‘Open Studios’ tour gives glimpse into artists’ lives and work

Across Portland, this special cultural event helps art lovers ‘pull back the curtain’ to see how artisans create their magic. See what we discovered, visiting five SE Portland studios …

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Spending an afternoon at a museum or art gallery admiring the work of artists who have passed on years, even decades, ago may appeal to some. But thousands of Portlanders annually spend one or more weekend days on a self-directed tour of 98 artists’ studios, during Portland Open Studios.

We didn’t have to travel far to meet five fascinating artists, all located in SE Portland, who opened their studios to the inquisitive, as part of the tour a couple weeks ago.

Brooklyn’s Madeline Meza Janovec says jewelry-making is just one of her creative talents.

Madeline Meza Janovec
4504 SE Milwaukie Avenue

Janovec is well-known in the art community – she’s ensconced in the yellow building on the corner of SE Holgate Boulevard and SE Milwaukie Avenue, in the Brooklyn neighborhood.

“I first moved to Brooklyn in 1966,” Janovec says, taking a break while working at her jewelry workbench. “I’ve lived in three different buildings in this neighborhood over those decades.

“I do jewelry, prints and paintings,” she explains. “I’m not just the jeweler; I’ve always been involved in all three forms of art for my entire career.”

Janovec says she uses recycled metal objects and stones (not gems) to create her elegant jewelry. “Many of my materials have had a ‘former life’, and suggest to me what they’d like to become.” The idea, she added, is to transform them into jewelry, yet allow them to keep their character.

What she likes about being on the Open Studio tour, Janovec says, is letting people see how her art is created. “I enjoy sharing my creative process. There is ‘magic’ involved in making art; we create ‘something’ from a ‘nothing’.”

Sellwood’s Marcy Baker both practices and teaches her artistic techniques.

Marcy Baker
1500 block of SE Rex Street

“I live and work here in Sellwood as a painter and a printmaker,” Baker told us when we visited her home studio. “I work in acrylic paints.”

The professional artist of 20 years said her move from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Portland, about seven years ago, has influenced her art. “I just feel so hydrated here; I love the moisture and all the trees. Moving here brought more botanical imagery into my art.”

She also showed us a large hand-operated device. “It’s a monotype press used in the printmaking process that applies oil-based etching inks on paper. I combine printmaking with the painting processes and many of the elements of collage.”

In addition to being a professional artist, Baker said she teaches monotype and collage at Multnomah Art Center in Multnomah Village.

Baker says the Open Studios tour is “a wonderful way for people to feel that they’re welcomed into the artist studio to connect with the artist and her process. And, it’s a great way for artists to connect with people who love art work.”

Sculptor Samuel. H. Soto is laminating wood he’ll carve into a work of art in his “ground level” loft. He’s also known as painter Thomas Soule. Confused? Read this!

Thomas Soule & Samuel H. Soto
632 SE Haig Street
(503) 341-8571

After watching the two-story, rectangular building being constructed just off SE McLaughlin Boulevard a few years ago, we’ve always wondered about the use of the structure. That is, until the Open Studio tour indicated this building contained the studios of artists Thomas Soule & Samuel H. Soto.

“We built it as a place to live and work,” Soule explained. “I lived in a loft, but I couldn’t continue living there because I made too much noise. So I decided to build a ‘loft on the ground’ – so here it is. It’s a two-story building similar to a loft.”

When we naively asked about his counterpart, Samuel H. Soto, Soule smiled and said, “I do both sculpture and painting. Thomas is the painter, Samuel is the sculptor. The name is an anagram; the names represent my two different ways of working.”

The painter, Thomas Soule, talks with visitors to his ground-level loft and gallery.

When painting, Soule explained, he begins with a blank rectangle. “In a way, it determines how the painting turns out. Sculpture is a whole different activity. There’s no predetermined sort of location; space is handled in a totally different way.”

Showing us first his acrylics, then his sculptures, he added, “For most artists to create in both media, their work looks similar. In my case, the two different kinds of activities produce different styles of art.”

The artist, who said he’s also been a teacher and worked in computer graphics, said he likes the Open Studio concept because, “When people come here, they’re here to enjoy art – not just drink wine and eat cheese. I get an interesting variety of people who come to visit.”

Clinton Street’s Annie Meyer uses a monotype press to transfer the image to paper.

Annie Meyer
2507 SE Clinton St.

Although it’s been a couple of years since we last visited Annie Meyer’s studio and gallery, she welcomed us like an old friend.

While she considers her art the work of a painter, Meyer said she works in three media: Monotypes, paintings, and ceramic tiles.

“I’ve drawn the [human] figure since high school, and I’ve been doing landscapes since about 1995,” Meyer explained as she prepared to make a monotype. “I just love what I’m doing, and can’t imagine doing anything else. To have a life where one is making a living doing what they love is the very best thing one can do.”

Meyer shows how she first creates her painting on a block of acrylic, before she makes the print in her press.

Meyer explained that her monotypes are one-time prints. Using her fingers, as we watched, she created an image on a piece of Plexiglas using a special kind of paint. She then placed the Plexiglas face up on the bed of a press and carefully positioned paper over it, and used the press roller to transfer the image to the paper. The result was an original print.

“I really enjoy the Open Studio tour – I get to show visitors my art process, just like I showed it to you,” Meyer said.

If you’ve visited a high-end poster shop, you’ve certainly seen Allan Stephenson’s work on sale; but he says he loves talking with art lovers who visit his home-based studio.

Allan Stephenson
3800 block of SE Clinton St.

When we walked into his basement studio, we listened as Stephenson told a visitor how the idea for a painting, a print of which the guest had purchased, had come to him. He graciously signed the print for the guest.

“I’m a landscape painter, and I work in oils and acrylic and pastel – all three media,” Stephenson told us. “Most of my work is used by designers, consultants and publishers. A lot of my work becomes published as posters.”

Asked how art became his vocation, Stephenson said, “There was never any other option for me. I drew from when I was a kid onward. When you realize what your strengths and weaknesses are, you go for your strengths.”

That strength, for him, was being able to easily draw and sketch scenes that are recognizable. “Since day one, I’ve been an artist. I’m not saying I haven’t worked the odd job here and there when I was younger, but I’ve managed to be professional artist all my life.”

The best thing about his profession, opined Stephenson, is having control over one’s time. “There are two things in life: Time and money. You can usually only get one or the other. The downside of being an artist is sometimes one doesn’t have the money, but what one does have is the time to organize one’s life as we so choose.”

Stephenson said he was also enthusiastic about the Open Studio tour. “A lot of people are intimidated going to galleries. They feel silly asking questions in a gallery like ‘What’s the difference between an oil and acrylic?’

“Whether my visitor is one who enjoys art – or is a student – people feel comfortable asking questions and exploring the process of art at my home.

“Here, they get to learn the stories behind my art.”

And once again next year, on the Open Studios tour, you’ll have the chance to do the same.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland Nooz

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