True rural royalty
For years, Sandi Poutala has taken the portraits of the Sandy Mountain Festival queen's court.
This year, photographer turned subject, as Poutala was crowned queen of the 45th-annual summer celebration, which takes place Saturday and Sunday, July 8 and 9. She will ride in the parade, greet visitors to the summer art-in-the park event, and represent the town of Sandy with her court of princesses throughout the weekend festivities.
"I was shocked when I got a call," she says. "I was very surprised and humbled. I felt like I hadn't contributed that much to Sandy."
Anyone Poutala has photographed or hosted at her Cedar Springs Country Estate wedding venue might think otherwise. Many a person — and animal — in Oregon have her to thank for preserving their memories.
In her 73 years, Poutala says she feels she's had "three different lives" — and fulfilled many different dreams.
She grew up in near Beaverton with dreams of becoming a veterinarian and owning a country home with a horse in the backyard.
When she went on to build the life she'd dreamt of, she encountered some road blocks. Because of her insulin-dependent diabetes, veterinary and nursing schools wouldn't grant her admission.
"It was 'You're a sick person,'" she says. "Back then diabetes was a death sentence. So I went on to University of Oregon and decided I was going to be a physical therapist. That was a wonderful experience."
In the early 1970s, Poutala began moonlighting as a wedding photographer while working as at a local medical center.
"I was always carrying a beeper and hoping it never went off," Poutala says. Sometimes her passions even crossed paths. "I started taking photos of transplant patients when they got their new kidneys and they were healthy again."
From there she went on to focus more on her career behind the lens. She was hired on at Dee's photo studio in Gresham before branching out to find her own path and place to let her creativity grow.
"I'd drive around looking for five acres and an old farmhouse," she says. "(And) we finally found (our) place."
She started Je T'aime Photography in 1979, shortly after purchasing her new home, and her opportunities for backdrops blossomed.
This space facilitated her dream of living in a country home and of having a home-based business to stay home with her children.
Wedding venue, white
In 1990, Poutala and her husband, Arnie, opened up their Sandy homestead for weddings, creating a large amphitheater space for ceremonies, building a gazebo and offering not only the space, but also photography.
"We had wonderful weddings out here," Poutala recalls. "I could create my own light and stay home on weekends. There was a party every weekend."
For more than 20 years, Poutala lived her dream, adding acreage and alpacas to the mix as she went along. She referred to her Cedar Springs Estate as "a wedding park." As it grew she also created homes for her two daughters, so her family was never far away.
"Life is too short to not create the place and life you dream of," she says.
Now that she has retired her rural residence from its status as a prime wedding destination, Poutala says a fourth chapter is upon her — one where she focuses more on her alpacas and utilizing her creativity to repurpose their fiber.
What was once her photography studio on her estate will have a new life as a store for her fiber and yarn, and maybe even a classroom for locals interested in the craft.
"Until I get to Heaven, my life in Sandy is heaven on earth," she says. "I'll never leave Oregon. It's the most fabulous state. Sandy I think is the most beautiful place in the world."