Whidbey artists blaze a trail of adventure

Every working artist juggles the need to create and to market those creations with more practical considerations such as shelter and food.

Oil painter Mike Wise works from a photograph he took of lilacs grown on his property near Fort Ebey State Park.

Every working artist juggles the need to create and to market those creations with more practical considerations such as shelter and food.

“If you want to sell art, you have to be as available as possible and remove barriers to having the public visit your studio,” said painter Stacey Neumiller. Inspired by established art trails in Pennsylvania and on Salt Spring Island, B.C., she believed there was a way to share promotional costs and attract art-minded travelers and local patrons to the studios of Whidbey’s talented artists and artisans.

Two years ago, Neumiller contacted a group of visual artists who had participated in the annual Island Arts Council-sponsored Open Studio Tour to discuss the idea of establishing a year-round Whidbey Island Art Trail.

Thirteen artists participated in 2011. In 2012, the Whidbey Art Trail promoted 27 artists and their studios from Oak Harbor to Clinton. The self-guided tour features painters, sculptors, weavers, textile artists, jewelry makers, printmakers, potters, glassblowers, a mosaic artist, woodworkers, two wineries, Lavender Wind Farm and an alpaca farm. 

“With more artists, we’ve increased the chances that visitors will hear about us, and the promotion costs are shared among more people, making it less expensive for artists to participate,” Neumiller said. “We’re committed to establishing Whidbey as an internationally recognized art destination by marketing creative artists through the Art Trail, an interactive website including artists’ bios and images of their work, and a brochure with a map and directions to each studio.”

Some Trail artists, such as Oak Harbor potter Dan Ishler and Greenbank woodworker Rob Hetler have studios on Highway 525 and offer easy access to visitors. Bright yellow Whidbey Art Trail signs lead the way to other studios off the beaten path.

Stone sculptors Lloyd Whannell and Sue Taves share workshop space with six other artists in a warehouse in Freeland where giant stone-working tools dominate. Taves and Whannell each have a small gallery space there.

Other studios give visitors the chance to explore the island’s rural areas, finding studios in quirky settings where art is incorporated into daily life.

Roaming chickens and inviting landscaping greet visitors to award-winning painter Mike Wise’s repurposed stable studio near Fort Ebey State Park. Wise designed the studio using hand-milled Douglas fir beams and locally made custom hardware.

Clinton sculptor Dan Freeman finds visitors want to talk about his collection of vintage shop tools, as well as tour the garden to see outdoor pieces and his upstairs gallery.

Other artists offer workshops and classes to bring people into their worlds. Suzanne Newbold and Sandra Whiting offer a host of workshops on their picturesque farm in Clinton, including gourd painting, printmaking, making handmade books and coil basket weaving.

“We want to develop an actual art school here,” said Whiting. “If we can bring more people to us, we’ll have more studio time, and we won’t have the expenses of traveling to art shows.”

Robbie Lobell and Maryon Atwood regularly teach pottery classes at their Coupeville farm, where they also display their Cook on Clay pottery line and Atwood’s spirit houses. They’ve had visitors from all over the country in their two years on the Whidbey Art Trail, and are happy to share their world with visitors.

“Handmade pots have characteristics that allow a connection between maker and user,” said Lobell. “I care about making those connections.”

The Trail gives art lovers the year-round opportunity to go behind-the-scenes to interact with artists and see their creative processes, as well as help support their work through the direct purchase of original art.

Whidbey Art Trail brochures are distributed on the two Whidbey Island ferries, bed and breakfasts and inns, chambers of commerce, art galleries and visitor centers. Visit whidbeyarttrail.com for in-depth information about the artists as well as a calendar of upcoming classes and art events.

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