by Judy Spiers
Our first stop on Day Three of the Pierce County Open Studio Tour was at oil painting artist, Linda Jacobus. On our way, I told Mark – my husband and chauffer – that I had a hunch that the art that is expressed on the inside of a studio may well carry over to the outside, as well.
As Linda invited us in and introduced us to her husband, Rick, she described her art: “I paint in classical realism, and I love working in miniatures.”
A table near the entry featured wonderful framed miniatures of her works that visitors could purchase.
“I like simplicity and every day things,” she said. “When I started it wasn’t just painting, but the shadows and light that impelled me.”
Across the room was a painting of rhododendrons displayed on an easel. It hinted of the French Impressionism of the late 1870s and 80s when the artist’s ability to capture the interplay of light and shadows was most important. In this painting Jacobus blends the realism of darkly shadowed leaves with the more Impressionistic style of softly defined bright, white blossoms. It is fittingly named, “Gleaming Rhododendrons.”
I later asked her about the public’s response to it. She said that guests commented more on that painting than any other. She then discussed what inspires her.
“I love painting old things.”
In the next painting she showed us, sunlight pours through a window and onto a dark, old table and matching chair. The light reflects off the tea pot pictured on the table as a deep orange with a tinge of red in the tea pot from the patina.
“This is ‘Shirley’s Tea Pot,’ Linda told us. “It was my sister-in-law’s tea pot – I had to paint that.”
She walked over to it and caressed the frame. It seemed she puts as much value on the frames as her paintings.
“I love frames,” she confided. “I collect and go to museums just to look at them.”
“Dishes in the Cottage Sink” was the title of the next painting.
“The wood for this frame was sent over from Italy.” she said, adding, “I can’t part with frames…I go to antique shops and to second-hand stores. It’s not always the most expensive frame that works best.”
In this painting, a shaded wood backsplash muted with gray paint, has a plain sink in front of it. Dishes are sitting in the sink. Bright lime-green, red and other colored shafts of reflected light ricochet off the dishes. It is simple and the play of light is intriguing. We found it hard to move on.
There were paintings everywhere. An observable consistency in Jacobus’s work led us to question if she shows her art.
“I’m in the Proctor Art Gallery in Tacoma,” Linda said, “and I do solo shows. I did one at Morso, a restaurant in Gig Harbor down by the water. The owner has set aside one whole room for art and brings in a new artist every month. I also like to enter jury shows, like the ones held by that town’s Peninsula Art League. These are competitions where your work must be judged to qualify to get into the shows.”
A number of Linda’s works have water settings. In one, a girl squats down by the lake’s edge to feed a goose that glides by. In another a water-logged row boat sits abandoned on the shore.
“I also did a competition in Ocean Shores and took Best of Show with a painting called, ‘Sail Boat in the Window in Porvo, Finland.’ My sister visits there every summer and she brought back pictures for me…I hardly leave the house because I paint every day. I can’t stop.”
Many aspiring artists would doubtlessly like to learn what Linda knows.
“I just started teaching at Karen Lucas’s Gallery on the Hill,” Linda announced.
As we turned to leave, I hesitated, and then asked if we could see their back yard. My wish was granted.
Huge evergreen trees densely shaded most of the entire yard. The artistry from the inside truly flows to the world outside.
“This is Rick’s work,” Linda told us. “He loves the gardening.” Then she gasped ever so softly, and pointing, said, “See that fern in the corner?”
A limey green bracken fern stood out from the mass of shadows, aglow in a spotlight of sun .
“That is what I like to paint: the lights and shadows.”
As we drove away, we saw around the corner two magnificent maple trees that were shedding maze-colored leaves; the sun poured brilliantly and the light turned those on the ground pale yellow.
We saw light and shadows through new eyes.
South Hill Studio
As we got out of the car at our next stop, I turned to Mark and said, “Here again, the art in the artist comes out in the yard.”
A tall fountain in the front babbled. Light-hued kales with lavender colored hearts grew amid purple pansies alongside the driveway. Tall shrubs could not hold back the sounds of a large waterfall. We stood there a moment, taking it in.
Artists Mary Schumacher and Candius Barney were at the studio, which was huge and brimming with art, and one that they share with other artists.
They happily explained: “We are the South Hill Arts Organization, a nonprofit.”
“Ed Hume, the well-known gardening expert, and Myrna Hume, his wife and artist, own this place,” said Candius. “They let us use the space for our monthly meetings and for the OST.”
Mary said, “We met Myrna in Oregon at an art retreat some years ago, and she had just moved to South Hill. Funny, we both had to go to Oregon to meet, but that’s how it happened.”
Ms. Barney then began discussing her art.
“I use acrylics and watercolor to paint wildlife. Two years ago, I took lessons in that medium from Mary Gibbs, who is a fantastic artist. Her classes are always full.”
She also works with ceramics, and Ms. Barney had large, glossy tiles on display. She uses colors that are so vibrant and electrifying that they command attention.
“These ceramic tiles are heat-resistant,” Candius explained. (The “i” in her name is silent). You can use them as trivets to put a hot pot on them because they’re baked to 4,000 degrees.”
