The picturesque channel-side town hosts the 33 year-old festival which highlights some of the best creativity to be found in Skagit County.
In Skagit County, the first weekend in November is characterized by many things. The fall colors, leaves carpeting the ground, the first significant snow fall in the mountains, and the La Conner arts festival known as Arts Alive all occur at this time of year. Last Saturday, it was especially apparent that November had arrived with the cold temperatures and early season snow fall at sea level. What a perfect day to pull the gloves and hat out of the closet, put on a winter coat, and wander around the picturesque channel-side town to experience some of the best art work our county has to offer.
Maple Hall is always the central venue for the 33 year-old festival. The Invitational Artist Show was on the main floor which featured 14 superb local artists, art demonstrations, and live music on stage. The Bellingham gypsy jazz group Heebie Jeebies were scheduled for Saturday afternoon, so I grabbed our photographer and drove through the freezing drizzle to catch their set. We arrived just before their start time, and spent a good amount of time wandering around the exhibits. With the ear pleasing sounds of upright bass, accordion, acoustic guitar and violin echoing around the brightly lit hall, we joined the other visitors in taking in the wide variety of styles and media.
Toward the back of the hall, several artists were carrying out demonstrations of their work. Janet Laurel was busy applying ink to a sheet of rice paper as we entered the room. With the broad, soft brush strokes just hinting at the form of a leaf or flower, her work had a decidedly Asian feel to it. I asked her if she was influenced by Japanese brush painting, and Janet responded that yes, both Asian and European art had an effect on her style. She went on to inform us that this particular method of painting was known as Sumi.
SUMI-E is the Japanese word for Black Ink Painting. East Asian Painting and writing developed together in ancient China using the same materials —brush and ink on paper. Emphasis is placed on the beauty of each individual stroke of the brush. The Chinese speak of “writing a painting” and “painting a poem.” A great painting was judged on three elements: the calligraphy strokes, the words of the poetry (often with double meanings and subtle puns) and the ability of the painting strokes to capture the spirit (Ch’i) of nature rather than a photographic likeness.
On the wall behind her, several of her works were displayed. To her right, the painting contained a winding vine and large luminous moon. The calligraphy referenced moonlight on the Skagit. I asked Janet how the beauty of the area influenced her work.
“I try to integrate the piece with the magic around us.”
The work on her left contained a stylized rabbit and the words “Say What?” Janet laughed when we asked her about the meaning of that one.
“This one is political. As in the sense of surprise, say what?”
After viewing the Open Show upstairs, we stepped back out into the chilly Swinomish Channel air, and walked up the hill to the other main focal point of the festival, the La Conner Civic Garden Club building. Upon entering the historic wood sided structure, we were greeted by a warm gas fireplace flickering in the back of the room, and two of the artists in the Skagit Arts Together juried show.
Ron King has made a living as a portrait photographer for quite some time. Several years ago, he began experimenting with digitally altering his classic landscape pictures. The result is what he calls Stratomorphic Rendering. At a distance, the eye simply recognizes the familiar forms of pine bark and needles, clouds, and mountain heather. Upon closer inspection though, the viewer realizes that the sharp edges have been swirled and contorted to create what looks like an impressionistic representation of the original object. When I asked him about the reaction he got when submitting his work into shows, Ron had some interesting things to say.
“What I learned was that judges were not interested in the technique, but in the style and art form itself.”
Robert Gigliotti has been working with bronze sculpture for 35 years. He went into great detail describing to us why he chose to use hollow production methods.
“With a solid piece, you get some shrinkage as it cools, plus there are problems with gas bubbles appearing on the surface.”
After sending his wax design off to a foundry, he has to weld the two, or in some cases, multiple pieces together, and then grind it to a smooth surface. Just recently, he has begun working with stone carving which he says allows him to do more of the work right in his home. Robert’s works quite often have a spiritual component to them. In reference to the wheels on the small nicely shaped figure of a bicyclist he had on display: “These represent the Zen idea of Enso, infinity. All is one.”
As we walked around the exhibit, an unusual but beautifully rendered glass piece illuminated by the muted fall light caught our eye. Robert described how the artist, John Webster had cast it, and then etched out the classic Assyrian design. He went on to mention that he and John had started to collaborate on several pieces.
We thanked both artists for sharing their insight with us, and left the warm inviting interior, our heads filled with images of the wonderful artwork that our county produces.
Entertainment Writer Mark Perschbacher…A man who will cross great barriers to find exceptional music and art. Mark is a long time Skagit County resident, contributor to, and supporter of local arts.