NOTE: Portland Open Studios President Kerri Hewett has new roommates: her friend Anna, and her two daughters, ages 9 and 13. While she’s done the tour many years, this is the first year she’s taken kids with her. Read her account below:
Preparing for the tour this year I had my work cut out for me. The car was packed with five of us: Amy from Umatilla, Anna and her two daughters Christina (13) and Ralphie (9), with me driving. Amy had visited during the tour last year as well, so we needed to maximize her visit. My goal this year was to visit new studios to see artists practicing in a wide variety of media, and with two kids this year, I was looking for high volumes of interaction.
From the first studio visit, we struck gold.
Visiting the studio Rick Wheeler and Chas Martin share, the girls immediately fell in love with Rick’s wild cat portraits. His images appear to have been drawn with black ink. I asked Rick to demonstrate scratchboard techniques and explain this medium. He held up his exacto knife and declared, “This is my tool, not a pen or a pencil.” He was using a reference photograph he took of the bear at the zoo in Salt Lake City. Christina’s jaw dropped and eyes widened as he skillfully scraped away the black ink on the image of the bear. Seeing this subtractive technique was definitely a paradigm shift for the girls.
Next, we visited Beth Yazhari to see her intricate, exquisite mixed media beaded artwork. As she explained where individual pieces came from and how she recycled them in a meaningful way, she was revealing her passion for bringing cultures together, across different eras. The kids also got to try it: Beth had three canvas pieces she was opening up for collaboration during the Open Studios weekends and engaged Christina’s interest in sewing to add beads to a piece that was recently started.
We must have talked for nearly an hour about the inspirations and meanings behind the work displayed on the walls of her studio. After a while, and with a little encouragement Ralphie joined in and started a brand-new piece with a completely white canvas.
What I love best about Open Studios is that we aren’t just looking at the “successful” fully finished, framed works we see in a gallery, or at a show opening. Open Studios allows us to view a process, the length of time it takes to get from empty frames, white canvas, or mounds of clay, through the experimentation of image, building skills, creating or avoiding muscle memory techniques – all leading to those finished products.
Interacting with the girls at home, in their artistic endeavors, I see their frustration at not being able to create a replica of what is in their imagination. Learning a new skill, though frustrating at times, will inevitably bring new ideas to the table. Getting this point across to a younger audience is challenging. They intend a different outcome while confronting this learning curve, and start believing their work is a failure, ugly, incorrect. Beth was the first artist of the day to state that there are no mistakes, no wrong way to add the beads.
Comments from the girls:
“I didn’t know that was a kind of art!”
“She spent 200 hours on that picture!”
We continued to Erin Leichty’s studio nearby. Erin regularly provides hands-on interaction during the Open Studios weekends. The girls got to coat a piece with drywall compound, scrub the paper off an image transfer process, and use chisels and other tools to carve and scrape a sample piece representing the final stages of Erin’s work. Again, “no wrong way” is heard, and duly noted in the car by Christina as we head to Aloha to visit a glass studio offering a sandblasting experience. Additional ah-ha moments include the realization that Erin’s photo transfer process requires a mirrored image to start.
“That stuff (drywall compound) is cool. I kept getting my fingers in the way.”
“I didn’t know some artists let you touch their artwork.”
“That’s two artists that said there was no wrong way.”
Watching a 9-year-old girl sandblast a water glass – Empowering.
Dropped jaws and wide-eyed wonder at nearly every studio – Priceless.
Our mission at Portland Open Studios is to create a direct relationship between working artists and the public, so that we’ll engender a passion for and connection to the arts with the public. There is no more direct way of experiencing this than through the eyes of a child.