Two Rivers Gallery
Where: 102 N. Columbia Ave.
Opening: March 2009
The artists: Over 100 member artists, who show up to three main art pieces every few months.
What’s there: More than 40 artists show in every kind of medium imaginable. Two Rivers hosts a featured artist on First Fridays with live music in its main room and a finger food potluck and wine tasting in the back.
Background: Two Rivers was founded by members of the Visual Arts Network in 2008 to address the need for a non-juried gallery for any artist, novice to expert.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. First Fridays.
What’s next: The co-op was formed as an affiliate of the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center, but it’s applying for it’s own nonprofit status. Members of Two Rivers are planning to build a troll sculpture under the Riverwalk Bridge at the foot of First Street this spring. The board also plans to expand the number of venues where artists can show work, and promote a new art rental program for businesses.
Contact: 2riversgallery.com, 888-9504
Gallery 4 South
Where: 4 S. Wenatchee Ave.
Opening: June 2010
The artists: More than 50 local artists and artists from the greater Northwest, including Spokane, Idaho and Montana.
What’s there: Pottery, glass, jewelry, paintings, photography, textiles, wood
Background: Owner Charleen Martin is an artist from Idaho who recently moved to the area and saw a need for more galleries in Wenatchee.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays
What’s next: Martin is planning a summer sidewalk series featuring different artists demonstrating their craft by her shop on First Fridays.
Contact: gallery4south.com, 470-7714
The Lila Putnam Gallery
Where: 230 S. Columbia St.
Opening: Putnam’s work has been showing at Salon Expressions Day Spa for about 10 years. Her new gallery space behind the salon is expected to open in February.
The artist: Putnam has been a professional, full-time painter for more than 30 years and has won dozens of national awards for her work.
What’s there: 40-50 watercolor paintings exhibited in the salon
Background: Salon owner Leanne Peters is a close friend of Putnam’s and wanted to show her paintings in the business. Over the years, Putnam’s art presence in the salon grew.
Hours: Anytime the salon is open, and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on First Fridays.
What’s next: The new space, accessed through the salon, is a former storage room in the middle of the building. Putnam still needs to paint the walls and install lighting. She’s painting a portrait of the building owner’s prized race car in exchange for rent.
A Step Above Gallery
Where: 34 N. Wenatchee Ave., second floor of Columbia Furniture
Opening: Spring 2010
Background: Photographer Kevin Imper and his wife Rachel opened the gallery last spring.
What’s there: 60 paintings by Rob Blackaby in two large gallery rooms.
Hours: Anytime Columbia Furniture is open and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. First Friday
What’s next: Blackaby took over the gallery last month, and considers it a temporary space until he can find a more permanent home for his art.
Robert Graves Gallery
Where: Sexton Hall, Wenatchee Valley College, 1300 Fifth St.
The artists: Rotating artists from around the Northwest, including WVC faculty and an annual art show for members of the gallery.
What’s there: A mix of paintings, sculpture, mixed media and other art. It’s one of the only galleries that hosts installations and unconventional art.
Background: Robert Graves, head of WVC’s art department, founded the art gallery, located in the courtyard of Sexton Hall. Alcoa and Allied Arts raised funds to construct a roof over the gallery. It was originally named Gallery 76, but was rededicated in 2007.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, or by appointment.
Contact: wvc.edu/directory/departments/gallery, 682-6776
— by Rachel Hansen, World staff
Until about four years ago, Martha Flores’ “Flowering Consciousness” — a 5-foot canvas bursting with bright, tropical blues and greens — never ventured outside of her home.
Painter Russ Hepler put away his abstract works in a rented storage unit.
Dan Bozich’s sculptures, stained glass and Impressionist paintings stayed with only friends and family.
For the hundreds of painters, sculptors and artists living in the area, most of their work stayed out of sight and out of mind. The commercial galleries moved out a long time ago. Wenatchee didn’t have the wall space to support a vibrant visual art scene. But now, it seems Wenatchee is waking up to the idea.
Four new art galleries started up downtown in the past three years, along with a First Friday artwalk that’s drawing out more crowds and adding new businesses every year. New sculptures dot the streetscape and riverfront. Wenatchee Valley College’s new Center for Music and Art, which will include a new gallery, is on track to open next fall. Even the city’s utility boxes are dressed up in art.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had this much energy invested in the visual arts,” said ceramic artist Ruth Allen, one of the founding members of an artist-run co-op, the Two Rivers Art Gallery.
Two Rivers was first of the new galleries to open downtown. It was born from a conversation within the Visual Arts Network — a local artists’ group — about what it would take to bring art to Wenatchee.
