Friday, December 3, 2021
Dec. 3, 2021

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Artist paints a feast for the eyes

Stevenson woman's artwork used to decorate gift boxes for fruit company

The Columbian
Published:
2 Photos
Artist Marilyn Wood Bolles holds one of her paintings.
Artist Marilyn Wood Bolles holds one of her paintings. The living room of her Stevenson home doubles as her gallery. Photo Gallery

Plaid. How do you create a plaid watercolor — a plaid watercolor like crisp Christmas wrapping paper? Marilyn Wood Bolles gazes down at her painting, where puddles of watercolors await her brush tip.

“I have to do some more work,” Bolles said.

Bolles points to a mock-up, a graphic artist’s rendering of how her watercolor artwork — holly leaves, berries, pears, apples and those plaids — will look after it’s digitized, resized and covers fruit and candy gift boxes for The Fruit Co. Those boxes, towers of them, will be sold at Costco stores and from the Hood River, Ore., company’s catalog.

“I really think it’s going to be beautiful,” Bolles said.

Bolles points to Christmas-past samples of gift boxes, covered in her pear, cherry and apple watercolors.

“It’s fun when someone comes here and says ‘You do the boxes?’” Bolles said.

But first the 74-year-old Stevenson woman has to paint. And fast.

By May 27, all of the Christmas boxes — from artwork to the box designs and graphic artwork – will be wrapped up, said The Fruit Co.’s chief executive officer, Scott Webster.

It’s a gig that Bolles has held for some 10 years and started when she was visiting the coast.

After 38 years of marriage, Bolles was freshly widowed. Friends convinced her to attend a single women’s church retreat, which was being held on the Oregon coast. She reluctantly agreed, puzzling over class offerings that included instruction in homemade makeup. To hedge her bets, she packed along an easel and her watercolor supplies, figuring that she’d love to paint beach scenes, even if the classes didn’t hold her interest.

Paths cross

It was while painting that her path and Webster’s crossed. With a fledging fruit orchard to look after, he was looking for ways to differentiate his company.

“He said ‘Can you paint fruit?’”Bolles recalls.

She said sure. He was picturing gift boxes decorated with artistic renderings of apples, cherries and more.

“I’ve painted lots of apples and pears and cherries,” Bolles said.

In December 2003, The Fruit Co.’s Christmas gift boxes, with Bolles artwork, were featured in O, The Oprah Magazine’s holiday gift guide. Last year they were sold at Costco, an offering that will repeat this Christmas.

Bolles, who went to Brigham Young University on an art scholarship, defers credit for the success of the gift boxes to Webster, who, in turn, praises her work.

“We still use her exclusively today,” Webster said. “Her art complements the final graphic design we put on each gift.”

Bolles, a 20-year Stevenson resident who also teaches art both to elementary school students and privately in her studio, credits an elementary school calligraphy course for piquing her interest in art. She recalls how her Portland teacher lined the pupils in a row, so that the sun shone over their shoulders while they worked.

“You know how they say there’s a teacher in your life who steers you? She was one of those teachers,” Bolles said, adding that the teacher once visited her gallery.

While raising her six children, she taught art part-time. She’s also traded her wares for goods, illustrating a book in exchange for wolverine pelts (she made them into parkas for her family when they lived in Alaska) and exchanging art for groceries and a summer’s worth of ice cream.

Every artist has something that inspires and moves them. For Bolles, it’s color, thresholds and structures.

She gazes out the window of her living room, which doubles as her art gallery, and looks to a stand of trees. She counts six shades of green and chartreuse.

“You can’t buy that in a tube,” Bolles said. “You have to mix it.”

A bird captures her attention.

“Here! Look at those birds, little chickadees,” she says, pointing.

Artistic muse

With thresholds, Bolles explains that she’s intrigued by the mystery, wondering what’s behind a closed door, porch or down a forest path.

Barn structures have also tickled her artistic muse.

“Barns tell a lot about the area that people live,” Bolles said. “In some of the rural areas, like ours, the barns are falling apart.”

Bolles said she shares what she sees not only in her watercolors and ink drawings, which she sells in her gallery, but when she teaches her students.

“The only difference between artists and other people is an artist really looks and they remember stuff and other people don’t do that,” Bolles said.

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