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Sisters Art Community Grows & Gains Steam

by Magdalena Bokowa, AE Art Director

Is it the water in Sisters? Or the crisp mountain air? The lush surrounding landscape? Or the small sense of community? What is it exactly that makes this town, known by tourists for its cute western decor, an emerging artist’s refuge?

One can’t dispute the growing convergence of artists that are catching wind of a creative energy in this small and tight knit community. You just have to walk down the summertime streets to see as galleries come alive, full of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, jewelry and textiles, all handcrafted by local artisans. The recent development of both a Sister’s Arts Association (SSA) and a Hood Avenue Arts District is tangible proof that the arts community is not only alive, but thriving. Not a feat that is easily accomplished.

“Artists of all kinds are coalescing and becoming a strong unit in Sisters,” begins Katherine Taylor, an oil painter, teacher and one of eight partners at the Hood Avenue Art Gallery. “We have an atmosphere of support instead of competition among us. With the new art district, we are watching a northwestern version of Canyon Road being born and that is fun to see and experience. Tourists come year after year and comment on the exciting changes they see.”

Taylor, the cover artist of this month’s Cascade A&E, is skilled in impressionistic realism and has a preference for a method known as chiaroscuro, which is evident in the way that she uses strong contrasting lights and darks in her works.

“It’s almost a cliché to say you are painting the light, but it’s true, that’s what I feel I am trying to capture, a sense of brilliant luminosity coming out of darker places. That contrast is very satisfying to me.”

Perhaps then, it is the surrounding landscape that can be attributed to the inspiration that artists find in this community and that they flock to. A thought that there is just so much beauty, that one has to create manifestations of it. A growing group of likeminded individual thinkers that see the world in all of its beauty. It lends itself to be a supportive place.In addition to the newly formed association and district, the community is very supportive of fostering art education. Tina Brockway, who Taylor describes as the brainchild behind the concept of making Hood Avenue an arts district, is quick to recognize the strong collaborative spirit in Sisters. Brockway also a partner at Hood Avenue, is an accomplished illustrator, product designer, painter and potter.

She notes, “I have never seen a community that loves its children more than the town of Sisters. Their collective vision is to help each other, share tools and knowledge freely. A place with an open heart and deep compassion. Using art as a way to express both happiness and grief…[it] can be more valuable than years of counseling.”

Kelley Salber, a local book artist remarks, “I find the Sister’s community to be very cohesive— all working toward a bigger picture, a common goal of bringing greater exposure to our local region…to discover our uniqueness and excellence in our expression.”

That collaborative spirit is shown in the way that Hood Avenue Art Gallery operates almost as a cooperative, a gallery where the owners have an equal say in the vision of the space. JoAnn Burgess, a fellow partner and landscape/plein air pastel artist, reveals, “We share the workload of the business side of the gallery and [in return] have the opportunity to show and sell our art.”

That kind of artistic freedom can be rare in an ever evolving society where artists feel the pressure to mass produce whatever sells. Reflecting on the unique sellers environment in Sisters, Brockway adds, “We wanted a place that we could try to develop our art instead of mass producing what we already knew [that sold]. We saw a greater vision, to help bring the artists and galleries together, raising each other up.”

Sisters may then be the ideal setting for propping up artists. With its unique location at the foot of the mountains and the gateway to the High Desert, the rolling summer tourist season yields those willing to spend in order to bring mementos back from Central Oregon. A unique reminder of their visit in the paintings, pottery, jewelry or other artworks made available by these creative artists who are able to serve these demands.

Again, Katherine Taylor reflects, “I believe that good art requires keen observation and it’s my understanding that everyone’s truth is different. So naturally, my art is not going to be for everybody, but it does have to be for me, at least during the process of producing it. After that, I don’t own it anymore.”

She describes the relationship between the artist and the buyer in this way “The finished canvas is always content just to sit and wait patiently until its new owner comes along, someone who sees it and is startled by how much of their own truth has been seen and depicted in paint. Then, they gratefully take the painting home. That how it works. Art collecting is all about the resonance.”

Such is the perfect marriage between the artist and the art appreciator, found quite often in this thriving and artisanal community, that is only growing. “It’s exhilarating to see Sisters grow into a dedicated art community,” Taylor says,” It can only become better.”

And so it seems this small, western town is cueing up for even grander things. The creative energy doesn’t seem to be yielding and that’s a very good thing.

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