I’d just returned to Gig Harbor after living in Tacoma for the past 16 years when I was asked to write about its art scene. I gladly accepted the assignment, as I was curious what the differences were, if any, since moving away. Years prior, I’d shown my work in the city’s galleries and remembered that the community had been quite inviting and supportive.
After chatting with a handful of local artists, I’m happy to report that the art community is thriving!
See for yourself during September’s Gig Harbor Open Studio Tour (GHOST or OST for short), a program of the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation, where you’re invited to explore a handful of private studios. With 36 artists presenting work in 25 locations over a weekend, you’ll be kept busy. It’s an excellent behind-the-scenes peek into professional working studios. Artists will be present to answer questions and demonstrate their techniques—this is also a rare chance to purchase work directly from the artist.
This year’s OST organizer, Kathy Thurston, a watercolorist, is a fine example of how artists excel at using art to educate and involve the public in positive ways alongside local environmental agencies, farmers markets and other ventures within the city. As Thurston points out, the tour emphasizes outreach, presenting hands-on educational activities.
Every art form imaginable will be represented at the weekend tour, from the final, perfect touch to your landscape to something lovely to wear.
Scott Scheibal (Stop #8) specializes in creating graceful Bonsai-style plants, which he nestles into his custom-drilled rocks. He started out creating outdoor art as a hobby, which complements his landscape business, but that side gig grew. Now Scheibal snips Mugo pines, junipers, azaleas and maples into artistic, flowing forms, placing them into hand-selected rocks. The finished products range in size from tabletop displays to landscape focal points at over 6 feet tall.
Another outdoor artist on the tour is Jeff Yeager. 25 years after taking a welding class in high school, Yeager’s interest in recycled metal yard art was sparked by an exhibit at a garden show. He quickly started collecting cast-off metal from junk yards, auto repair shops and yard sales, sorting through old tools, railroad spikes, farm equipment, even silverware. Using his assortment, he assembles unique sculptures, bringing to life dogs, deer, goats, fir trees, even the Space Needle. “My creations are a combination of whimsy, steampunk and eccentric, and no two are ever alike,” says Yeager.
He is delighted by the smiles that appear when people look at his pieces. “I love to take an old rusted item that was destined for the dump or recycling yard and give it a new life …,” Yeager says. “At almost every show, I will have people who bring me a box full of ‘rusted treasures’ that I can use to create more art.” This year he’s presenting his work alongside pastel and oil painter Mary McInnis at Stop #3.
Brad Stave, a woodworker (Stop #6), has been honing his craft since eighth grade. Stave says after that first class, there was no looking back. He gets excited about the process itself, and the selection of color and texture for his pieces. Stave enjoys learning new techniques and challenging himself. “This last year I took some classes on rotary carving and have been developing my skills.” He adds, “Being a part of the Gallery Row Co-op and OST, I have been inspired to reach out and experiment more, utilize techniques that I discover through the relationships … Gig Harbor has a terrific art community, and I have enjoyed being part of it.”
Karen Kittmer says that making art is a personal, therapeutic outlet. After a beginning mosaics class, she found her preferred expression. “I tried many different forms of art over the years, but mosaics resonated with me in a way nothing else has.” She adds, “Making mosaic art is a bit like working a puzzle, but I am creating the pieces as I go."
Wearable art is another favorite of mine, and jewelry designer Claudia Ann Wild (Stop #10) is displaying her nature-inspired, handcrafted jewelry during the OST. Her carefully selected stones are placed into fine metalwork to showcase their shape, veining and distinctive markings.
Recently, Wild shared some thoughts about her work. “It’s the stones that hold the magic. The natural colors and patterns that come from the earth. Knowing that this stone is an original pushes your design to a wonderful place of being unique. With a torch in one hand and a spectacular stone in the other, I’m a happy girl.” This is Wild’s third year participating, and she will be demonstrating the tools and materials that she uses to craft her pieces.
(Full disclosure: I own several of Garrity’s pieces.)
Wanda Garrity (Stop #7) is a ceramicist specializing in a variety of firing techniques such as Raku, Saggar, Carbon (horsehair) and high-fired porcelain for functional kitchenware. Her interest in art started early, inspired by her mom’s wide-ranging artistic ability. In high school, Garrity took a pottery class and felt a connection. As often happens, life took her in another direction. More than two decades later, she rediscovered and refined her pottery skills while stationed in Hawaii after searching it out again to relieve job stress. The healthy, creative outlet took hold, and she honed her craft.
Garrity’s work is inspired by her world travels and features an Asian influence. Asked about her favorite travels, this is what she has to say: “In Turkey, everywhere you go, everything has historical significance. It gave me a whole new attitude toward history. In Istanbul, at the Archeological Museum, you could stand inches away from the rearing horses carved in the marble of Alexander the Great’s sarcophagus. At Ephesus, an ancient Greek city in Turkey, you could walk in the ruts the wheels wore into the stone roads thousands of years ago. And in Cappadocia, my son loved to wander through the houses and churches that were carved in the mountains (fairy chimneys).”
Garrity will have her wheel set up for demos, and time allowing, will help visiting children throw a small bowl on the wheel or supply clay for them to hand build.
As I interviewed the artists, what intrigued me was the time of life they discovered their passion for creating; many even surprised by their talent and interest in art. While a handful started out pursuing their passion in high school, several opened the door later in life.
Photographer Jill Anderson moved to Santa Fe at 70 and “succumbed” to taking an art class at the prompting of her new friends. She uncovered her artistic voice, saying, “I had no idea of the sleeping genie that was waiting to be released. I became an art-oholic, and within a year I was a winner in the Artist’s Magazine annual competition. I had a month-long solo show and joined the studio tour group.”
To create her work, she manipulates a photograph 40 to 50 times on her computer to make an entirely new image. Anderson describes it as “digitally composed photos of rocks.” She adds, “The art you see is neither a photo nor a painting, it is the result of how I reassemble the elements of my original photo: Now it’s an eagle; now it’s a bird; now it’s a winter scene ... a penguin wishing it was a dolphin. I could spend a year creating art from a single photo of Mexican lace agate.”
“It’s so much fun to watch looks of surprise and joy when someone realizes that an entire artistic scene—with falling snow and a deer standing silent at the edge of the woods—is created from a photo of a rock.”
When I asked her about the art community in Gig Harbor, she says, “I like the sense of ‘us.’”
To learn more about these artists, and many more, visit the Gig Harbor Open Studio Tour September 20 through 22, 10am to 5pm, GigHarborOpenStudioTour.org or email info@GigHarborOpenStudioTour.org.