COAST

Home is where the art is

When the pandemic forced the owners of Brumfield Gallery to pick between two locations, they chose their hometown of Astoria

Three years ago, when Jane and Mike Brumfield decided to open an art gallery, they found their loyalties divided. Cannon Beach, where Jane Brumfield worked for the Cannon Beach Arts Association, is known for its art scene and seemed the obvious choice. But the pair had called Astoria home since 2015 and were drawn by its authentic feel. Cannon Beach won the coin toss, but the Brumfields couldn’t help noticing the growing energy in Oregon’s oldest city.  

Jane and Mike Brumfield closed thier gallery in Cannon Beach to concentrate on their gallery in their home town of Astoria
Jane and Mike Brumfield closed their gallery in Cannon Beach to concentrate on their gallery in their hometown of Astoria. Photo courtesy: Brumfield Gallery

“It was really tricky for us,” Jane Brumfield recalled. “Astoria has a slightly grittier edge, a more youthful vibe. Cannon Beach had such established galleries. We chose Cannon Beach over Astoria on that occasion. But there was always a bit of thought that we should have invested here in Astoria, where we live. The art scene is up and coming here.”

She added that Cannon Beach feels like a town based around tourism – although she does admire that. Astoria, on the other hand, has other industry. “It feels more like real life.”

So, they decided to open a second gallery in Astoria, where ships motor along the Columbia River and old Victorians color the hillside. It seemed the best of both worlds. Then came the pandemic and the shutdown of most businesses. And two galleries no longer seemed like such a smart idea.

The Brumfields closed the Cannon Beach shop, Image Gallery, but went ahead with plans for Astoria. Now the pair must navigate the world of social distancing and masking up. It’s no easy feat.

Brumfield Gallery opened in Astoria’s historic Occident Building just shy of a month ago, but every day seems to bring new questions, decisions, concerns.

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Caught in the coronavirus doldrums

Carrie Lewis, CEO of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, says the popular Newport attraction awaits the governor's OK to reopen: "Our over-sanitized hands are tied."

Visitors to the Oregon Coast Aquarium have made it one of the most popular attractions on the entire Oregon Coast. Opened in 1992, it was named one of the top 10 aquariums in the country by Parade magazine only one year later. When it was chosen to rehabilitate Keiko, the orca star from the film Free Willy, its popularity boomed.

But in 2000, two years after Keiko was transferred to Iceland for release in the wild, the nonprofit seemed doomed. The aquarium was $4 million short on the tab for its new $11 million, 1.3-million-gallon Passages of the Deep exhibit, and it was unclear if the aquarium would survive. But the community – local and beyond – rallied, and in recent years the aquarium again has thrived.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


Then the virus hit, and Newport’s most popular attraction and a crucial component of the coast culture, struggles. We talked with aquarium president and CEO Carrie Lewis about the future.

When did the aquarium close?

Lewis:  On March 16. It was the right thing to do at the time because things were ramping up. That’s right around the time Gov. Kate Brown put out her mandate for businesses to close. We were in lockstep with all the other zoos and aquariums around the country. Unfortunately, it was right before spring break. It was a huge hit.

Any idea when you’ll be able to reopen?

The anticipated opening date remains unknown. We’re really concerned. Because Lincoln County is on the “Watch List,” we can’t open until Lincoln County gets into Phase 2. I am appealing to the governor to get a redesignation of our status, which is indoor/outdoor entertainment facility. The Oregon Zoo, the High Desert Museum in Bend, and the Sea Lion Caves are open. We have a lot of exhibits outside. We have a lot of things we can do to keep our guests safe. I don’t know what hoops we’ll have to jump through to reopen. We’re taking it very seriously, but our over-sanitized hands are tied.

Carrie Lewis, Oregon Coast Aquarium CEO, has been charting a course for reopening. “We’re small but we’re mighty,” she says, “and we will get through this.”

What are your plans for reopening?

We have a couple of opening plans. There would be a reduction in fees and everything would be purchased online: No coming up to the window to buy a ticket, and you would have to reserve a time. We’re seeing that this is a really productive way of getting visitors in.

We would set up stations at all outdoor exhibits, and visitors would go from exhibit to exhibit in groups of 10 with volunteers interpreting. We would be able to do 40 people an hour for seven hours. It would be a much shorter stay time. Usually, 2 to 2½  hours is the normal stay time. This would be about one hour.

