Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

Yamhill County’s Art Harvest Studio Tour returns with record number of artists

The self-guided tour over two weekends includes 49 painters, sculptors, book and jewelry makers, ceramacists, and fabric artists, among others.

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Edward Leo Sheerin of McMinnville discusses one of his collage pieces that also incorporates masks. Photo by: David Bates
Leo Sheerin of McMinnville discusses one of his collage pieces that also incorporates masks. Photo by: David Bates

You might think, after losing two years to the pandemic, the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County’s return would be a little like wading cautiously into the shallow end of the pool, but no. This weekend, organizers are going for a glorious swan dive into the deep end, with both a record number of participating artists and the highest number of new artists.

“The primary focus of the studio tour, I think,” said James Nelson, who organizes the event that kicks off Friday and runs two weekends, “is that it’s an opportunity to meet artists and learn why they’re doing it and to see how they’re doing it. It’s a more personal connection to the art.”

There are several of what Nelson calls “uniquely designed” studio spaces, like the two 9,000-square-foot buildings in McMinnville’s industrial park where painter Erin Hanson produces an astonishing 250 paintings a year. Some artists will share space; McMinnville lamp maker James Violette, for example, joins painter Ray Massini at Art with Elegance, a gallery and studio housed in a renovated 1914 cottage in Newberg owned and operated by mixed media and jewelry artist Marion McMuldren.

Maine transplant James Violette of McMinnville is one of many new artists on this year's studio tour in Yamhill County. Inspired by the Brutalist aesthetic, he uses wood, fabric, and metal to create functional but elegant lamps. Photo courtesy: Arts Alliance of Yamhill County.
Maine transplant James Violette of McMinnville is among the 21 new artists on this year’s studio tour in Yamhill County. Inspired by the Brutalist aesthetic, he uses wood, fabric, and metal to create functional but elegant lamps. Photo courtesy: Arts Alliance of Yamhill County.

But what Nelson terms the personal aspect, in many cases, burrows down to artists’ garages, spare bedrooms, and living rooms. Artist Leo Sheerin and his wife, Polly, have been in their McMinnville home near Upper City Park only a couple of years, but it is both full of and adorned with art. He and Polly have traveled, lived, and taught all over the globe, soaking up the living traditions of other cultures.

Buddhism and Taoism inspire and infuse his work. The patio where Sheerin, one of 21 new artists on the tour, will greet visitors is draped with Tibetan prayer flags, and the walls of their living room are adorned with his work, including enormous masks modeled after those used in Peking Opera productions.

And therein lies an illustration of what sets a studio tour apart from gallery hopping. It would be one thing to see these formidable faces on the wall in a gallery, but when you have the guy who made them in front of you, you can hear how he and his wife, who were both teaching at the time, used them with their kindergarten and second-grade students in a theatrical production of The Odyssey.

“I was the Cyclops, right?” Sheerin said proudly. “I made a giant puppet.”

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“It was awesome,” Polly laughed. “The kids were terrified of it.”

“They were terrified and loved it,” he added.

Opera masks and collages are just the tip of this iceberg, and as has become custom in recent years, the best way to get a handle on it all is to visit the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, where you’ll find work by all 49 artists on display. It’s a sampler exhibition of paintings in oil, acrylic, watercolor, and pastel; photography, stained glass, sculpture, wood and metal work, mixed media, ceramics, charcoal, fabric art, and more.

Just eyeballing the list, one thing that jumps out is this year’s tour features a lot of jewelry work: McMuldren and Adele O’Neal in Newberg, along with Debra Franciosi in Amity, and Carla Fox and Susan Goodwin in the McMinnville-Dayton area.

The pages of books in progress fill one of Marilyn Worrix's work benches. Photo by: David Bates
The pages of books in progress fill one of Marilyn Worrix’s work benches. Photo by: David Bates

McMinnville book artist Marilyn Worrix is among many studio tour veterans returning this year, although she’s in different digs. She’s no longer in that sprawling apartment downtown but in a custom home along Cozine Creek that includes, of course, a studio for her imaginative and prolific book artistry.

“A book artist really has the freedom to stretch the meaning of what a book is,” she said. “A lot of people would look at something like this” — she displays a pair of mounted stands of unequal length between which the pages of the “book” are strung on a cord — “and wouldn’t think of it as a book. The idea came from medieval books, which were chained to the library tables because they were so valuable.”

Worrix’s story is a nice example of how art flourishes in a community. “One of the things I did right after retiring from real estate was to take a class at Sitka,” she said. “It just happened to be a book-making class, and I just happened to be taught by an amazing woman, and I’ve never stopped.”

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Three decades later, she’s made thousands of books and passed along what she’s learned in classes of her own. One of her former students, in fact, Penny Tucker, is among the new artists on the tour this year.

So how does one do all this? The event runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Sept. 30-Oct 2 and Oct. 7-9. The Chehalem presentation doesn’t open until Oct. 4, so your best bet is to visit the tour website, where you’ll find a complete list of artists and maps. At any location on the tour, you can purchase a $10 pass good for all six days, pick up a brochure, and you’re on your way. If you’re in an unfamiliar area, yellow studio tour signs will point you in the right direction.

THEATER WATCH: The ghost lights are gone and the area’s stages are popping with plays. In McMinnville, Gallery Theater’s production of the ABBA-themed Mamma Mia! has proven so popular that additional matinees have been added to the run, which ends Oct. 2. Shows in the main auditorium are selling out, and few tickets are left. Across town, Linfield University’s 103rd theatrical season opens Sept. 28 with Leanna Keyes’ Doctor Voynich and Her Children, A Prediction, which draws from Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children and explores the timely topic of “women’s rights in a post-apocalyptic United States.” Finally, in Salem, Pentacle Theatre last week opened a production of Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters: Young Adventurers Edition, which runs through Oct. 15. Check with individual theaters about COVID protocols.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

David Bates is an Oregon journalist with more than 20 years as a
newspaper editor and reporter in the Willamette Valley, covering
virtually every topic imaginable and with a strong background in
arts/culture journalism. He has lived in Yamhill County since 1996 and
is working as a freelance writer. He has a long history of involvement in
the theater arts, acting and on occasion directing for Gallery Players
of Oregon and other area theaters. You can also find him on
Substack, where he writes about art and culture at Artlandia.

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