Elo Wobig Wins Columbia Gorge Ribbon at PNW Plein Air Paint-Off

Elo Wobig of Portland, Oregon, was recently selected as the winner of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Ribbon in the 15th annual Pacific Northwest Plein Air in the Columbia Gorge at the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington. Wobig’s winning oil painting, Opaline Sunset — a westward view of the Columbia River, the Hood River Bridge and the town of White Salmon, Washington — at sunset was one of several Gorge plein air paintings recognized by Maryhill and partner organizations. 

“It’s important for me to paint where I’m from and where I’ve lived,” said 2021 Friends Ribbon winner and noted Portland-area painter Elo Wobig. “I don’t have to go very far to find incredible beauty in the Gorge.”

Ken Klos of Portland was selected as the Friends Ribbon runner-up for his oil painting, Catherine Creek—Upriver, of the view of sunrise over the Columbia River just east of Catherine Creek. In addition to being the runner-up for the Friends ribbon, Klos’s painting was separately awarded by Maryhill as First Place for the entire paint-out. Erik Sandgren of Portland was additionally recognized as an honorable mention for his acrylic painting, Sherars Falls, Deschutes River, of Native fishing platforms near Sherars Falls on the Deschutes River, just south of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. 

Chosen from approximately 150 entries, the paintings by Wobig, Klos and Sandgren were selected by a special Friends’ judging team (Burt Edwards, Friends’ communications director; Melissa Gonzalez, Friends’ outdoor programs and communications specialist; and Lisa Berkson Platt, member, Friends’ board member) as best illustrating and celebrating the natural beauty and sense of wonder of the Columbia Gorge. For her winning painting, Wobig will receive a $250 cash prize. Klos will receive a $100 runner-up cash prize. All three artists will receive a complimentary one-year Friends gift membership and their paintings will be featured in an upcoming Friends’ print newsletter and blog article. 

The paintings were chosen at a special judges viewing held on Saturday, July 31. The Maryhill Museum of Art has facilitated and hosted the plein air competition since 2016; the 2020 event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2021 Friends Ribbon Winner, Runner-Up and Honorable Mention

Elo Wobig: “Opaline Sunset” – Friends 2021 Ribbon Winner
“When I’m doing a sunset, I’m painting as fast as I can,” Wobig said. “It’s a magical headspace to be in because you’re not thinking about anything else and you don’t have time to paint everything because the colors keep evolving moment by moment. You can’t predict a sunset but you know it’s a beautiful view in the Gorge for a sunset anytime.”

Ken Klos:  “Catherine Creek—Upriver“- Friends 2021 Ribbon, Runner-up
“The trick to plein air painting is to catch in your memory right away the mood, to catch the scene’s essence, because you know in half an hour it will look different,” Klos said. For the sunrise scene he was capturing, Klos added that he got the shapes and shadows down right away and as the light changed relied on memory to fill in the rest.

Erik Sandgren: “Sherars Falls, Deschutes River” – Friends 2021 Ribbon, Honorable Mention
When painting or looking at paintings and other artwork, “you’re as close to timeless as can be,” Sandgren said. “You’re beyond history; you are into nature’s cyclical time as opposed to humans’ linear time.”

About Pacific Northwest Plein Air in the Columbia Gorge
Seeking to deepen and celebrate the connection between art and nature in the Gorge, Hood River artist Cathleen Rehfeld launched the first Pacific Northwest plein air gathering and competition in 2006. The annual paint-out and exhibit draws on a long tradition of painting in the open air, attracting some of the finest painters from across the country to capture the Gorge’s stunning light and inspiring vistas. To paint en plein air essentially means to paint outdoors, coping with heat, cold or other elements. 

After four days of painting at Gorge locations selected by the artists, the works will be displayed at Maryhill through August 28. Guest jurors (including Friends) awarded several prizes (Best Sky, Best Mountain, Best Water, etc.) to the most exceptional works. This year marks the second time Friends has partnered with Maryhill to award a ribbon in the competition. The Maryhill-Friends community partnership seeks to collectively build on previous individual efforts by both organizations and to illustrate the Gorge’s beauty and its fragility.

“We are pleased to continue our collaboration with Friends of the Columbia Gorge,” said Steve Grafe, curator of art at Maryhill. “Friends and Maryhill are both Gorge-focused and we agree that responsible and visionary management of the region is advantageous to both local residents and those who travel from near and far to experience its unique natural and cultural wonders.”

Staff from Friends and Maryhill first met in February 2019 to explore potential partnerships that could further both organization’s public education efforts. Following up from that meeting, the idea of awarding a new Friends of the Columbia Gorge ribbon award at Maryhill’s summer plein air competition was developed.

“I think there is a natural affinity between the stewardship of arts and culture and environmental communities,” Friends’ board member and 2021 ribbon judge Lisa Berkson Platt said.  “How much richer is our understanding of where we live and what we must care for when we see it through the eyes of an artist? The Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition is a fantastic way for Friends to broaden our support for Gorge partners and to create new ways to present our mission to the public,” Platt added.

Paintings from the Plein Air event will remain on view and available for purchase at Maryhill until August 28 in the Event Sales Gallery in the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust Education Center. Proceeds support Maryhill Museum of Art. As work is sold and removed, other work created during the paint-out will replace it. 

2021 Pacific Northwest Plein Air in the Columbia Gorge 

Full List of Paintings Recognized 

  • First Place: Ken Klos (Portland, Oregon)
  • Second Place: Tracy Leagjeld (Portland, Oregon) Third Place: Carole-Gray Weihman (Penngrove, California)
  • Honorable Mentions: Scott Gellatly (Portland, Oregon); Anton Pavlenko (Happy Valley, Oregon);  Erik Sandgren (Portland, Oregon); and Mark Shasha (Swampscott, Massachusetts) 
  • Best Sky: Aaron Cordell Johnson (Moscow, Idaho)
  • Best Mountain: Thomas Jefferson Kitts (Portland, Oregon)
  • Best Water: Yong Hong Zhong (Lake Oswego, Oregon)
  • Best Cultural Element: Katy Ann Fox (Driggs, Idaho)
  • National Scenic Area Award: Ken Klos
  • Friends of the Columbia Gorge Award: Elo Wobig (Portland, Oregon); Runner-Up: Ken Klos; Honorable Mention: Erik Sandgren
  • Maryhill Award: Paul Zegers (Roseburg, Oregon)
  • Museum Purchase Awards: Aaron Cordell Johnson; Kristina Sellers (Gresham, Oregon); Elo Wobig

For Additional Information

Friends of the Columbia Gorge is a nonprofit organization with over 6,000 members dedicated to protecting and enhancing the scenic, natural, cultural and recreational resources of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Friends maintains offices in Portland, Oregon, as well as in two locations based in the Gorge — Hood River, Oregon and Washougal, Washington.

Housed in a glorious Beaux Arts mansion on 5,300 acres high above the Columbia River, Maryhill Museum of Art opened to the public May 13, 1940 and today remains one of the Pacific Northwest’s most enchanting cultural destinations. The museum was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and was listed as an official site of the National Historic Lewis and Clark Trail in 2001. 


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