A fusion of art & ecology

Nell Warren and Greg Misarti hope to form a nonprofit environmental center and artist community

By

Published:

 

What is it? A non-profit educational entity that serves people of all ages and varied interests throughout the year, providing simple living and small communities in an environment that is grounded in the landscape.

Upcoming events:

Friday through Sunday, Aug. 12 to 14: The New American Landscape group show.

o Friday: 5 p.m., opening night/party in the barn.

o Saturday: 6 p.m., Columbia Gorge Scenic Area 25th anniversary celebration potluck and bonfire, and barn gallery open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

o Sunday: Barn gallery open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information: Browse www.kahnaway.org, or call 835-8798.

What is it? A non-profit educational entity that serves people of all ages and varied interests throughout the year, providing simple living and small communities in an environment that is grounded in the landscape.

Upcoming events:

Friday through Sunday, Aug. 12 to 14: The New American Landscape group show.

o Friday: 5 p.m., opening night/party in the barn.

o Saturday: 6 p.m., Columbia Gorge Scenic Area 25th anniversary celebration potluck and bonfire, and barn gallery open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

o Sunday: Barn gallery open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information: Browse www.kahnaway.org, or call 835-8798.

Take a step onto the property at Southeast Gibson Road, and it’s like entering a different world. The hustle and bustle of life are left behind and replaced with oak trees, flowers, a pond and native plants.

A refurbished barn, which dates back to 1895, is the culmination of a dream for owners Nell Warren and Greg Misarti.

The couple, who have been living and working on the property since 2004, led an extensive remodel of the barn and have transformed it so that it now includes art studios, a kitchen and music room, as well as an area for group art classes and musical performances.

The idea to turn their five-acre property into an art and ecology center was born over the course of a few years.

“When we first saw the property and barn, it was so amazing,” Warren said. “We could both imagine studios here. Later on, we decided we wanted to share it with people.”

Misarti added that he and Warren, who are both painters, remembered having a variety of elective art classes in school, and wanted to give children today the same opportunities they had.

“We kept reading about art classes being slashed from the school budgets,” Warren said. “We wanted to do something to bridge the gap.”

Warren is represented by a art gallery in the Pearl District of Portland called PDX Contemporary Art. Misarti spends most of his time tending to the five-acre property, but also is a musician and graphic designer.

Before the couple purchased the property, it had been neglected and illegally logged. Blackberries and other invasive weeds were overtaking open spaces.

During the three-year remodel, Warren and Misarti decided on a name: Kahnaway, pronounced, “conaway.” It means “acorn” in Chinook.

Warren came across it while pouring over a book with Chinook names.

“It really just fit and we both liked it,” she said. “The property had a lot of light oak on it, but if you Google that name, every other shopping center and housing development has the word ‘oak’ in it. We wanted something unique, and to me it sounds like a faraway place, beautiful and lyrical.”

But to realize their dream of an art and ecology center, the couple had to petition the Columbia Gorge Commission for a zoning change from residential to agricultural, as their property is located in the National Scenic Area.

Then they ran into problems. The commission, which supports the project, is unable to approve it based on a moratorium on plan amendments.

“I fully support the Gorge Commission and think it is an absolute necessity to protect the Scenic Area,” Warren said. ‘We hope to communicate our support of the commission, not our frustration with them. It is very unfortunate that, due to budget constraints, the only governing body of such an important resource…has to cut corners to the detriment of the area and its constituents.”

Added Misarti, “This would also be an economic stimulus to the area and provide an opportunity for artists at the same time.”

If the plan amendment is approved, the couple is hoping to have three full-time artists living on the property, as well as host after school art classes for youth ages 10 to 18, taught by the artists. They also plan to offer classes for younger age groups.

Warren, who reuses everything when she paints, said the focus of the art and ecology center will be protecting the environment.

“How to do things in a sustainable way will be an ongoing focus,” she said. “We are hoping to offer all kinds of organic farming workshops, and we also want to have classes for fiber arts.”

Misarti agreed.

“The environmental focus is what has connected us to this land,” he said. “We’re hoping to share that with others, too.”