Ten years ago the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) was planning its annual RiverFeast event to be held at a beautiful property then owned by former DRC board member Dr. Ray Tien hugging the canyon overlooking the Deschutes River in West Bend. He wanted to have artwork made from that particular view for the invitations and a gift to the hosts.
Susan Luckey Higdon, well-known for her impressionistic paintings of the local landscape came to mind as the perfect artist. So, months previous to the actual event, she visited the spot, found a composition looking into the canyon that sparked her imagination and created a soft pastel painting. This personalized approach to the event ended up being part of what made RiverFeast special and became an element of the brand.
Initially RiverFeast was conceptualized and branded as “a distinctive gathering at a magnificent location to bask in the beauty and significance of our local rivers and streams” for supporters of the Deschutes River Conservancy. Held at a property right on the River, each year it was in a different spot.
Susan has painted from Nancy and Izzy Oren’s home on the Middle Deschutes, Mike and Sue Hollern’s back yard bordering Mirror Pond, Bob and Carolyn Burgess’ home looking down the Crooked River to Monkey Face on the back of Smith Rock. Other years she has worked with archived art that fit a specific idea, like the Farm to Table theme in 2014, when RiverFeast was held at Gail and Mike Davis’s Miracle Barn in Tumalo.
She has painted twice at the House on the Metolius, owned by Kim and Reidun Lundgren, on the Metolius River.
“I took a field trip out to House on the Metolius, with DRC staff Bea Armstrong and Marisa Hossick in the spring to find a view to paint the art for RiverFeast,” Susan remembered. “It was beautiful day, quiet, and we had the property to ourselves. Then a nice cup of tea with Reidun, hearing stories about the history of the place. It was a great privilege to be there and just soak in the ambience. When we visited it was spring, so the challenge was to change the ‘temperature’ of the art to summer, since RiverFeast was slated for August. So, I used other photos taken in the summer blending them with my own reference materials from the spring.”
Last year, and for the May 6, 2017 event, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon is the location for RiverFeast. Susan used an aerial shot of the middle Deschutes by Marisa Hossick for 2016’s Deschutes Serpentine.
The year’s art, The Source, was painted from the headwaters at Little Lava Lake. These last two paintings at 30” x 40” are major works and are auctioned during the evening.
Trips, wine, fishing equipment and more are auctioned during RiverFeast, but, unlike many fundraising auctions in Central Oregon, only a few fine art pieces are in the auction, giving the art that is included a certain distinction.
According to Susan, being the signature artist for RiverFeast for ten years has allowed her to work closely with Deschutes River Conservancy. “I really appreciate the artistic freedom they have given me. They’ve been very open to my ideas. Painting the Deschutes River is something I am passionate about. It’s been great to be part of a team working together for the river that we all want to preserve and respect.”
The Source 2017 RiverFeast artwork will be shown during the May 5 First Friday Gallery Walk at Tumalo Art Co. from 4-8pm in the Old Mill District. Other artwork by Susan can be seen at Tumalo Art Co. ongoing.