Road Trip! Up the Columbia River Gorge to Visit Artists Dennis Hartley and Ted Olson, a Serene Zen Abbey, and Beautiful Maryhill Museum
On a recent Friday afternoon, Jennifer Zika, manager of PAM’s Rental Sales Gallery, and three gallery volunteers: myself, Lynn Harper, and Jan Kessler, loaded kit and caboodle into my car and headed east. With Friday afternoon traffic, it took us almost as long to get to I-84 as it did to get to our first destination. Artist Dennis Hartley (www.dennishartleyart.com ) graciously offered us hospitality in his Trout Lake, Washington home for the night. There we had a great taco dinner with fresh tomatoes from his garden. After dinner, we all went to Eceti Ranch to look for UFOs on Mt. Adams. (We saw some interesting lights, but nothing definitive.) We stayed up late chatting, mostly about art in general, and Hartley’s history in particular.
“I grew up in Southern California, and became an architect,” he told us. “I’ve been a Northwesterner since 1978. I put my architectural work aside to focus on painting in 1998, and have been working steadily since then, although I took a hiatus to work with a non-profit…in Haiti and Africa doing media work 2010-2012. I designed and built my current home and studio in Trout Lake, WA, completing the project in 2015.” In a later email he explained that he had helped build fuel efficient cooking stoves designed for “refugee camps and institutional housing communities in Africa primarily.” Seeing the need for fund raising impelled him to the media side of things.
The next morning, after dawdling a bit over breakfast and enjoying the scenery beside the pond he constructed himself, he gave us a tour of his studio across a breezeway from the house.
Hartley’s art has evolved over the years. I personally own a seascape he painted at Bandon, OR in 2000. In his studio is a piece from the same era.
As you can see, this is fairly traditional and realistic. He experimented briefly with “drip” paintings, and then moved on to the abstracts that we have seen recently in the Rental Sales Gallery.
His most recent work incorporates figural images and even portraits within his abstract forms. This portrait of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, based on a photo by Edward Curtis, has generated some questions as to cultural appropriation. Like Curtis before him, Hartley has involved himself with the culture of the Nez Perce. “Certainly taking something from another and making money from it is wrong. That’s not what I’m doing.” He went on, “My works are a personal journey to examine and understand my own history, and the history of the Northwest, my home…I wanted to do a work that was an examination of Curtis as well as Joseph, to understand the cultural context of the day, and see if I could understand Joseph as a man.”
When we left Hartley’s home, he guided us to the Trout Lake Zen Buddhist Abbey, where Kozen, the leader of the abbey, met us and invited us to explore with no limits to areas we could visit. An enchanting and spiritual place, which includes a small bed-and-breakfast inn and delightful gardens and meditation spaces, we so wanted to linger, but had many other events planned.
Around 2 o’clock that afternoon, the four of us met with artist Ted Olson (www.tedolsonpaintings.com) for lunch in his home town of White Salmon, Washington. Olson, like Hartley, is represented by the Rental Sales Gallery. He was prompted to submit his work to the gallery by our fellow road warrior, Jan Kessler.
He took us to visit his studio, which, like Hartley’s, is attached to his home by a breezeway. There we were met by his dog, a border collie named Tess. She treated us all like old friends, clamoring for pets and ear scratches. We also met Olson’s wife, Melanie, an avid weaver.
Olson’s home and studio are filled with his oil paintings, which consist mostly, from what we could see, of abstract landscapes with differing shapes and sizes. Most of his wood panels are of a consistent size, but may be arranged in groups of 2 or 4. Thus, “heavy” best describes both their physical and visual weight. Color and texture seem to be his forte. Olson surprised us by letting us choose pieces of his studies, which he called “scraps” to cut out and take home. He even signed them for us! (Mine is already framed!)
About 5:30 in the evening, we proceeded to Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington. There, we gazed at numerous pieces of Plein Air paintings by artists from around the nation who had been working for the previous four days to enter a competition at the museum. They were challenged to paint outdoors anywhere in the Gorge from Troutdale east. We loudly applauded when two of RSG’s member artists, Yong Hong Zhong and Anton Pavlenko, were selected to win first and second prizes respectively in the competition. Below are two examples of their work, though not the pieces that won ribbons at Maryhill. These pieces can currently be seen at RSG.
Whew! So much activity in only one day! After a fine dinner at The Glass Onion in Goldendale (we treated Dennis Hartley as partial repayment for his hospitality), we fell into bed and slept like the proverbial logs.
The following morning, munching on breakfast provisions brought by Jennifer, Lynn, and Jan and once again taking our time before heading out, this time back to Maryhill for a behind-the-scenes tour of the vaults of this amazing museum.
This huge Italianate structure sitting on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River is a sight to remember. The elegance of the architecture, with its newer glass addition, reminded me of more modern, yet classic buildings I saw in Europe last year.
Art Curator Steven L. Grafe met us as planned, and guided us into the vaults. Here, preparations are underway for an upcoming print show. Being given a preview of pieces that will be shown was enlightening and gratifying. Jennifer, in particular, is eager to see the print show when it is up. In the vaults, Steve showed us many artifacts and art works that are currently not on exhibit. Native American beadwork and basketry, Romanian textiles, mostly clothing, and world renowned paintings, such as “Solitude” by Frederick, Lord Leighton, kept us mesmerized. We felt privileged to be shown such wonderful objects. After this special tour, we took in the museum’s collection of Rodin work and the Theatre de la Mode, which consists of miniature haute couture fashions from the World War II era.
Finally, around 3 o’clock, with Jan behind the wheel this time, we headed back to Portland. It would take most of us at least a full day to recuperate from this whirlwind road trip.
Many thanks to all who hosted us—Dennis Hartley, Ted Olson, Steven Grafe at Maryhill, and mostly to Jennifer Zika, who arranged the whole trip, found us lodging, and is such a terrific manager at the Rental Sales Gallery. (And to Lynn and Jan, who took some of the driving out of my hands!)