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Estacada artist shows off her marbling technique in August Spiral Gallery show

PMG FILE PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Peggy Skycraft's "Brain Garden" show will be available at the Spiral Gallery for the Month of August. Nearly 70 years ago, 12-year-old Peggy Skycraft sat on her front porch drawing a Pegasus. The youngster sitting beside looked over at her work and told Skycraft she was an artist. And that statement rang true.

Now, at 81, Skycraft is still just that, an artist, and has spent her life working with various mediums, holding fast to that role.

Skycraft is the Spiral Gallery's featured artist this August with her show "Brain Garden." The show will feature in the gallery for the entire month and includes seven pieces by the artist.

COURTESY PHOTO: PEGGY SKYCRAFT - "Dawn Song" by Peggy SkycraftSkycraft specializes in a technique called marbling in which she pours paint onto water and lays the paper on top, transferring the design to the paper. She first learned about this technique from a single page out of a teaching book.

"It was one piece about marbling peanut butter jars and oil paints, and I thought, 'that's cool,'" Skycraft said. "So I fiddled around … and that's how I learned about it and I gradually learned more about the more sophisticated methods."

Now, Skycraft mainly uses a traditional English technique in her work, dropping oil paints onto water so she can lay the paper on top.

However, Skycraft has worked with various mediums such as finger painting, melted down crayons from Goodwill to make her art. She is an innovator, always thinking of what she can do next. In one instance, Skycraft painted a roller brush with puff paint so she could make her own unique roller stamp to use in her work.

For some of her art, Skycraft even makes her own paints. This idea was sparked from a teacher she had while attending the Chicago Institute of Art who encouraged the students to really investigate what their paint is. For her water marbling work, Skycraft primarily uses paint of her own creation, made out of pigment and methylcellulose.

Skycraft sees the particular pieces of art featured in the show as "different levels of consciousness," hence titled the show "Brain Garden." In this collection there are a few floral themed pieces where Skycraft painted multiple layers to get the marbling effect as well as the painted flowers.

Skycraft was born in San Diego, California, but moved to Portland when she was about ten years old, living in a cabin style house on 65th street.

As a child, she spent her school days drawing, to the point where her teachers eventually allowed her to start decorating the classrooms with her work.

"They had these bulletin boards in the front of the room and they put butcher paper on there so I got to do murals," Skycraft said.

However, spending the days drawing in her Grant high school classes eventually led to Skycraft being accepted at the Art Institute of Chicago. She studied design there for two years before moving back to Portland and receiving a bachelor of arts degree in painting at Portland State University.

"I was at the Art Institute for two years and I suffered crappy jobs for a couple of years, crappy boyfriends, and I eventually came back to Oregon," Skycraft said.

As we stand in the Spiral Gallery discussing Skycraft's work, a tall man with a bright smile walks in, placing his hand on Skycraft's shoulder. It's her husband, Jack Townes. She's surprised when she sees him. He's been out of town and decided to stop by the gallery, not even knowing Skycraft would be in there.

They've been together since 1977, and got married when Skycraft was 65.

Their love story, much like Skycraft's art, is one born from a love of art, as the two met at the Portland Art Museum in 1975 when Jack helped Skycraft prepare her art for an installation.

"Jack was working for the museum and I had this room of stuff to install and he's the guy who came in to help me do that."

From then on they started working together on different projects, and officially got married in 2006.

COURTESY PHOTO: PEGGY SKYCRAFT - "Star Flowers" by Peggy SkycraftTownes works with Skycraft on her business in which she makes paper designs to be used on book covers. One of her largest jobs was creating paper book covers for the R. L. Hubbard's books for the Church of Scientology, in which she made 5,050 paper covers for the group.

"It was a horrible job. I've done work for them for years, but they were really awful. This is my talisman of torture," Skycraft said with a small laugh, holding up the rolled paper she made for the church.

Skycraft's work has covered many books, from high school science textbooks to limited editions of C. S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters."

While some jobs were grueling, the work allowed Skycraft to create and perfect her marbling technique, and generate business from her passion.

"I took something that was fun to do and interesting and I just went at it like mad, and I forwarded it into a really successful business," Skycraft said.

Now, Skycraft is retired, living in Estacada with her husband and spending time at the Spiral Gallery when able. And, just as she was when she was a child, Skycraft remains a dedicated artist.

"I'm an artist, I was born doing that," Skycraft said.


You can catch Skycraft's show throughout August at Spiral Gallery, 341 Broadway St. The gallery is open noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

COURTESY PHOTO: PEGGY SKYCRAFT - "Whitewater" by Peggy Skycraft

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