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A visual-arts bright spot in COVID summer

Chehalem Cultural Center galleries showcase work by the late Michael Gibbons, Kerri Evonuk, and Sara Siestreem

In Yamhill County, for a few more days, visual art enthusiasts have an opportunity to see a sprawling collection of paintings by Michael Gibbons, the self-described “poet with a paintbrush” who died July 2 at his Toledo home, the result of complications from a stroke suffered in 2006. The exhibit fills two galleries in the Chehalem Cultural Center that are large enough to easily accommodate our new normal of six feet from others. The exhibition runs through Friday.

The Yaquina Exhibit: A Painted Voice for a Sacred Landscape, curated by the center’s director of arts programs, Carissa Burkett, showcases paintings inspired by vistas from the Oregon Coast around Newport. When considering Newport, most Oregonians probably think of Yaquina Bay and civilization’s stamp immediately around it: the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the restaurants, shops, and docks along the waterfront, the bridge. We forget an ecological fact: Yaquina Bay is merely the lowest elevation of a 250-square-mile basin that stretches up and away into the hills and out of view. As the show’s notes point out, the watershed encompasses breathtaking geographic and biological diversity and is home to bears, Coho salmon, cougars, beaver, eagles, and other wildlife.

"Doyle Thorne's Ditch" by Michael Gibbons (oil, 1987)
“Doyle Thorne’s Ditch” by Michael Gibbons (oil, 1987)

Gibbons packed his paints, brushes, and easel into this area beyond the bay, producing over three decades the more than 45 plein air oil paintings that compose the show.

“When en plein air,” the notes say, Gibbons “comes to a place that feels right to him, then he’ll pause, find a bush he can hang onto and grab a branch. ‘How would you like to be seen?’ he’ll ask. You can almost hear the chorus of the different trees. It’s a sense. You don’t hear words, per se. The language is right there. It’s a living being.”

The exhibit features a series of drawings Gibbons created in preparation for The Mighty Oak, depicting a Heritage Tree at the Oregon Gardens. It allows the viewer to see and truly appreciate the extraordinary amount of work — rehearsal, one might say — that can go into a piece before the artist ever picks up a brush.

THE CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER IN NEWBERG remains one of Yamhill County’s bright spots in our COVID-19 summer. The center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday just north of the Newberg Public Library (which is also open) and is following the state’s Phase 2 guidelines. Last week I exchanged notes with Burkett, and it’s encouraging to learn that the rest of the year’s exhibitions are still on the calendar — so long as the center is able to remain open.

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Remembering a ‘poet with a paintbrush’

"You have this incredible world of beauty right out your front door": Michael Gibbons, who died at 76, was a legend along the Yaquina River.

 Artist Michael Gibbons liked to share the story of a day when he was teaching a painting class by the Yaquina River. An older fellow approached and asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m painting,” Michael answered.

“An artist?” the man questioned.

 “I guess you could say that,” Michael said. The man looked at him, “Had one of them in town once; couldn’t make a living.” And he turned and walked away.

 Michael laughed when he told the story, but it was no doubt not the first time he heard a discouraging comment. Nonetheless, it deterred him not in the least. In Toledo, the Oregon mill town of less than 3,500 where he lived, the idea of creating an artist’s community may have sounded foolish to some, yet that was exactly what the self-described “poet with a paintbrush” did. At one time, some 15 artists of various mediums created their art in the town seven miles from the coast.

Michael Gibbons, “Autumn View in Salt River Canyon,” oil, 6 x 8 inches.

 Michael Gibbons died at the age of 76 on July 2 due to complications from a stroke he suffered in 2016, bringing to an end nearly four decades as the area’s leading champion of the arts. He is credited with founding Toledo’s annual Labor Day Art Walk and establishing the Yaquina River Museum of Art, and was instrumental in bringing chamber music concerts to town.

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Arts advocate steps down

Catherine Rickbone, executive director of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, says cutbacks caused by the pandemic make this a good time for her to retire

Catherine Rickbone had grown accustomed to people asking when she was going to retire and enjoy life. Rickbone, executive director of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, frequently responded, “I enjoy myself now.” She planned to see to the end the final phase of the Newport Performing Arts Center’s $4.3 million capital campaign, to be completed in 2020.

