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.

Among his legions of admirers was the late Sen. Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon, who is quoted in Gibbons’ obituary as having once said, “This man has taken a land we all know and love and given it back to us in a form we can understand.”

Indeed, the land and waters around him, including the nearby Pacific Ocean, formed the basis of his artwork, which he created in his downtown Toledo studio in an 1887 building that began its life as a Methodist church. He painted many natural scenes and also scenes of industrial life along and near the Yaquina River, including barge and railcar manufactories and the local containerboard mill. “Michael enshrined Toledo’s blue-collar culture in art,” Rob Cross, the city’s mayor, said.

Gibbons and his wife, Judith “Judy” Mortenson, founded the Yaquina River Museum of Art, also in downtown Toledo, and also in an 1887 building.

From “The Yaquina Traveling Exhibition”: “Gathering in the Morning Sun,” 2000.
“First Growth,” 1982.
“La Paz,” 1987.
“Cut and Fertilize,” 2002.

Over the years Gibbons’ work appeared in many exhibitions in Oregon and internationally. Most recently, his exhibit The Yaquina Traveling Exhibition: A Painted Voice for a Sacred Landscape was featured at the LaSells Stewart Center at Oregon State University in 2019, and is on display through July 31 at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

Gibbons is survived by his wife; four stepchildren, Vicky Ross, Michael Ross, Randy Ross and Stephen Ross; a sister, Laurie Gibbons; a niece, nephew, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Services are pending. His family encourages tax-deductible donations in his honor to the Yaquina River Museum of Art, 151 N.E. Alder St., Toledo, OR 97391; www.YaquinaRiverMuseumofArt.org

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