“If you go into Port Townsend, Chelan and Leavenworth, and you feel like you’re in an arts environment,” said Jan Theriault, also a founding member. “We each had different abilities and skills at promotions, teaching and showing art, so we decided to form an artists’ cooperative.”
The group sought grants from local foundations and benefactors and moved into the Exchange Building at the foot of Riverwalk Bridge. Their mission was to give everyone, novice or expert, a place to show their work. Within a year, membership had grown to more than 100 artists, and about 250 people walked through the gallery every month.
Meanwhile, Charleen Martin, an artist from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, started looking for places to hang her paintings in Wenatchee after her husband took a job there.
“Coeur d’Alene has half of the population and 10 galleries,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘How could you have the population Wenatchee has and not have the galleries?’ It didn’t make any sense to me, so we took it from there.”
The couple were walking downtown one morning in April when her husband stopped at an empty storefront at 4 S. Wenatchee Ave.
“He said, ‘That would make a nice gallery,’ and if you knew my husband you would know that this is the furthest thing from who he is,” Martin said.
It was a sign. The couple met the building owner the same day and opened Gallery 4 South in June.
Martin brought in 20 artists she knew from the Spokane area, Idaho and Montana and then introduced local artists over time. She prefers to keep a 50-50 mix of local and out-of-town artists to keep the gallery fresh with work the community hasn’t seen before, Martin said.
A few blocks away, photographer Kevin Imper and his wife Rachel set up A Step Above Gallery on the second floor of Columbia Furniture last spring. Every month, the couple rotated artists and promoted the shows to gain visibility. Painter Rob Blackaby took over the space last month after the Impers moved out of the area.
Longtime Wenatchee painter Lila Putnam created her own stop on the First Friday map by setting up a gallery in the lobby of Salon Expressions Day Spa where she’s been hanging her art for 10 years. She’s remodeling a storage space behind the salon and hopes to open a permanent gallery next month.
Together, the galleries helped transform First Friday from a once-a-month free day at Wenatchee’s museum into a downtown art walk. Galleries and shops hosted outdoor sidewalk sales and art demonstrations. Artists set up booths in front of the Performing Arts Center. At its peak, First Friday brought an estimated 300 people downtown.
“At first there were four or five stops on the First Friday map. By May there were eight. By July there were 12 or 14 stops” said Karen Dawn Dean, a potter at Gallery 4 South who helped promote First Friday. She said the number of galleries has helped bring people to see art, more than one gallery could on its own.
“One gallery doesn’t do it, even a lovely gallery,” she said. “If the galleries weren’t in place we wouldn’t have had this moment. It takes density, and a huge investment.”
Few are confident enough in the recent wave of galleries to paint Wenatchee as an emerging art town. It’s going to take more foot traffic downtown — from tourists and art patrons especially — and more often than one Friday a month.
“I assumed there was more tourism here and that was a mistake that I made. I didn’t realize you really don’t have people walking around downtown.”
Martin joined the promotions committee for the Wenatchee Downtown Association, which is working hard to make downtown a community hub, but it’s going to take time, she said.
“It’s a matter of whether you can survive as long as it’s going to take for downtown to be really noticed,” she said.
John McDarment, owner of McDee’s Art Center, has watched galleries come and go over the past 40 years. Ultimately, it’s the community’s willingness to buy art that decides the galleries’ fate, he said.
“The main thing if they (the new galleries) are going to survive — unless it’s a nonprofit — they have to make money and sell art. If no one buys art, then they run out of money,” McDarment said.
Blackaby said he considers A Step Above Gallery a temporary home for his work. Few pieces have sold so far. He applied for solo exhibitions at well-known galleries around the Northwest, where he’s found 2- to 4-year waiting lists and tough competition.
“I started living in the area back in the ’70s, and I don’t think it’s changed,” he said. “The only reason I can show in Eastern Washington is because of the tourism. The tourists are nine out of the 10 people buying my work.”
It’s also going to take a steady volunteer base to keep the momentum going with marketing and event planning. Nonprofit galleries — such as Two Rivers, The Robert Graves Gallery, and the new gallery in WVC’s new building — have an advantage because their survival isn’t dependent on sales. But without volunteers, they tend to fade away like The Little Gallery, an artist-run space started in the ’60s.
“It takes a lot of different kinds of people to keep things going,” said Theriault of Two Rivers. “If you just have one or two people, it’s not going to go. It took half a dozen of us with different skills to make this thing a success. We have to have people who want to be involved, or it’s not going to continue.”
Rachel Hansen: 664-7139