Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Art flows through wilderness

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian Features News Coordinator



Ridgefield artist Jennifer Williams needed a lot of maps.

Luckily, after explaining her purpose, she left the Gifford Pinchot National Forest headquarters with a box of wilderness maps. They would become the foundation for her latest collaboration with longtime friend, Oregon science writer Valerie Rapp. Their show “Beyond the Boundaries” celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

“She was writing and I was painting, our art forms would cross back and forth and inspire each other,” Williams said. The show’s 14 paintings are displayed next to Rapp’s text, which creates a flow between images and text, said Williams. In addition to the maps, Williams included Rapp’s words, essays and hand-written notes into each painting.

The act itself contains its own inspiring words; defining wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Signed into law on Sept. 3, 1964, it currently protects close to 110 million acres of natural areas across the United States.

“Each one of us can live our own wilderness story, unfolding as we hike trails, cross streams, climb ridges,” Rapp wrote for the exhibit. “When wilderness becomes part of our personal stories, we are more likely to protect wilderness for all the values it offers, and in all the ways it needs protecting.”

Though Williams drew from the Pacific Northwest as inspiration, none of her paintings are of specific places. “I wanted the viewer to attach their personal experience to the paintings. My goal isn’t to have it look real, but to have it feel real,” she said. “The best compliment is when someone says, ‘Oh I’ve been to that ridge.’ “

Williams wanted paintings that would convey the “wholeness” of nature, and the power it can have. “My work, no matter what the scene, the message on whole is one of is helping people connect, it’s a message of hope and healing, and I’m always trying to show nature’s resilience.”

Close up, viewers can see the media hidden under the paint, from the texture to the word “wilderness” across a mountain. But that’s part of the experiment, Williams said. “I’m often quite surprised by what’s revealed in the end, when I read the work to make sure I don’t have to do any ‘editing.’ “

Williams said she hopes the exhibition will inspire the public to start planning their first adventures or help convey the power of nature to those who have never ventured into the wilderness. “I love the fact that we have given value to wild places and not just viewing it as a resource, because so often that takes precedent. The Wilderness Act is something we all should be so proud of,” she said.

Visitors can see “Beyond the Boundaries” on display through Sept. 9 from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays at RiverSea Gallery, 1160 Commercial St., Astoria, Ore. Visit

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