Watercolor on the Peninsula

<I>DAMIAN MULINIX photo</I><BR>Peninsula watercolor artist Eric Wiegardt has made a career of bending reality to his means through painting. Wiegardt, who is a member of both the American and National Watercolor societies, believes that watercolor painting is the predominant medium in the Northwest.

'Evanescence and substance'

EDITOR'S NOTE: The is the fourth and final part in a series of articles that detailed the watercolor artist community on the Peninsula.

PENINSULA - Transparent, elusive, atmospheric - all words used to describe the art of watercolor painting. They are also words that could describe both physically and metaphorically the beauty that makes up the Peninsula. Perhaps that's why the two have been connected so well for so long.

"With most things that we do, we can hide our feelings. With watercolor, it's out there for everyone to see and it's not very correctable. It has kind of a mind of its own," said celebrated Peninsula watercolor artist Eric Wiegardt of the medium he has used to make a name for himself in the art world.

Unlike many others who have come to the Peninsula to find their artistic muse, Wiegardt was born here amid beaches and bay. One could even say that he was delivered into this world by artistic hands.

"He was the first guy I ever met, he delivered me," said Wiegardt of Dr. John Campiche - not speaking in an artistic sense. "No, no, as a doctor."

Dr. Campiche, who in his later years became one of the best known artists of the Peninsula, was at the time one of only two doctors here and was the family physician for the Wiegardts. But Campiche would go on to help foster artistic feelings in Wiegardt.

"I remember seeing a painting over at my dad's cousin's house that Dr. Campiche had done," Wiegardt remembered. "It was a sailing boat ship, and it really took me."

He said he was in grade school at the time and remembers thinking that he would love to be able to do something like that.

"He was certainly an inspiration early on. I think he was probably my first introduction to painting."

And once established, Wiegardt in turn became an inspiration to the elder Campiche.

"Watching Eric paint is just simply a mystery," says Dr. Campiche. "Eric throws a lot of colors and a lot of water on the paper and swirls it all around it's a big mess. And out of it comes a painting and God only knows how."

That swirling colors is something the Campiche believes makes the Peninsula such a haven for a watercolor artist, whether it be a dramatic cloudy sky or the colors of golden dunes at sunset.

"First of all, your subject matter is unfolding in front of you constantly. You have to come from a city like I did to really appreciate what you're looking at," he said of the beauty he found when migrating from Chicago in 1953.

Watercolor painting is a very Northwest kind of thing said Campiche, who feels that the natural environment lends itself well to the medium.

"It's beauty is marine and atmospheric," he said. "You have lots of clouds, lots of water mist and we have lots of scenery that fades very quickly from being acute and sharp into being dull and fuzzy. You're always looking through a vast amount of water vapor everywhere you look."

Campiche said that it would be much more difficult to try and capture an ever-changing sky surroundings with another medium, saying that watercolors can be done on the fly, quickly.

"It's only going to be there for about 35 minutes before it goes away and becomes something else," he said. "If you have something that takes you two and half weeks to lay out in oils or acrylics, what are you going to do?"

Watercolorist turned stained glass artist Andrea Weir agrees with Campiche.

"Watercolors dry fast, it's a comfortable one to use," she said. "We can all joke about taking our paint boxes outside and doing watercolor in the weather, you know? Oils take longer. They're more complicated: They're more expensive. Watercolor is an easy one in that way."

Aspiring watercolorist Tom Morrow believes that the Peninsula is ideal due to it's peace and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

"It's conducive to art," he said. "You're not pushed by I-5 or the business or the noise, you just have tranquillity here. It's easier to see beauty I think than when you're in a community where you're really pressured. You wake up here and it's beautiful country and the ocean. The sound, the nature."

Wiegardt is at the point now where he prefers to get out of the studio and out into the world around him to find inspiration. He said he'll often take his portable easel out and paint or just a sketch pad to find a scene that pleases him and put it to paper. One of the reasons he does this is because he no longer works off of photo references anymore - as an impressionist it can hamper you by trying to work within the confines of that reality. He said a friend of his once told him to "beware the seductions of reality. It can pull you into it."

"You always have to keep it at arms length - reality," he said.

In the last 30 to 40 years, Wiegardt says that the interest in American watercolor has grown exponentially.

"It has taken on its own importance," he said. "It's grown and magnified and built upon itself."

Weir said one person who clearly set the medium in motion on a local level is Charles Mulvey, who was a thriving Peninsula watercolorist until his passing in 2001.

"Of course really, we all owe Charles Mulvey a lot," she said. "A lot of us grew up seeing that he came here and he did it. He survived here with his painting. I'm sure that plays into the heads of a lot of people."

Weir said she can remember from her childhood, coming across the river on a ferry and visiting the Sea Chest, which was Mulvey's gallery in Seaview for many years.

"The whole family treasured his watercolors and if you couldn't afford the original then you'd buy the print," she said. "They always loved them. It was nice to see that he could make a living here. He was a delightful person and he could paint really good."

And where will the line be drawn to next? With so many artists, both thriving and struggling on the Peninsula, it's anyone's guess. But as long as the gold and pink hues of a coastal sunset continue to reflect across a misty ocean shore, watercolor will continue to be a vital medium on the Peninsula.

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