Winter Wonders

Warming up at Jansen Art Center

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

If you haven’t visited Lynden recently, get ready for a surprise.

Some of the finest attractions of Fairhaven have opened branches there, including Village Books, two cafes—Drizzle and Avenue Bread—and a brand-new, 35-room hotel in the completely remodeled Mercantile Building on Front Street. It’s just the place for a weekend getaway.

How did all this happen? 

Thank Heidi Jansen Doornenbal. In 2010, the Lynden native saw potential for an art and performance center in the 1929-era former city hall and firehouse. The city happily donated the vacant eyesore. With full backing of the Eleanor and Henry Jansen Foundation, a “visioning committee” led by Doornenbal oversaw the creation of the most welcoming all-around arts center between Seattle and British Columbia.

Only in the basement does the building’s history survive: a walk-in safe for city records and a single jail cell, capable of holding “even the most desperate type of criminal.”

The Jansen Art Center opened in 2012 with 22,000 square feet for display, studios and performances. It offers classes in ceramics, jewelry, weaving, dance, yoga and karate. It’s home to the Northwest Ballet Academy, the Firehall Cafe, and a museum gift shop. 

The Fine Arts Gallery, on the main floor, invites well-established, professional artists for solo shows. Last fall, I enjoyed seeing the work of WWU art professor Barbara Sternberger there and listening to her informal lecture about artistic inspiration and technique.

Presently, the Fine Arts Gallery features the grand, pictorial watercolors of James R. Williamson, portraying waterfowl, sunsets, snow-covered peaks and marine vessels from the age of sail to tugboats. One standout picture is “Northwest Majesty,” a masterpiece of windblown trees and a soaring eagle, backed by snowcapped Mt. Baker.

Ambitiously, the staff of the Jansen schedules three art shows at a time. Until Feb. 24, the Winter Juried Show will display works of 30 skilled Northwest artists on the first and second floors. Large canvases by Lorna Libert frame the museum entrance, including “Portuguese Row Boats” and “The Ballerina.” Facing the piano bar are two beautiful flower studies by Dee Doyle, a Skagit painter and educator.

Along the stairs to the second floor are several of Ruth Hesse’s monoprints—which may include added oil paint and collage. She teaches ceramics at Jansen, too, and makes little three-legged cups layered with slits. Hesse’s inspirations include sea grass, bubbles, rusting industrial architecture and “little hairs in the inner ear.” Her openness to new forms makes Klee and Miro look stodgy.

The upstairs hallway features Norman Riley’s handmade, traditional fine-focus photographic prints of Northwest mountain peaks and tropical beach photographs by David Eisenhower. 

The two performance halls on the second floor exhibit work of members of the Skagit Valley Camera Club. You’ll find Anne Elkins’ “Root and Shadow,” the striking slow-shutter images of Leslie Dorn’s “Beijing Dancers” and Lewis Jones’s shots of venerably weathered walls. John Parks contributed intriguing studies of Chinese boat dwellers.

The Jansen’s open juried shows have been an incentive for artists to work harder and bring their best work to this new and distinguished gallery. Many will attend the next opening night, March 2, along with the local community. A jazz combo may be playing downstairs early, while musicians set up for another concert on the second floor.

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