Photo by Emily Fitzgerald
The Dalles artist Yvonne Pepin-Wakefield of The Dalles fires up her pit kiln with a pile of newspaper. She is one of the many artists opening their studios to visitors during the Gorge Artists Open Studios Tour. A preview night, the first ever will be held in The Dalles April 11, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Granada Theater. The tour, with artists studios open throughout the region, is April 20, 21 and 22.
For its 12th anniversary, the Gorge Artists Open Studios Tour is hosting its first ever preview night, 6-8 p.m., April 11, at the Granada Theater in downtown The Dalles.
The 1920’s Art Deco theater officially reopened this year after owners Chuck Gomez and his wife, Debra, finished the renovations they began in July 2017, after becoming the theater’s owners in March of that year.
“The Granada Theater wholeheartedly welcomes all Gorge artists and it is our pleasure to display their fine talents in the historic Granada theater,” Gomez said.
“It’s because of his [Gomez’s] vision and generosity— I can’t stress enough —that this is coming together,” said Yvonne Pepin-Wakefield, an artist living in The Dalles whose work will be featured in both the preview and the tour.
The Gorge Artists Open Studios Tour is a free event that showcases a wide variety of artists from The Dalles, Mosier, White Salmon, Trout Lake, Parkdale, Upper Hood River Valley, Hood River and Cascade Locks. It’s put on by the not-for-profit organization Gorge Artists Inc. with money collected from artist entry fees, donors and sponsors. Artists submit an application and are juried into the tour in October.
Wakefield has been a part of the tour since she moved to The Dalles over four years ago and is always thrilled to see the wide variety of art that’s included. “All year long, we work in isolation…the studio tour is a way to bring our studio time into fruition,” she said.
The preview night will give the artists additional time to interact with each other—which they do not necessarily get a lot of during the tour since visitors travel between artists’ private studios throughout the Gorge.
The artists will set up displays of their work around the perimeter of the theater and attendees will have the chance to walk around and talk to the artists in an informal setting, as well as drink and socialize with each other. Approximately halfway through the event, at 7 p.m., a spotlight will be shown on each of the artists, giving them each a couple minutes to describe their work. Glenn Ness, the artist who completed the two murals inside the Granada, has also been invited.
Wakefield hopes the event will generate more “specific interest” in each of the featured artists and described the event as a “Reader’s Digest” of artists.
Wakefield works in fine arts, primarily in landscape paintings and pit- fired pottery. She prefers to paint on-site and when faced with a lack of landscape, like she faced while teaching art in Kuwait, she finds the textures and features landscapes in other things. In Kuwait, for example, she found it in pomegranates, and so did a series on the fruit. She “semi-retired” to The Dalles because of its beautiful geography, she said. “That’s what inspires me.”
Her home studio in The Dalles also has a deep, charred pit in the backyard that she uses to fire pottery. Pit firing is one of the oldest known methods for firing pottery and has mostly been abandoned for kilns, but Wakefield likes the unpredictability that comes from pit firing her pieces.
With each batch, she fills the pit with sawdust, buries the pieces into it, then ignites a few pieces of newspaper to throw on top. Once the whole thing is thoroughly ablaze, she covers it with a piece of sheet metal, tosses a rock on top to keep it from blowing away, and leaves it for up to five days. “Just let it burn,” she says of the process.
With a minimal amount of air keeping the fire on a long, slow burn, the pit can reach up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the fuel is consumed and the pieces cool, they are removed and cleaned to reveal unique patterns left by ash and salt deposits depending on how hot each area of the piece got.
“It’s like Christmas every time I open it up,” she said.
She is excited to showcase her work at The Granada during the studio tour and hopes that the preview can become a regular annual event.
She encouraged any artists interested in getting involved next year’s studio tour to fill out an application online at www.gorgeartists.org.
For more information on the event and the Granada Theater, visit granadatheaterthedalles.com.