Skagit Summer

Time for a tour

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It’s not every day that artists open their studios to the public. 

Few artists are public relations experts; many live in remote locations chosen for solitude. Besides, studios are messy places with paint on the floor and canvasses stacked facing the wall. Art studio tours are special.

Following is a random sample of the 31 artists people who will show their work at 18 studios July 19-20 as part of Skagit Artists Together’s 11th annual Studio Tour. (You’ll find brochures with short descriptions and maps of the studio locations in many places, including galleries and art supply stores.)

Tucked away in a sylvan retreat overlooking Skagit Bay, C. L. “Larry” Heald has been winning awards since his college days. His paintings hang in dozens of museums and corporate and private collections. He paints realistic landscapes and interior scenes in superb detail and sometimes reveals a cosmic sense of humor. 

In his “Autobiography XVIII” (2008) we see a museum interior—even down to the “exit” signs.  Along one wall he includes miniatures of his earlier paintings, as if hanging in this museum. The ceiling opens to a night sky and the right-hand wall dissolves, revealing a mountain landscape. And the floor? An ocean, complete with waves. I wonder, does he intend to carry forward the metaphysical insights of the early 20th century Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico? 

Nearby is the studio of Barbara Silverman Summers. Going against the grain has always been her hallmark. Raised in New York City, where she graduated with an art degree, she moved to the Skagit Valley to be among people who love to paint. Here, she preserves the abstract tradition of Richard Gilkey, Guy Anderson, and the other “mystic” Northwest painters. 

Abstraction is a frightening discipline: you don’t know where you are going until you have arrived. That suits Barbara to a T. She tosses a canvas on the floor and pours or brushes on nine or more layers of acrylic paint, scraping away portions, revealing complicated relationships of line and color until she recognizes that it’s “just right.” So right that Skagit Valley Hospital or another of her collectors regularly buy the results.

Shelter Bay painter and teacher Dee Doyle follows a different tradition. For the most part, she is a representative painter and records her encounters with flowers, animals and people: studio models, dancers, musicians and friends. Among her most compelling subjects are polo players. She conquers adverse lighting, fast motion and distance to paint exquisite images of the beautiful, straining horses and graceful bodies.

If it can be made of clay, Persis Gayle probably already has done it. While she’s best known for her award-winning, African-style drums, she also makes porcelain dining ware, sinks, tile, vases, lamps, planters, outdoor sculpture and even clocks. A graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts, Persis works out of her mountainside studio near Arlington, but will be showing and selling her work with three other Skagit artists near the Skagit County airport on Peterson Road.

In the woods behind Mount Vernon there’s a fairytale land where Maggi Mason makes her home. Hardly any aspect of nature has escaped her creative eye: cranes, geese, nasturtiums, mountains, young ladies lying in the grass. To see her studio is to be amazed at her ability to discover each subject afresh.  She reveals the “wolfness” of the wolf, the fellowship of owl and moon. Her compositions are confident and fill the frame to the edge; each color-balanced, with good light/dark contrast and blessed with a loving whimsy. Her collages have the clarity of fine painting and her paintings are delicately expressive. Your only difficulty is to decide which one to choose—they’re all so good!

Pottery again, but in a unique form, will be found at Patsy Thola Chamberlain’s light and airy studio north of Burlington. In any museum gift store, you will have seen her colorful bird houses, many with twiggy branches sticking out for perches. Chamberlain has been making these for years, and I’ve yet to see two of them alike: even the bold colors in their high glaze are subtly different. Her studio—like many of the artists you’ll encounter this weekend—is unforgettable.

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