The large tiles were accompanied by a healthy selection of ceramic coasters adorned with her painting – ruby red poppies bobbing in the wind, and a trio of fuzzy bird babies, and an elk with enormous antlers against a storm-blackened sky.
While Barney loves to paint, her devotion to the South Hill Arts organization is always at the forefront of her thought.
“We’re open to anyone here who wants to teach classes.”
Next to the tiles she displayed her wildlife paintings on polished slices of thunder egg, which are oval-shaped agate rocks spewed from volcanoes. On one, she painted a deer with antlers and the cool blue agate conveys the frigid feeling of the mountains.
It is easy to see that Barney paints what moves her: flowers and wildlife, reflections of light on the water, bright blossoms on black. She is entirely open to the creative process.
She concluded, “I could probably do all this painting at home. But it’s just too much fun getting together with other people. In our class we are learning everything from realism to a little abstraction. We are open to anyone who wants to join in.”
That invitation was inviting. So was Mary Schumacher’s art.
Mary Schumacher is a painter, and she, too, presented a wonderful collection of painted tiles.
“It is a process,” she explained. “First you photograph the art work you are planning to use. Then you make a transfer sheet. Finally, it is applied to the tile and heated in a machine to get the image to adhere.”
According to Ms. Schumacher, Mary Gibbs and Kate Larrson are responsible for imparting this art form.
“I work in oil, acrylic, water color, and water color on YUPO,” said Mary. YUPO is a synthetic paper that is 100% polypropylene, and is completely recycleable and 100% tree-free.
“It’s very slick. You either love it, or you hate it. It can be very challenging to work on, but it also creates this wonderful sense of motion.”
Lynda Belt of the Puyallup School District, who is in charge of helping teachers incorporate art into their various classes, joined the conversation.
“It’s so important that we do not loose art in these times of tight budgets” Lynda said. “I’m constantly on the look-out for people who might teach classes to our teachers so they can impart art to their students.”
Schumacher continued. “The one thing people tell me is that there is a lot of movement in my work.”
Linda showed me a painting of a horse. The mane is flying and you sense the animal is on the run. Every piece of her art conveys life and animation and her style might be characterized as art in motion.
“Mediums can change,” Schumacher said, “but the movement stays. For me, art is about experimentation – I love to experiment.”
Linda’s painting of fish in the bowl is a graphic example, and it is reminiscent of Asian art styles.
“I love variety in art.” Mary smiled. “Whenever I stop to turn on the TV while I’m painting, I know it’s time to make a change – to do something new – because art is never static.”
As we walked to our car, Ed and Myrna – ever the famous seed growers –were on the patio potting up plants. Hands in gloves, they bid us good bye.
Pondering what we had seen at this combined studio and garden, I think that what we had seen on the OST had awakened in us the sense that art is everywhere. We saw art in small naked trees with their whitish-lemon colored leaves, discarded and piled up at their feet.
St. Clair Studio & Garden
As we drove to Karen St. Clair’s studio, which she shares with artist Allison Prouty, we observed a deer fence enclosing last summer’s garden. Although surrounded by the veil of November, the scent of dry wood burning on the hearth greeted us in the sunny afternoon.
Allison Prouty, is a multifaceted artist that pours out creativity in a wide range of forms. Allison has been painting since she was a child and later became a professional ballerina. As for her art, though, she has done wood carving, sewing and clothing design.
During the OST, Prouty displayed, among other things, the poetry she writes.
“I am doing ‘The Destiny of Life,’ a four-part unifying series from the Hindu-Buddhism, Christian, American Indian and African perspectives. After all, there is only one God,” Allison said.
Her poetry, which was matted and framed, demonstrated careful attention to detail and presentation. She lightly touched a stack.
“These poems are for what I call, ‘everlasting soul mates.’ They are composed for couples who’ve been together for many years.”
Prouty has also been a jewelry maker for the past three or four years. One necklace she displayed possessed different colored lustrous pearls that reflected light and images. She effectively combined them in alternating series of colors, adn she spoke of the peice fondly.
“Some of the pearls in this necklace belonged to my grandmother, and date back to the 1920’s. I have also incorporated into it an antique Buddha.”
Much of her jewelry is made by recombining old pieces.
“Every piece is an original. Each piece has a name—‘Shamarruja’ being one of them.”
Allison excused herself to greet more visitors just as Karen became available to talk with us.
Karen St. Clair, a retired Boeing manufacturing engineer and tool maker, began painting seriously four years ago. Now, paintings cover the walls of her studio from ceiling to floor.
“I’ve always loved art,” Karen said. “Whenever I took vacation time from work, I took art classes,” she laughed. “Now I’m getting orders and commissions.”
We talked about the transition from her previous field of work to what she is doing now.
“I’ve reinvented myself. I retired and went full-bore into gardening and art. I don’t know which I love most.”
St. Clair even has a degree in horticulture. “In one of my first jobs, I worked for Ed Hume.”
OST guests came steadily through the door, and as she greeted them Karen reported that, yes, she does have higher-end art work, but she makes a point to have something for everyone – especially in this economy.
