By Marcy Stamper
When Winthrop watercolor artist Paula Christen was commissioned to create a painting for the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival, the honor was “rich with memories,” she said.
Christen grew up in the Entiat Valley and returned to the area last year, seeking an inspiration for the poster. “You paint what you know. It all comes back to you,” she said. “I knew families who grew apples — that was their livelihood.”
Christen was selected in the fall by the festival committee, which looks for accomplished regional artists but does not solicit nominations or submissions.
She created “Heritage,” a painting of two orchardists framed by billowy pink apple blossoms and deep red barns. The committee’s parameters were very generous and specified only the size of the artwork, said Christen. Although her painting features trees in bloom, that isn’t a requirement — in past years, artists have painted fall orchard scenes or close-ups of fruit.
Christen drew on her specialty for landscape painting, but she knows the apple industry more intimately than as simply scenery. As a teen, she earned money by thinning and picking apples. “There is nothing that will bring home the value of a dollar more than picking apples on 40- to 50-year-old trees, with a big bag of apples hanging off your chest,” she said. “Those trees were monsters.”
The poster commission included a limited edition of 150 prints of Christen’s painting, which were sold to festival supporters and collectors. Some people have been collecting prints since the festival first started commissioning them 26 years ago, she said.
Christen was on hand at a reception in March to personalize the prints. Her original painting was also auctioned.
A further honor — and literal trip down memory lane — will be when Christen rides in the Apple Blossom parade in Wenatchee on May 6, as she did throughout her youth. “It was part of my life growing up — it’s really cool to circle back,” she said.
The Apple Blossom Festival is one of the oldest festivals in Washington — it will celebrate its centennial in just two years. In addition to the parade, the 11-day festival includes a carnival, foods from funnel cakes to Caesar salad, and arts activities for kids.
Christen has studied watercolor painting around the world and gives lessons through her Winthrop studio. She also paints at weddings and other events.