Then came COVID-19. The deadline for the “Entertain the Future” campaign was pushed out to at least 2021. Rickbone, 74, knew it was time to go. She retired July 2 after 13 years at the helm of the council, where she oversaw management of the Newport Performing Arts Center and Newport Visual Arts Center. The council is also the local arts council for Lincoln County and the regional arts council for Clatsop, Tillamook, Coos, and Curry counties, as well as coastal towns in Lane and Douglas counties.

“Catherine will be really missed,” said Akia Woods, president of the council’s board of directors. “We’ll especially miss her earnestness and her love of the arts and her ready smile. Catherine was a tremendous advocate for the arts. Her advocacy hasn’t just been local, she’s been a great advocate at the state level.”

In announcing her retirement from the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, Catherine Rickbone told the board of directors that her tenure with the council “was made up of billions of moments, millions of interactions, thousands of programs, hundreds of decisions, and uncountable challenges and joys.” Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts
In announcing her retirement from the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, Catherine Rickbone told the board of directors that her tenure with the council “was made up of billions of moments, millions of interactions, thousands of programs, hundreds of decisions, and uncountable challenges and joys.” Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts

A search for a new executive director has begun, Woods said.

With a life rooted in the arts, Rickbone seemed destined for the leadership role.

She was raised by her grandmother in Emporia, Kansas, in a three-story home that also served as a rooming house. Rickbone was hooked on the arts from the day she found a book on her grandmother’s bookshelf titled Picture Studies. Dedicated to children and lovers of art, it was a study guide from 1928 with details of each piece pictured, followed by questions. The book fueled a hunger in the young girl for more.

“As I got a little older, I did chores for my grandmother,” Rickbone recalled. “Instead of money, I parlayed for magazine subscriptions, such as Saturday Review. Also, the Metropolitan Museum of Art put out 12 books. Inside were color plates of artwork. The books talked about great works of art. I cut my teeth on that when I did summer reading on the hanging swing or glider on my grandmother’s big Midwestern-style porch.”

Her grandmother’s home was half a block from what was then known as the Kansas State Teachers’ College.  “There was always summer theater — it was one of the longest running in the nation,” she said. “My grandmother and I would walk across the street and get on the campus and we’d go to plays.”

As host of the “Arts Talk” radio show, Catherine Rickbone (left) talked with Teresa Simmons, vice chair of the Siletz Tribal Arts and Heritage Society, about the group and its dream for a new building. Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts
As host of the “Arts Talk” radio show, Catherine Rickbone (left) talked with Teresa Simmons, vice chair of the Siletz Tribal Arts and Heritage Society, about the group and its dream for a new building. Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts

Rickbone also took advantage of the William Allen White Library across the street from her home, named for the founder of the Emporia Gazette and featuring a huge room of children’s books, where the girl would hang out for hours. Within walking distance was a Carnegie library. “I’d go to that library and read and look at things, so I had a lot of nurturing.”  

Rickbone, a poet and singer, eventually completed two bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. She married a Navy lieutenant, following him during their nearly 10-year marriage to towns along the East Coast.

She taught English, started her own mail-order business, and held positions in public relations and marketing. Eventually, the road led to Ashland, where she was an independent art consultant. The self-described “prairie woman … used to wind, wide open spaces, lightning and hail, storms and tornados,” found the town nice enough, but with mountains on both sides, a bit claustrophobic.

“There was no room to breathe, to stretch out, to vision,” she said. “Not that mountains aren’t inspiring, from a distance, just not up close and hovering.”

Searching for a new opportunity, Rickbone learned of a job opening in Newport, a town she hadn’t even known existed. Driving to the coastal town for her first interview, she recalls seeing the Performing Arts Center on her left and the glittering ocean before her. “That did it. I could vision again, breathe again, check the weather, and see it coming.”

The weather, however, did take some adjusting to — no four seasons; dreary, dark, damp, and depressing during fall, winter, and spring. She made it through to summer, coming out on the other side with the new knowledge that “drippy weather breeds creativity.”

During her time with the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, Rickbone was instrumental in establishing the Coastal Oregon Visual Artist Showcase (COVAS) in the Visual Arts Center, which highlights midcareer Oregon visual artists while making a statement on visual arts ecology. She helped save the former Jazz at Newport festival, later renamed the Oregon Coast Jazz Party, and signed the first Metropolitan Opera Live in HD contract for the Performing Arts Center, second in popularity, she notes, only to the Jazz Party. She also helped establish a public arts policy for Newport. She remains a member of that city committee and continues to serve on the board for the Oregon Cultural Advocacy Coalition.

