If you’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places, try Washougal. The Washougal Love Fest is a valentine gathering of artists, crafters, musicians and anybody else hungry for a little east-county community. They will converge Feb. 8 at Washougal’s eye-popping new waterfront event facility, the Black Pearl on the Columbia.
“It’s such a beautiful space. That was one of the reasons for doing this event,” said artist and organizer Anni Furniss. She’s a fan of the building’s reclaimed wood, the double-sided fireplaces and the upper-floor balcony overlooking the Port of Camas-Washougal’s dock on the Columbia River. Opened just last year, the Black Pearl is still looking to rev up its rentals and offers frequent open houses for the public.
“It’s a very open, modern space, but it still has a great Pacific Northwest vibe,” Furniss said. “I could see how beautiful it was, and John could feel how beautiful it was.”
John Furniss, Anni’s husband, is the survivor of a suicide attempt at age 16 that blinded him, followed by years of meth addiction. But in recent years, John Furniss cleaned up, married his sweetie and made a name for himself as “The Blind Woodsman.” He’s a popular woodworking artist with an inspiring story to tell — making him a popular motivational speaker, too, appearing everywhere from schools and disability workshops to VanTalks, the annual, local thought-leader showcase at the Kiggins Theatre.
“We have both struggled with depression, and we know that this time of year can be really hard for people,” Anni Furniss said. “What the world needs now is a group hug. I think that’s the theme of this event.”
You can shop for handmade arts and crafts — or just kick back and enjoy free snacks, free hot beverages, free music and free community.
“It’s not just for artists to sell things. It’s for the community to gather and share the love,” Furniss said.
“Not to sound too cheesy, but the event was kind of sparked by our love story,” Furniss said. “We’re kind of a romantic couple. We met under cute circumstances.”
Indeed, it’s a classic rom-com scene: Artist Anni Becker was decorating a used piano for a fundraiser at Vancouver’s now-defunct Emil Fries School of Piano Technology for the Blind where John Furniss was a student. He came into the room and plopped his hand onto her wet paint.
“I’m so sorry!” both of them said simultaneously. The rest is history. The couple’s first date was pea-picking at John Furniss’ community garden plot at the Marshall Center. That’s where they married in 2015.
“I was born in raised in Vancouver. That’s my hometown and I love it so much,” Anni Furniss said. “It was a little hard to move to Washougal, but now I love the small-town vibe.”
(John Furniss didn’t mind moving away from the busy corner of Mill Plain and Grand, he added, where police-car chases were too common and he once nearly got run over. His white cane did get run over and broken, but that car kept right on going.)
Washougal has proven to be friendly, supportive and surprisingly artistic, Furniss said. “We’ve loved living here for four years, and we are shocked at how many artists seem to be attracted to this area.”
Housing affordability is the No. 1 factor, she said, but a close second is the great outdoors at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge.
“I think artists are attracted by nature,” she said.
But not many of their customers are shopping in this post-holiday season, she added.
“This time of year can be rough for artists and small business owners,” she said. “People aren’t spending as much money on arts and gifts. We experience that.”
Your love story
Forty local and regional artists and makers will sell their creations during the Washougal Love Fest — including watercolor and acrylic paintings; beadwork, glasswork and jewelry; metalwork and ceramics; fiber and herb arts; reclaimed wood and repurposed vintage items; plush toys and fine chocolates. The Washougal Public Library will provide free craft activities for kids, and the Washougal Coffee Company will distribute free hot chocolate and coffee, Furniss said.
Washougal School of Music founder and multi-instrumentalist Jeffree White will supply free tunes, accompanied by violinist Jeffrey Reynolds. Portland singer-songwriter Lily Wrecks will also perform.
In a sweet Valentine’s offering, filmmaker Chris Martin of Vancouver will be on hand to document love stories. That’ll be free, too.
“Step into the booth and tell your story,” Furniss said.
And, if you really want to spread the love, she added, please bring a canned food donation for the Clark County Food Bank.