“I had kids here yesterday,” Karen said, smiling. “They came last year, too, so I guess that makes them my first repeat customers. It’s just not about the money.”
On the wall was a sunflower collage called, ‘Feel my Glee Sunflower.” She’d had a sunflower growing in her yard.
“Someone removed the seeds to form eyes, a nose and a mouth. That was my inspiration for this piece – the eyes are made of cloves and the rest of it is layered rice paper…I like trying different things, and right now I’m having fun with portraits of people in cowboy hats.”
When asked about her gardening efforts this last summer, Karen thought she must have grown and sold half of the tomato plants grown in Eatonville – and that she’d do even more with her garden next year.
I took a photo of Karen in the entrance of her studio. Corn stalks flanked a basket full of canned food guests had brought for the food bank. The overflow piled beneath the table.
As we walked to our car, I mentioned that her deer-fenced garden, with its designed wood entry, was probably the most artistic I’d ever seen.
“Yeah,” she replied. “I had it custom made. It’s going to be there for a long time.”
By the time we left, we had just enough time to drive to the Puyallup Fair grounds and the OST’s closing event.
As part of the Open Studio Tour, guests were asked to obtain a “Passport” and get each of six squares signed off as they visited various artists. Those who had all six signed qualified for a drawing Sunday evening at a gala event held at the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage Center at the Puyallup Fair Grounds.
By the time Mark and I arrived, delicious food was being served and guests were being entertained by acoustical guitarist, Scott Gotts.
In addition, even though I had been to fifteen of the nineteen studios I had not seen the venerated Washington state artist, Fred Oldfield.
In his early years, Fred lived the cowboy life. At the age of 17 he discovered his talent for painting, and today is acknowledged as the Granddaddy of Western Art.
It turns out that Fred was appointed to draw the names and to announce winners of the pieces of art – all donated by OST artists – which brought “ooo’s” and “ah’s” from the crowd.
The art that was being given away had been hanging on the wall next to the stage. Three pieces were left when artist Sam Chavis reached up and took a Fred Oldfield print from the wall. Oldfield drew the next name and announced, “Judy Spiers.” I was ecstatic!
After the event, I found Fred and asked him to write the name of the painting on the front, and to sign it. Then straight away I asked him, “When did you begin as an artist?”
Fred jumped right in. “I started out when I was a kid and lived on the Yakima Indian Reservation in Toppenish, Washington. I was born and raised there. We used to travel around in the Depression in a covered wagon looking for work.”
We were standing next to a covered wagon that was on display.
“It was not fancy like this one,” Fred reminisced. “Those were real hard times.”
“I traveled over a thousand miles in a covered wagon when we moved from Idaho to Toppenish with my dad and kid brother. I told dad, ‘This is the last time. See all those things with smoke coming out of the back of them up the road there? They’re called cars. That’s it for me.’
“We did gold mining, too, dad and my brothers. We opened a mine on the border of Idaho and Montana.”
Fred glanced back down at the print I’d won. “That is the cow camp on Dry Creek. To the left over there is the Toppenish plateau.”
He pointed to a man dressed in a red shirt, black hat and chaps who was throwing kindling on a growing fire under a rapidly fading blue sky.
“That was my brother. I’d done a sketch of him for the first time a short while before this. And there he is in the painting.”
In the background were five horses. Four of them had been relieved of their saddles and gear, and were grazing. Another man was just starting to remove the saddle from his horse.
“That man died not long after that. Times were hard,” Fred reflected.
To the left in the painting is a cowboy in a blue shirt that is dropping his saddle and red riding blanket in a heap on the ground with the others.
“Yeah. We just dropped all our gear that night right where we were.” Fred waved his hand off to the right, “The cattle were all over there.” (They don’t appear in the painting).
“Where is Dry Creek?” someone asked.
“Oh, it’s over toward Goldendale,” he replied, and continued. “I ran spring and fall roundups for about ten years.”
Another guest who was listening interjected, “You have a son who sings, don’t you? Do you sing, too?”
Fred pulled down on his cowboy hat. “My horse didn’t even like my singing. He’d just lay his ears back,” Fred replied with a grin, “but my son sings beautifully.”
“Did you come from a large family?” I asked.
“There were six boys and three girls. Our family was so big that one of my brothers left home and was gone for two weeks before we missed – and found – him,” he chuckled.
Fred had previously mentioned that he was ten years-old in the 1920s.
“I was two years-old in 1920, and I’ll be a hundred in 2018 – if I’m around that long.”
“Well,” I asked, “are you enjoying life?”
“Oh, yes. I have a wonderful life.”
“Well, then, there’s no reason not to stick around.”
Fred nodded. “I think you’re right.”
Oldfield went on to tell us that he’s been preserving the oral traditions of his life on tapes, which had recently been offered for sale in the center. We bought the one from the Depression era and thanked him.
“When you get back this way the next time, I’d like to interview you again,” I said. “In fact, maybe we can get together before that. I’d love to share you with more of our readers.”
“Here,” he said. “Let me give you my phone number.”
© 2011 Judy Spiers