Artists Flock to the Peninsula

<p>Artists gathered at the M&D Designs gallery open house, Saturday: (from left) Kerlyn Hoisington, Vickie and Terry Branch, Patty Thompson, Arlene and Gary Jayne, and Michael Cox.</p>

    In Jack’s Country Store last Saturday there were lots of unfamiliar faces, and when I headed south, Long Beach was bursting at the seams. When the tourists arrive, it’s a sure sign that winter is over for good.

    That mysterious yellow orb we basked in Saturday got blown out of the sky by Sunday though. I’d planned to garden but instead I conducted some inside weeding — why do I have two drawers of jeans when, as far as I know, you can only wear one pair at a time? I take out a likely discard that I haven’t worn for six months and try it on. “Hmm, fits well, nice color and pretty good lookin’…” Back in the drawer it goes. Repeat.

    As Rosalind said to Orlando in “As You Like It,” “Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?” In her case, the topic was love — in which case, no. But for jeans (books, cars, calories, etc.), a definitive yes.

    

New gallery space

    But an excess of artists? — never! I wandered down to see the new M&D Designs gallery in Long Beach and found Terry Branch with a big smile sitting behind the register counter. The Branch and Ogle families teamed up to provide glass, beads, jewelry findings, gems and workshops for folks who want to make their own treasures. Their shop in Chinook has been a popular place for learning about fused and stained glass, marble making and wrapped jewelry.

    Last year they decided to open a gallery in downtown Long Beach, a gutsy move in an iffy economy in the middle of winter. But as Terry said Saturday at their grand opening, “We’ve doubled the size of our space so I can get a lot more local artists, and it’s a better location. This is handicap accessible too. It used to really bother me when I would see someone come down the street in a wheel chair that couldn’t come into our old store.”

    When asked about the risk of expanding the business, he said, “We’ve done great. People have really been supportive of what we have — there’s nothing imported, everything is handmade. So it’s something different than just another T-shirt shop. And it gives the local artists a place to sell year round. We’re carrying the work of 44 artists right now.”

    As if to emphasize his point, he introduced me to Arlene Jayne, who’s been  painting for over 30 years. She and husband Gary moved to the Peninsula four years ago after 16 years in Puyallup. “Terry asked me if I wanted to put some oil paintings in his gallery so I said sure. I like florals but everybody said you’ve got to paint seascapes at the beach.”

    “I started painting in fifth grade. I remember I painted a deer jumping over a stream and my teacher thought it was pretty good and I enjoyed it. I especially enjoy painting details. See the dew drops on that tulip? People keep trying to wipe those off — Terry did too when the painting got moved from the other gallery.”

    Arlene holds up a classic still life with five vibrant tulips in a clear vase, their leaves gracefully curved. They look just picked and, it’s true, you can imagine a tiny hummingbird flying up to sip those rain drops. “I made this arrangement and then painted it. Sometimes I work from my own photographs.”

    She says it’s true the seascapes sell better, but those tulips! The painting took a couple months to complete because Arlene works in layers. “The tulips are white first, then I start adding colors, but everything has to dry between painting.” She also works with colored pencil using the same layering technique.

    

Range of art

    Arlene’s husband Gary, also in the gallery, makes wooden boxes of walnut and cedar but admitted that most people don’t know he’s an artist. Gary is the pastor at Ocean View Baptist church. “My parishioners will be surprised to read this,” he said. “especially if there’s a picture too. They’ll recognize me!”

    He enjoys working with Terry and his wife Vickie because he says, “They’re so honest and forthright.” As I was admiring Gary’s boxes, Terry came up to me and said, “Michael Cox just came in — he’s our African artist.” African art on the Peninsula? This I have to see.

    Michael is a fellow with a sparkle in his idea. How did he get the notion of making Swahili warriors? “I started making flat dolls — I got this crazy idea from an art show I saw in Sequim. I’ve always loved African art and it has been so influential for Picasso and the European Impressionists.” His warriors, from five inches to a couple feet high, are made of wood, layers of fabric and are adorned with bits of jewelry, metal or feathers.

    “Sometimes I get an idea in the middle of the night and I sketch it out and work on the sketch for awhile. Then I lay it out in wood and gather different materials — the fabric or jewelry, all the stuff I’ve collected — and try out different combinations. Sometimes I say, ‘That’s not what I want’ and I start again.”

    Michael made only male warriors until a friend of his said, “Michael, you’re a sexist! Why don’t you make some female warriors?” So he did, and he’s finding that they actually sell better, although there are a couple different challenges with the women. “Well,” he said, “women have breasts and, let’s just say it, nipples, then the arms have to be lower and other adjustments need to be made. And all the women have jeweled belly buttons of different colors.”

    Michael thinks up a name for the warrior then goes to Google Translator and gets the Swahili equivalent, if he can. “Of course there is no Swahili word for Tractor Operator.” Michael is the classic example of the creativity that bubbles out of folks when they move to the Peninsula. (He retired in 2001 as the assistant director of elections for Multnomah County.) His wife Judy makes collages and folded origami cards.

    You might also want to stop by to check out Patty Thompson’s bookmarks and stunning photographs; or Kerlyn Hoisington’s stained glass; and many other treasures. And, as Terry says, “We’re looking for four or five more artists. Once I get an artist’s work in we try not to duplicate that — they sort of get an exclusive.”

    As Vickie said about the family business, “I love that we only have things made right here in the USA. People come in and look around and love what they see. And I’ve learned so much. I love to see the light bulbs go on when people are making art.”

    

    

    

    

    

    

    

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