Lincoln County Counsel Wayne Belmont, who worked with Rickbone on numerous projects and committees, recalled the enthusiasm and energy she brought to every task.

Catherine Rickbone (left) joins sculptor Mary Lewis at her piece “Mother and Child,” which was a gift to the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts in 2014. Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts
Catherine Rickbone (left) joins sculptor Mary Lewis at her piece “Mother and Child,” which was a gift to the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts in 2014. Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts

“The term I’ve used is boundless energy,” he said. “Exuberance. It can be very contagious. She’s not going to be quietly sitting on the sidelines. I know she will continue to be a super volunteer.”

In announcing her retirement, Rickbone said budget retraints caused by the the COVID-19 shutdown make this an “excellent opportunity and the appropriate time” for her to step down. She added she is “contemplating my next opportunities in life, where I can use my skills of leadership to further other interests and causes important to me.” She said she believes the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, which has laid off most of its staff because of COVID-19 budget constraints, will survive the pandemic, but it won’t be the same.

“When the time is right, I think our supporters will return,” she said. “Things may look different, but let’s face it, nothing takes the place of a live performance. The synergy and energy between stage and audience is magical. There are a lot of virtual tours and they are great… but there is nothing like an up close and personal look in real time at a work of art.

“I say the same thing about performing, you don’t get the buzz from online streaming … as you do when you are in that seat in the Alice Silverman Theatre. The stage has living people on it and something starts to happen. I’ve experienced it time and time again. I think those times will come back.”

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.

Michael A. Gibbons, 1943-2020

The longtime Oregon artist, who helped spark the creation of Toledo's arts colony, has a show at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg

Longtime Oregon artist Michael A. Gibbons died July 2 at his home in Toledo, from complications following a stroke in 2016. He was 76. Born in Portland, he moved to the Oregon Coast when he was 25 and was instrumental in the establishment of Toledo as something of an artists’ colony, with several studios and galleries and the annual Labor Day Art Walk.

According to his online obituary, Gibbons was inspired as an art student by the landscape paintings of the 19th century French artist Corot. “I had to paint things that struck people like that,” the obituary quotes him as saying in a 2014 newspaper interview. “I saw dawn, that silvery morning light and soft colors. They weren’t garish. It was like looking at a prayer.”

Michael A. Gibbons and his wife, Judith “Judy” Mortenson, in an undated photo via Bateman Funeral Home.

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And the band plays on

The Newport Symphony Orchestra has to forgo its traditional July Fourth concert but will keep the patriotic spirit alive with an encore broadcast from 2017

Along with fireworks and gatherings of family and friends, the Fourth of July in Newport means the traditional free concert by the Newport Symphony Orchestra. This year, there will no community-hosted fireworks and private gatherings are limited to 10, but the concert will go on — just a little differently.

Instead of a live performance, the concert will be an encore broadcast of the orchestra’s 2017 concert. It will air at 4 p.m. on KNPT AM 1310 and KYTE FM 102.7. That evening, from 7 to 10 p.m., the concert, along with a photo montage of previous July Fourth concerts, will be available for streaming at NewportSymphony.org.

Under the growling gaze of the Newport Middle School mascot, Conductor Adam Flatt leads the Newport Symphony Orchesstra during the 2017 Fourth of July concert. The performance will be broadcast Saturday in lieu of a live event. Photo courtesy: Newport Symphony Orchestra
Under the growling gaze of the Newport Middle School mascot, Conductor Adam Flatt leads the Newport Symphony Orchesstra during the 2017 Fourth of July concert. The performance will be broadcast Saturday in lieu of a live event. Photo courtesy: Newport Symphony Orchestra

Don Nelson, executive director of the orchestra, described the music as all-American, “a rousing concert” including popular annual salutes to the Armed Forces and members of the Newport fishing fleet.

“It’s great, happy, upbeat music that keeps your soul going and enhances everybody’s positiveness,” said Nelson, who moved to Newport in October from Stockton, Calif. “People have said they are excited they will be able to hear it. Many are sad that we can’t have the actual concert, but they are very pleased that they can listen to this incredible orchestra. The quality of the musicians in a small area like this is unbelievable.”

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