Julie McDonald Commentary: ARTrails Canceled, But Art Community Thrives | Opinion

Emilee Geist

As it did with most activities this year, the coronavirus pandemic canceled the 18th Annual ARTrails Studio Tour. But people can still see the works of talented local artists—virtually, by going on ARTrails website to see profiles of artists, or in person, by visiting local art galleries. Sandy Crowell, my […]

As it did with most activities this year, the coronavirus pandemic canceled the 18th Annual ARTrails Studio Tour.

But people can still see the works of talented local artists—virtually, by going on ARTrails website to see profiles of artists, or in person, by visiting local art galleries.

Sandy Crowell, my friend and fellow historian, and I recently enjoyed lunch in Centralia, a visit to downtown bookstores, and a stop at the Rectangle Gallery, where we saw owner Jan Nontell and met five artists whose work was displayed.

“How refreshing it was to have a break from the pandemic and politics and indulge in the arts,” Crowell said. “There is such a plethora of talent behind the scenes in Lewis County.”

The pandemic has taken its toll on downtown businesses. During a visit with Gary Lockard, owner of Tilikum Books & Bindery on North Tower Avenue, we learned of several businesses closing their doors to sell their wares online from home.

But not Rectangle Gallery, a co-op with 22 artists.

“Next year hopefully ARTrails will be back the way it has been, but we’re going to be here whether ARTrails is or not,” Nontell said. “We’re happy that ARTrails  can share everything online and that it will be up for a whole year.”

She noted that the gallery always features an artist working.

While many people look at retirement as an ending, for several artists we met, retiring from full-time jobs gave them more time to indulge in their creative passions. People like Eileen Eddleman of Ryderwood, who devotes herself to art after closing her preschool nearly a half dozen years ago.

Susanne “Sue” Darius of Centralia, who earned her bachelor’s in microbiology, retired from her full-time job in quality control for a Lacey food company in 2017. Since then, she’s enjoyed more time to paint with abstract backgrounds. She used a Messermeister silicone bowl scraper for a violinist, trumpeter, cellist, guitar player and other street musicians.

“I have always painted on weekends while working, but now I can paint full time, and my art has grown since I have retired,” Darius said.

She has exhibited year-round since October 2016 at Rectangle Gallery, which is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., although she’s not part of ARTrails .

“This year with all the ARTrails  artists showing only online, Jan decided to bring demonstrating artists in to talk to people who might otherwise have gone to ARTrails,” Darius said.

Joan Hitchcock, an ARTrails participant since 2009 who displays at Rectangle Gallery, launched her art journey at 10 when a teacher advised her parents to purchase art supplies for her.

“They did, and I’ve been off and running since,” said Hitchcock, who lives in Rochester. “Other than high school art classes and an occasional workshop, I’m a self-taught artist.”

For the past six years, she’s also taught acrylic painting, painting on silk with dye, and felting to others at her home studio, Rectangle Gallery, and other locations in Lewis and Thurston counties.  She demonstrates her artwork occasionally at

Rectangle Gallery.

“I love that there is a local place that brings together so many creative people,” Hitchcock said. “And Jan Nontell is the best to work with.”

I especially enjoyed the watercolor painting by Centralia’s Sue Wachter that featured an unraveling roll of toilet paper depicting its title, “My Role in the Pandemic.”

We spoke with landscape photographer Madeline McIntire of Tenino, whose gorgeous pictures on canvas of lakes and prairies almost look like paintings.

“I am passionate about nature and wilderness conservation, and much of my photography focuses on sharing that with others,” McIntire said. “I also enjoy photographing events, rustic places, boats, and people.”

She joined ARTrails in 2014.

“I felt like I had found my tribe,” she said. “Not only do they appreciate the creativity of my photography, but they inspire me to grow as an artist.”

With studio tours canceled, this year has been different, but artists pulled together to create a virtual tour online.

“I am thankful that this pandemic happened at a time with so much connectivity available to us remotely, from Zoom to Facebook, so we can see and hear about each other’s newest creations,” McIntire said.

No trip to look at artwork would be complete without a stop at Toledo’s Art Gallery 505, a co-op gallery of 14 local artists now in its sixth year. The gallery, which features a different theme each month, is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. October is Orange, November is Gratitude, and December features Holiday Gifts under $100, said Di Morgan of Morgan Arts Centre.

COVID-19 has forced many changes for schools, businesses, and artists.

“Most of the artists we know and spend time with are not entirely relying on selling their art to be able to pay the bills, although it certainly helps,” Morgan said.

ARTrails has always focused more on sharing art with the community and spending time with other artists than on selling art, Morgan said. “Although it is a bonus that folks like what they see during ARTrails and buy some for their own continued enjoyment.”

Despite the virtual aspect of ARTrails in 2020, I certainly enjoyed meeting artists and learning about their craft, thanks to the local galleries.

•••

Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at [email protected]

 

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