Jean Nitzel

Jean Nitzel has created more than a shop and gallery — the Picture Attic is a community hub for art, artists and caring in our community.

Everybody knows the Peninsula is chock full of artists: painters, writers, musicians, vocalists, dramatists, chefs, composers, architects — you name it, we’ve got it. (Wait, do we have dancers?) What is it about a place that makes it conducive to the artistic temperament? Is it the drama and astounding beauty of our landscape; the relative privacy we have to pursue our own goals; the reasonable cost of living; the bracing sea air?

Maybe it’s all of the above. Many things come together to make a place special to artists; and once artists begin to gather, they attract other artistic individuals and ventures, so it all builds on itself.

Whatever the secret sauce is we’ve got it, and we want to keep it. So this week I want to talk about one of our local gems who might be a little underappreciated, who might need just a little more light shined on her many facets—Jean Nitzel and the Picture Attic (

The Picture Attic

I dropped by the shop a couple weeks ago to see what was going on and I had a front-row seat to part of what makes Jean, her gallery, and store so unique. Yes, Jean can frame your art work. Yes, she also has a gallery. Yes, she sponsors and teaches art classes. Yes, there is still a darkroom and three enlargers in the backroom. But you know what? — Jean has also created a community hub for conversation and caring.

In the hour I was there interviewing Jean, no fewer then five or six folks stopped by just to say hello, to find out about a class, to pick up a piece of art, or simply to get the news about a mutual friend who might be needing a little special attention.

At first, I felt like Jean and I were being interrupted constantly, but finally I understood — this is what happens at the Picture Attic: it’s an open house for art and artists, and Jean is the host. It’s after listening to these conversations — interspersed with our interview snippets — that I came to see that Jean’s secret sauce is love.

I know it sounds corny, but Jean is the glue that holds together a network of Peninsula artists who range from just-getting-started or I’ve-never-considered-doing-art-before to the very accomplished. She’s the “gateway drug” to art for so many on the Peninsula—so I think I can candidly say that though she seems unassuming, Jean is actually a radical in disguise. She’s creating artists and enculturating an artistic point of view in our otherwise “normal” citizens!

At the same time Jean is a super-booster for the art of others, she continues to evolve her own artistic journey. After being a fly on the wall for watercolor classes that Michele Naquaiya was giving at the shop years ago, Jean decided to pick up her brushes and start painting again. One of the results has been a series of charming feathered friends so skillfully captured that you expect them to burst into song at any moment.

Jean credits Michele as her painting mentor. (As many of you know, Michele is living her dream: she moved to a tiny town in Mexico; and her artwork is taking off and going in many new directions, including the creation of an exciting color book project.) What I most like about this latest turn of events is how it exemplifies Jean’s approach to life.

Evolution of a small business

The original Picture Attic was true to its name. Jean and her late husband Bill started the Picture Attic literally in their attic over the garage. “I was sad because we had to take down our small gauge railroad to make room. We had five 4X8 sheets of plywood with tunnels and mountains and towns. It was really fun. Bill did all the wiring and I built the mountains and buildings.”

In the beginning Bill was only making copies of photographs that had appeared in the Chinook Observer where Jean was working at the time. Then people wanted their photographs framed. Then this industrious pair started selling art and framing art for people with second homes at the beach. Then some of the framed items needed a place to be displayed. There was never a strategic business plan involved; it was an organic process.

“Finally, in 1995 we needed more space, so we added the gallery. We had never really thought about having our own shop. We’ve gone through six iterations of the shop in 36 years,” said Jean. “For a while scrapbooking and stamps were all the rage, but now it’s paint pouring, which I don’t think much of. It’s become a total fad.” Jean and Bill learned years ago that the success of a small business in a small community is to respond to what customers are asking for. So the Nitzels continued to broaden their services in increments over time.

An artist in her own right

Jean came by her skill honestly. As she says, “My grandma, Helen Church Tilden, was an artist. She was the head of the art department at Hastings College in Nebraska. She even went to the Paris Exhibition in 1937, the year before I was born. I have all of the letters that she wrote about what they did. She did everything, every kind of art — watercolors, pen and ink drawing, china painting — and she taught everything. She had silversmithing tools, she did copper enamel work.”

In the same spirit, Jean wants to make art and art-making available to everyone. “I teach for the most minimal amount and I furnish the equipment. I want people to be able to try their hand at an art project and not be out all that money for supplies if they don’t take to it.” (Paint supplies and brushes can be very expensive.) “And I want to see art stay in the good old-fashioned mode,” she continues. “There’s digital scrapbooking now. And everybody uses Photoshop. But I want you to compose your images in your camera, to use light and dark to create contrast in your camera, not digitally, not all online. I just want people to use their creative juices and use their hands and be able to think.”

Thank goodness for good old-fashioned art teachers, art lovers, and art boosters like Jean — she’s one of our amazing home-grown treasures.

• • •

Eric Wiegardt, nationally recognized for his watercolors, called me the other day to let me know that he will be teaching a workshop for locals who want to study with him and improve their technique over a longer period of time.

As Eric says, “A good term for this class is ‘open studio,’ which means we will have a chance to discuss painting techniques, materials, and design concepts in a casual atmosphere. Students will be able to bring work from home to share, or they can work for several hours in a classroom environment. I will also be demonstrating techniques.”

The workshops dates are April 16 and 20; May 14 and 28, and June 11 and 18. For more information, call 360-665-5976 or email

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