Indigenous art

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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