Art’s Founding Fathers

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elder statesman
n.
A prominent, highly experienced older man, especially one acting as an unofficial adviser.

While neither of them were too thrilled about the “elder” designation in the title of this article, they definitely both deserve the “statesman” title. Michael Gibbons and Bill Shumway have both been involved with Willamette Living Magazine since day one. Recently we learned that Bill and Michael have known each other for years. Two very different people in some aspects, yet quite similar in others, Michael and Bill are huge figures in the Oregon art scene, and work tirelessly to create two very different, stunning bodies of work. Michael creates very realistic landscapes, and Bill leans more towards the abstract. Both of them capture the essence of the Oregon landscape, beautifully.

That got the wheels turning. Where did Bill and Michael get started? What have they done for the last 40 years? What do they have planned for the future? We got a hold of both of them and asked these questions and more.

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Bill Shumway

Bill arrived in Oregon with a blanket – period. Back in the day, Bill was an Easterner, he had a teaching position at a major university, and had studied under Dutch Abstract Impressionist Willem de Kooning. Then Bill decided he couldn’t do it, four walls couldn’t hold him, he heard the call west. He got an old car, fixed it up and headed out. He took a circuitous route and found himself in Oregon. Still not sure of his direction in life, Bill drove back to the east coast, and then hitch-hiked back and forth – a few times. That was back in the day when people still did that sort of thing. Bill finally landed in Corvallis, and made his way by creating art for people in trade for art supplies. Food was scarce, there were, in Bill’s words “some crazy years” – hey, he’s an artist, what do you expect? He’s come a long way since. Bill later became involved in the Pegasus Gallery doing framing, and then moved on to own the gallery.

When Bill arrived in Corvallis, there was no art in public spaces. Having come from the east coast where that was a common thing, he made his way around the area, suggesting people get with the program and get some art on the walls. Now everyone takes it for granted that restaurants, coffee shops, medical facilities and the like will have some art — thank Bill for that next time you’re in what would be an otherwise drab waiting room.

Bill was joined by his Daughter Paige in the operation of Pegasus, Paige has recently taken the reigns, now Bill has some free time to help other artists by teaching at his home in West Corvallis, and via his outdoor “Plein Air” workshops. Of course there was the usual turmoil of doing business as a family, but Bill brought up an event in which Paige and he connected over, a show of both of their work based on the teachings of Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, mystic and theologian. Bill admits he at first thought he might “take it easy” with his work so as to not show up his daughter. Then he decided “no, I’m going for it.” Bill got a bit emotional when he describes what happened, Paige’s work was fantastic, they had a great show, and the gallery was packed with people reading Rumi in different languages.

While they both like to stress out about running the family business together, it’s plain they are two peas in a pod. Bill is proud of his daughter, and Paige has a tone of admiration and respect in her “art selling” voice reserved for Dad when you ask about a Shumway original.

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Michael Gibbons

Michael took a far less “hippy” route to his current status as art statesman of Oregon. Michael explained how when he was in High School, he visited an exhibition of the work of Corot, the French landscape painter, at the Portland Art Museum. As soon as Michael said that, I could see the similarities in the work. Michael’s art is very much like Corot’s, in it’s soothing, subdued, dreamy quality.

As a young man, Michael had started to work for a design firm, yet still wanted to develop his painting skills. Michael wanted to work on painting the landscape, but he said “it’s hard to be a landscape painter when you’re surrounded by city.” Michael bought a house on the Oregon Coast, and RODE HIS BICYCLE FROM PORTLAND TO HIS BEACH PLACE to work on the house. In addition to being in great shape, Michael had the opportunity to begin his multi-decade capturing of the Oregon Coast landscape… seascape?

Sales were an issue back then. Michael explained how he was discovering that if he took a bunch of paintings to market in the morning, he’s arrive home later in the day with… a bunch of paintings, and less money. So he decided to move to England where if he took a bunch of paintings into London to sell, he’d end the day with no paintings and a bag of money, much better.

Michael was called back to Oregon where he met his wife Judy, who had been working at a gallery on the Oregon Coast. Michael must have swept here off her feet, because in short order she was heading up “Gallery Michael Gibbons” and according to Michael, doing a very fine job of it, we believe him.

Michael and Judy now own and operate their signature gallery in Toledo (OR) and they are instrumental in the operation of The Yaquina River Museum of Art – directly across the street in the Toledo Arts District.

Today Michael is looking forward to helping develop plein air painting events in Oregon, and works to promote the Oregon art scene, the Oregon Coast, and of course, his own stunning work.

Michael Gibbons: www.michaelgibbons.net
Bill Shumway: www.pegasusartgallery.com

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