Trail’s End Art Association

Seeing with fresh eyes

ArtsWatch’s Coast correspondent reflects on what she learned covering the arts in 2018

An editor once told me the best way to learn anything is to write about it. That lesson was driven home this year as I took on the beat covering arts on the Oregon Coast. Prior to that, I would have told you that, yes, the arts are alive and well on the edge of the Pacific. At other times, I could have been heard grumbling that there was nothing to do here. Then admitting, grudgingly, that even when there was, I didn’t do it. I might have said it was a case of “been there, done that.”

In truth, after so many years of covering breaking — often tragic — news, lightened by the occasional feature, and even then hamstrung by the rules of conventional journalism, I kind of forgot about art and just how much it encompasses. I forgot that art unites us, teaches us, makes us better people. That art brightens the world.

Newport’s Nye Beach neighborhood once hosted more rats than visitors.

And so, when the offer came to write this weekly column, I was sorely tempted to say no. Other than living here, I didn’t think I had the connections. But I thought about it and I wavered — yes, no, maybe, well OK, at least for now. I had this idea that it could be a chance to broaden my horizons, to move from that place of stagnation, and start growing again. It was an enticing thought, but really, I had no idea what I’d happened upon.

I soon learned that you can’t write about the arts in a place like the Oregon Coast — a place where one of the largest cities has roughly nine traffic lights — and not come away inspired. Again and again, I have been awed by what people in these small towns accomplish through sheer will, generosity of time and spirit, and the absolute refusal to give up.

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Gearhart’s secret little jewel for artists

Since 1950, the Trail's End Art Association -- the oldest of its kind on the north coast -- has offered artists a place for camaraderie and confidence

Susan Bish remembers well the first time she set foot in Gearhart’s Trail’s End Art Association gallery.

Painter Susan Bish says she was not much of a joiner when she first heard about the Trail’s End Art Association more than 30 years ago, but today, the former association president says she’s glad she took the plunge. “In the Dunes,” by Susan Bish

It was the mid ‘80s. Bish had learned of the gallery and studio from association members she met at the Astoria swimming pool. In her high school and college years, Bish, now 82, was an avid painter, but over the years, she had left the medium as she became more involved in the theater, married, and raised a family. She was intrigued about the association, but as she told her friend, “I’m not much of a joiner.”

So her friend offered to pay half of Bish’s membership — $20 at the time — and Bish signed on. She was excited about the idea of getting back into painting and sharing the camaraderie of other artists. But she would soon second-guess herself.

“I remember the first time I walked into the building,” she said. “I was a little turned off. It was all these little old ladies who painted rocks. I thought, oh my god, this is pretty bad.”

The association’s studio and gallery, at 656 A St., is in a former school built around 1905. Photo by: Lori Tobias

She stuck around anyway, eventually becoming association president.

“It’s changed greatly over the years and it’s all for the good,” Bish said. “It’s a fantastic organization and I’m glad I joined when I did.”

This month, as the 68-year-old association prepares for its annual Holiday Fest, it also celebrates its status as the oldest art association/co-op of its kind on the north coast. Besides providing studio and gallery space for members, it offers classes and workshops open to the public.

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