By Marcy Stamper
Sarah Ferguson, a server at the Twisp River Pub, enjoys being surrounded by art as she winds through tables, but she derives even more energy from art she encounters at unexpected times.
“I was doing zumba at The Studio in Twisp, and turning around and seeing portraits of people staring right at me,” said Ferguson. “The Tibetan photos and Zen places really inspired my workout.”
There is serendipity in finding any work of art that speaks to you, but these days that special experience can happen as easily during a workout, over a cup of coffee—or even at the dentist—as in a formal art gallery.
Encountering art in the course of daily life is becoming increasingly common, as nontraditional exhibition spaces around the Methow Valley devote their walls and windows to local and regional artists.
The trend is a benefit both to artists and to business owners, who say it is a great way to introduce artists to a larger audience and to attract more people to a restaurant or bakery, or to enhance the ambience of a medical office.
The Twisp River Pub has showcased work by local artists since it first opened in 1998, said owner and manager Aaron Studen. The walls of the main dining area feature rotating shows that highlight either a solo artist or a group, such as the current exhibit by members of the Winthrop Gallery. Display space in the back is reserved for the mixed-media work of Ginger Reddington, who has had a long-standing relationship with the pub, said Studen.
The arrangements tend to be quite informal, with artists contacting the pub about their interest in showing there, although Studen makes sure he sees the art before it is hung. “It’s ultimately my responsibility to make it a comfortable atmosphere,” he said.
Studen likes to change the art regularly so that it doesn’t simply become part of the décor. And he doesn’t shy away from art that may challenge people’s perceptions about what art is, showing abstract art in addition to the more-traditional landscapes.
“I like the fact that often we don’t have two similar mediums back to back—it changes from watercolor to photography to acrylics,” said Joanne Uehara, co-owner of the Arrowleaf Bistro in Winthrop, who maintains a rotating exhibit space and another room with watercolors and acrylics by Patty Yates.
“We’re not specifically in the business of selling art, and it’s exciting to help an artist make a sale,” said Uehara, who sold a painting by Donna Keyser on New Year’s Day.
Yates also has paintings in guest rooms at Twisp River Suites, at Sawtooth Dental Care, and at Jamie’s Place, the adult family home in Winthrop. Doctors’ and dentists’ offices don’t usually sell art, but they refer clients to the artists, which can be really valuable, said Yates.
“People call because they love a painting and ask where else they can see my work, or they want to buy a print,” said Yates.
Beyond the wider exposure, artists benefit because some eateries collect little or no commission on the art, charging only a small amount to cover staff time for sales and credit card fees. Others do earn revenue from the art they sell.
While shop and restaurant owners want to see what they’ll be hanging, they rarely function as curators. Sun Mountain Lodge is unusual for mounting curated exhibits, through an arrangement with Donna Keyser and Laura Karcher, who are independent curators for the lodge’s year-old exhibition space, The Gallery.
Keyser and Karcher organize three shows a year with seasonal themes. The roomy exhibit space allows them to accommodate larger pieces and to feature a good variety of artists, said Karcher.
The situation is appealing because The Gallery attracts guests and leads to another room where the lodge screens football games and hosts conferences, drawing people who might not always go out of their way to look at art, said Sun Mountain Retail Manager Wendy Ward, who handles The Gallery’s sales through the gift shop.
Sun Mountain also hopes to sponsor special events in conjunction with The Gallery, such as classes with artists-in-residence, said Ward.
Keyser also curates exhibits at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp, where people walking by on Glover Street can view original art in the windows and audiences can see more art in the lobby during shows. The theater likes to feature artists who have contributed their talents to Merc productions or fundraising auctions, said the Merc’s managing director Jane Hubrig. “We have sold several pieces for them, which is exciting,” said Hubrig.
Photographer Pearl Cherrington appreciates the broad exposure she gets at venues around the valley, from La Fonda Lopez in Twisp to the Lost River Winery in Winthrop to Jack’s Hut in Mazama.
“I adore the idea of having art,” said David Byers, manager of Jack’s Hut. The coffee shop there is unusual in featuring three-dimensional pieces, including glass, pottery and jewelry, along with painting and photography.
While in Mazama, browsers and art collectors can check out work by several area artists at the Mazama Store, including Mountain Style Mosaics made with local river rocks and reclaimed wood by Larry and Linda McWhirter and mountain and ski scenes by Sean McCabe, the artist and Liberty Bell High School art teacher who passed away several years ago.
Artists are eager to get on the schedule—and on the walls—at the busy bakeries in Winthrop and Twisp, whose exhibit spaces are booked more than a year in advance.
The Rocking Horse Bakery has displayed art since it opened, and the expansion underway will open up more room for art and also showcase the work of local artisans and historical Methow artifacts, said co-owner Steve Mitchell.
When it was remodeled in 2007, Cinnamon Twisp Bakery’s owners made a point of creating a display space for art, which currently features landscapes and portraits of wild horses by photographer Carolyn Edson. Owner Katie Bristol tries to switch between photography and other mediums and also carries handmade greeting cards by printmaker Karel Renard and Bristol’s own pottery.
“The different shows change the atmosphere of the entire space of the bakery,” said Bristol, who said customers make a point of walking through to see the art.
Some shows at the bakery don’t sell at all, but an exhibit of Cheryl Wrangle’s landscape paintings several years ago sold out completely, said Bristol. “People are drawn to art that reflects the area and that can be a souvenir,” said Bristol.
Exhibiting in these places can be lucrative in the always-uncertain market for original art. “I’ve sold thousands of dollars of art for artists,” said Byers, who said Jack’s Hut sells one or two paintings a month.
“This gets art in front of a wider audience. I had thousands of people coming through the pub over the holiday break. I can guarantee you that galleries didn’t get thousands,” said Studen. “It’s all about making the art more accessible.”