RIDGEFIELD — When Ridgefield artist Barbara Wright sits before a blank canvas, she has a lot to think about. Does she have the right shades of red and gray for a western painted turtle’s shell? How can she best capture the delicate sections of a nautilus?
A former cartographer and educator, Wright turned her skills to natural science illustration after retiring. She is among a growing number of artists now calling Ridgefield home. Like the city itself, Ridgefield’s arts community has been growing rapidly, especially within the past five to 10 years.
“When I first moved here the community was very small; it was under 4,000 population when I first got here. I came because of the small community. I wanted to get involved in a variety of ways,” Wright said.
One of the way she got involved was with the Ridgefield Art Association. Ridgefield’s support for both the arts and artists can be attributed in large part to the association.
“I think it was my second day here when I heard there was a (Ridgefield Art Association) meeting, and I went to it,” Wright said.
While many small cities have a local art association or arts council, what seems to make Ridgefield’s unique and more successful is the partnerships between the art association/artists and the city, library, school district and local businesses.
“From what I understand of other cities and art organizations, they don’t have that collaboration,” Wright said. “All of the local Ridgefield organizations support the arts in some way. And we support each other, too.”
Wright said the art association also has good working relationships with the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, FVRLibraries, ilani, local Lions Clubs and the Ridgefield Main Street nonprofit.
Photographer Chris Bidleman said Ridgefield is good at making artists feel like they’re part of the community.
“I think that’s what Ridgefield fosters anyway, people wanting to work together,” Bidleman said. “They also give us a lot of opportunities to be artful, if you will.”
Bidleman said having the artists and art association involved with activities like First Saturdays, Halloween, the Forest Fair and other events makes the artists more visible to the community and to artists from other areas. December’s Chickadee Arts and Crafts Bazaar drew artists from Battle Ground and La Center as well as Portland.
Three years ago, Ken Spurlock decided to move to Ridgefield after living in Vancouver for nearly 25 years. Ridgefield’s growing art community played a part in that decision to move.
“I’ve been coming to Ridgefield for many years. I started coming to the bluegrass festival probably 20 years ago. That drew me to the area, plus I’m a hiker, outdoor enthusiast and I was drawn to the whole vibe of the city,” Spurlock said.
Spurlock, now retired, describes himself as a mixed media abstract/ impressionistic artist. In addition to being a member of the Ridgefield Art Association, he was also appointed by the city to the Clark County Arts Commission. He said being involved in the organizations has not only given him more opportunities to display his work but also work with and learn from other artists.
“You’re actually meeting the artists and you’re seeing what they’re making with gourds and 3-D art, they’re making art out of wood products,” Spurlock said. “It’s wonderful to meet people who are doing things differently.”
Nearly every month there is at least one community event in which the arts or artists are featured. Spurlock said it’s simply good business for the city to support the arts because it brings more visitors to the area, which helps drive revenue for the city.
“I think the reason the arts scene is so collaborative is because everybody has a vested interest making Ridgefield a welcoming community,” Spurlock said.
Deputy City Manager Lee Knottnerus would agree. Knottnerus said the city created an arts quarter, or arts district, to retain the history and culture of the downtown area.
“The city tries to be collaborative with a lot of organizations, but the art association has been very active and helpful as we try to showcase artwork,” Knottnerus said.
She said the arts have always been an important part of the community, and the city wants to make sure it remains that way because “it brings people together, it showcases our culture, it showcases our history, it creates a sense of community, it brings vitality to the city.”