One sculpts. One paints. One weaves. One came to the Tillamook Coast with her husband in the 1980s to give it a try. One came in the 70s because a friend said it was a wild and beautiful place. One came in early 2000 because she fell in love with an old farm house.
They all stayed and they all create here. They sell their work to regional, national and international collectors. And, they all share a common theme: in a place like this you can stake your own path.
These three notable artists on the Tillamook Coast have created lives here and their work reflects the influences of the wild beauty of this place.
M.J. Anderson—Working Outside on the Tillamook Coast for 30 Years
Her Nehalem studio is evident by the large, elegant sculptures lining the driveway. These sculptures, predominately female torsos, have been roughed out in Carrara, Italy where she travels each year to select marble and begin work on pieces destined for gallery exhibitions, private collections and liturgical and public art installations throughout the U.S.
“Working in outside studios for 30 years on the Oregon coast and in Carrara, Italy, I am affected by the weather, time of day and seasonal changes. The drama and nuance of light are my constant companions and collaborators,” said Anderson, whose long-time friends call her Mary Jo.
In this town, population 256, M.J. has found a life that is good for an artist. “There are not a lot of urban distractions. When everything around you is new and ever changing in a city, it is harder to get much work done.”
All of the stone she selects and carves in Italy must be crated and shipped to the U.S., proceed through customs and then trucked to her studio. “And working with large, heavy slabs of marble, it is helpful to have the forklift just down the street at the local lumber yard. I couldn’t do my work without their help.”
M.J. appreciates being invigorated by attending “fabulous museum shows in Europe” and then coming home to her studio in Nehalem to settle into her work. She regains the rhythm of the slower pace traveling by foot between her studio and her home to cook a meal, tend her garden or take a walk on the beach to process her thoughts.
“This is my place. I raised my son here, my sculptures are influenced by the people I am surrounded by—like the women in my aqua aerobics class. When I bought my house and remodeled it to make it my own, I felt that I would die here. This is my whole life. “
As a place changes a person, M.J. says she is certain it has had influences on her that she is not even aware of because she is so busy living her life.
Deborah DeWit—Making Work Inspired by a Place
The 90-year-old farmhouse Deborah DeWit and her filmmaker husband discovered on a trip to the beach has become the place they have decided to plant deep roots. As much as she cherishes the quiet of her painting studio here, she also loves sharing it with visitors. For 10 days each year, the “Open Studio” sign hangs at the entrance of their 4.5 acres overlooking Nehalem Bay and ocean, just south of Wheeler.
Tillamook Coast’s Highway 101 is very well-traveled, year-round, by visitors from all over the world. Opportunities like Open Studio can add to the experience of travelers to see how those who make their home here, in this case artists, live and work in a destination region.
Descended from a long-line of Dutch painters and musicians, DeWit has lived around the world following her wanderlust and quest for new experiences. But when she and her husband happened upon the “for sale” sign at the historic Huckleberry Farm, her searching ended here.
“Our open studio is an opportunity to see a working studio and look at original artwork in the place where it is produced,” said DeWit. I really enjoy meeting the people who buy my work and love telling them the story of our discovery of the farmhouse and the slow restoration of the house and the property.”
“Before moving here, there was a time in my life when I thought I had run out of juice and wasn’t quite sure where I was going to get my ideas. Living here I can’t even imagine not having enough source to work from. There is an endless supply— the natural beauty, the people, the community activities, this farmhouse, the atmosphere. It all speaks to me. I find it all here.”
Deborah has been showing her photography and pastels continuously since 1976. Since adding oils in 1999, she has developed an expressive style with a focus on natural subjects, much of which describes our human relationship with nature and the many moods of the seasons.
Many are familiar with her work on book covers, magazines, catalogues and calendars and her original can be found in personal, corporate and University collections across the country.
“My current work is a result of living here. My work has always been autobiographical/metaphorical and my life experiences drive my paintings.” In the winter and summer Deb teaches painting workshops in her home studio sharing her methods and inspiring others to create.
Karen Gelbard—Living With Her Senses Wide Open
“I wake up in the morning wanting to weave,” Karen shared. “I think about color all the time. It turns into yarn that turns into cloth that turns into patterns that turn into garments I design and create for bodies of all shapes.”
Whether it is the natural beauty she awakes to everyday at her self-described “old house perched on a hill overlooking the Nestucca estuary” or the rich color palette seen during a trip to Italy, Karen translates her life experience into her weaving. “My work often tells a story. One of my favorite coat designs tells the story of the estuary I see every day out my window.”
Since childhold, this largely self-taught weaver has been creating and exploring the next artistic challenge. “Growing up reading music, I was taught to see patterns in the notes. I learned that is not just about reading the notes. It is about interpreting the notes and pouring your heart and soul into the execution of the pattern,” said Gelbard.
“I take that same idea into my weaving. A weaving graph is not unlike a music staff. There are strong similarities in seeing patterns and harmony. I seek color harmonies to build my fabrics.”
Karen’s long love affair with the Tillamook Coast began when she and her husband packed up their cars after graduating from college with art degrees and headed west at the urging of friends—”we found their urgings to be right for us” recalls Karen. “This was a place where we could be who we wanted to be.” That was in the early 70s.
The production loom that now fills her studio can produce up to 100 yards at a time where Karen creates lush, gorgeous fabrics from which she then cuts, sews and finishes her sought-after garments. She travels throughout the U.S. selling to a clientele who is attracted to the color, style and beautiful designs—all inspired by this artist’s keen senses.
Her fine work is prized in her garments, and also in architectural textiles. She is part of the team that keeps Timberline Lodge’s historic textiles restored, and Karen is now creating a line of interior textiles décor which she sells at a local gallery.
Karen often wins awards for her work and most recently she enjoyed the honor of winning “best of show” at the 2016 Omaha Summer Art Festival. The judges obviously agreed with how Karen often characterizes her work: “I deal with color as a painter would and I deal with the human form as a sculptor would.”
These three notable artists—the sculptor, the painter and the weaver all embody the influences of the Tillamook Coast. Through their work, they offer us the opportunity to experience the nuances of beauty translated by human creativity allowed to dwell in a wild and scenic place.
Where to find their work:
M.J. Anderson shows at Coast Gallery in Manzanita, Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland and Brintz Galleries in Palm Beach, Florida.
Deborah DeWit shows at White Bird Gallery in Cannon Beach and at her Open Studio at Huckleberry Farm.
Karen Gelbard, shows throughout the U.S. at art fairs and festivals and at Rowboat Gallery in Pacific City.