conner, and Behnke is a multimedia artist who also played a part in getting Anchor Art Space in Anacortes up and running—it didn’t take long for them to realize their friendship would also likely involve collaboration of the creative kind.

“I had recently moved to La Conner, so I was plenty happy to align with Maggie and our far-ranging conversations grew into an energetic partnership at Gallery Cygnus,” Behnke says.

One of the results of their meeting of the minds involved Wilder asking Behnke to exhibit her work at the gallery. The result is “I’ll Know It When I See It,” a one-woman show featuring Behnke’s eclectic prints and sculptural work made from combining materials in nontraditional ways (for example, one sculpture in the piece combines her father’s transparent rain hat with steel and marble).

Although Behnke’s work will only be on display through Sun., Dec. 22, that doesn’t mean when it’s done she’ll walk away from Gallery Cygnus and never look back. The partnership she and Wilder have developed includes collaborating on upcoming exhibits for 2014, including “Of This World and Not” with Heidi Epstein, Eddie Gordon, and Allen Moe in February, and, beyond, exhibits featuring the work of Eve Deisher, Lanny Bergner, Michael Peterson, Becky Fletcher, and others.

Being that part of the mission statement for Gallery Cygnus includes wanting to “meet and raise the expectations of visitors to the Skagit Valley in search of an art destination,” Wilder and Behnke were asked if they thought La Conner and Anacortes were important hubs for the cultural community in the verdant valley.

“I like to think of both towns as important spokes on the larger hub,” Behnke says. “To me, the whole Skagit Valley is a significant hub in the region. There’s a lot of criss-crossing support between Gallery Cygnus, Anchor Art Space, along with Smith & Vallee Gallery, all investing a great deal and providing local communities with compelling cultural experience.”

Wilder agrees, pointing out that “both these towns attract and nurture artists like they have historically—and actually pre-historically, with the traditions of the tribes here. There’s something here that says ‘slow down and notice what’s going on around you.’”

And, since both women are artists as well as being well-versed at helping make the place they live be accessible and attractive to art appreciators, they also acknowledge that it can be hard to make time for their own creative endeavors.

“The most challenging part of making art is being distracted away from making art,” Behnke says. “My favorite part is the invention; I get to invent whatever I want. I like that making art is the only realm in which all impulses, anything, can be explored.”

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