Arts are alive in Ridgefield

Association, galleries aim to entice artists, visitors to city

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

Published:

 

Downtown Ridgefield may not have the volume of art galleries that Vancouver enjoys, but the talent is there, and the town is trying to establish itself as an enclave for the artistically inclined.

If you go

• What: Ridgefield First Friday.

• When: 4 to 8 p.m. Feb. 4.

• Where: Various merchants in downtown Ridgefield.

• Cost: Free.

• Information: Click here.

“I’ve had this sense since I moved here that this is the perfect place to become an artists’ community,” said Clark County Arts Commissioner and founding Ridgefield Art Association member Elizabeth Madrigal, who’s also on the board of the nonprofit Arts of Clark County. She cited the walkability of downtown and north Clark County’s abundance of natural beauty, as well as the town’s cooperative culture, as proof.

To learn more

Learn more about the Ridgefield Art Association at its website.

“Everyone is very supportive of the arts,” Madrigal said.

There’s a lot of creativity in Ridgefield worth supporting, said Merrilee Asla Lee, who about six weeks ago transformed the front portion of her business, Ridgefield Wellness & Nutrition, into The Artisan Studio.

“It’s amazing how many artisans live in Ridgefield,” said Lee, adding that she’s happy to help them gain exposure. The Artisan Studio (112 N. Main Ave.) is filled with locally produced, handmade goods, everything from goat milk soaps and lotions to candles to jewelry to watercolor prints. Among the store’s featured artisans is Ridgefield Art Association President Dan Baker, a wood-turner who makes wood and acrylic pens and other items.

Any local artisan not exhibiting elsewhere in Ridgefield can submit pieces to Lee, who takes a commission when items sell.

For now, “elsewhere” means Alcove Art Gallery (http://www.alcoveartgallery.com), located just a few blocks away at 328 Pioneer St. Members of that co-op see The Artisan Studio as a welcome addition to the community, not as competition.

“It’s great,” said Kathy Winters, former Alcove president. “We figure the more businesses in town, the more people will come.”

Welcoming space

Alcove, which opened in April 2009, is a 150-square-foot space nestled between Starliner Food Mart and Ridgefield Floral. Alcove, a nonprofit, has seven members working in a range of media, including fabric, acrylic, oil, pastel, watercolor, porcelain and stone. Alcove sells handcrafted jewelry, as well.

There’s a featured artist most months. For February, it’s Ridgefield fabric artist Patricia Thompson. In her show, called “Birds and Batik,” Thompson uses batik fabric to create wall hangings and covers for household items, including Kindles and tissue boxes. Inspired by the nearby Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Thompson features birds in many of her pieces.

When Alcove opened, the only other gallery in town was A Pickled Heron Gallery (428 Pioneer St., http://pickledheron.ridgefieldwash.com). However, A Pickled Heron Gallery went on hiatus beginning Jan. 1. Owner Kay Stringfellow suspects the closure will become permanent, though the name Pickled Heron lives on through her other arts-related business ventures.

A Pickled Heron Gallery opened in 2002. It occupied the upper level of a building owned by Stringfellow and her husband that was built as a church and later served as a Grange hall. The lower level of the more-than-5,000-square-foot building houses a custom framing shop, an art supply store and space for art classes. Stringfellow will continue operating those aspects of the business under the name A Pickled Heron but hopes to rent out the upper level to another art-focused merchant.

Keeping the gallery going in addition to the framing shop, the store and the classes got to be too much, Stringfellow said.

“It’s more than what I want to do,” she said.

Also, the gallery hasn’t been generating much business in the tight economy, Stringfellow noted.

First Friday

With the gallery portion of A Pickled Heron removed, Stringfellow has bowed out of the town’s monthly First Friday events. However, a number of merchants across a range of industries are banding together to find ways to attract people to downtown Ridgefield, and Alcove members see the events as a way to promote local artists.

Event organizers have started giving First Friday patrons passport-type booklets to take to participating businesses. If they visit every stop along the route, then they’re entered in a drawing for a prize.

The drawings make First Friday feel almost like a game and are a good way to get people excited, said Mary Tierney, Ridgefield First Friday co-organizer and owner of Organic Boutique (218 Pioneer St., http://organicboutique.org).

Some storefronts, such as Alcove, offer complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres during First Friday, and others host live performances. Some businesses have rotating art displays from time to time. Most offer special promotions or discounts, as well.

In addition to First Fridays, the arts always have a strong presence at community events including the Fourth of July, Heritage Day and Hometown Celebration.

The Ridgefield Art Association, a nonprofit founded in 1993, incorporated in ’94 and currently about 70 members strong, also has an annual spring art show and sale at the Ridgefield Community Center. This year’s event is scheduled for May 6 and 7.

To feed people’s spirits in between First Fridays and special events, artists and merchants are launching an initiative to install birdhouses created by local artisan Michelle Griffin outside downtown businesses. Attached to these birdhouses will be plastic boxes similar to what Realtors put out in front of houses for sale. The boxes will contain sheets of paper with poetry and inspirational sayings that people can take with them to brighten their day.

“It will be like a little Zen walk through town,” said Marilyn Hocking, Alcove president. “You can pick up poetry as you walk through town and reflect on art and nature.”

It’s projects such as this that help give Ridgefield its quaint, artistic feel.

“It’s a great place to live,” Hocking said. “There’s this small-town community spirit that’s very much still alive.”

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.