Variety of Forest Grove venues display artwork folks can ogle for free

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Summa Real Estate in downtown Forest Grove has offered up some of its wall space to public art.Two years ago this fall, Forest Grove artist Helvi Smith tooled over to Lake Oswego to deliver some of her artwork for a show at the Lakewood Center.

Driving down A Avenue and up State Street, Smith could barely keep her eyes on the road, so agog she was over the variety and amount of the city's public art.

"Almost every corner had some sort of statue, sculpture or piece of public art," Smith recalled. "Even their Safeway had something really nice in front of it."

The images stuck with Smith, who uses recycled paint and canvases to create whimsical abstract art in her studio on Elm Street — and she wondered if something similar could happen in her hometown.

At the time, Forest Grove's few pieces of public art included several benches, a gate at a local school, facade accoutrements at Valley Art on Main Street and, of course, the Newspaper Man sculpture on Pacific Avenue.

For Smith, it wasn't enough. by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Framed art hangs above a display of wine bottles at The Friendly Vine on Main Street.

But lately, a number of private businesses in Forest Grove have joined city venues such as the library, city hall, fire station and community auditorium in an art-focused evolution.

Public art, as Smith describes it, involves "places where you can just walk in and look at art for free."

That doesn't mean it's always easy to find — or plentiful. The fire station's one piece of public art, for example, hangs on a wall in the upstairs conference room. According to Fire Marshal Dave Nemeyer, it's a 1978 acrylics-on-panel painting by Robert Weller. It's called "The Veteran" and depicts Forest Grove Fire & Rescue's antique fire steamer.

The more obvious displays of art these days are in businesses that have donated larger or more accessible spaces, including Summa Real Estate Group, Caffe Montecassino, The Friendly Vine, BJ's Coffee Co. and — most recently — the News-Times, which after years of talking about putting local art in its Pacific Avenue office, contacted Smith this fall and now features paintings by Anne Brown and Kathryn Jtineant.

For the seven-year-old Forest Grove Public Arts Commission, it's been an important focus.

"Bringing art experiences to all people at no cost is an important focus for us," said Kathleen Leatham, chairwoman of the commission, who made a distinction between public art and publicly-shown art.

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Artists Jeffrey Hall and Helvi Smith help hang paintings by  Kathryn Jtineant in the foyer at the News-Times office on Pacific Avenue.Public art includes "pieces of art that are owned by the city of Forest Grove," such as the benches commissioned for city streets, Leatham said, while publicly-shown art is "anything that shows up in local spaces that raise awareness of art and enhance the city a thousand-fold."

She added that the city arts commission's primary focus in the coming year is a collaboration — with nationally-renowned glass artist Ed Carpenter, woodworker Greg Kriebel and metal artist Eric Canon — to get an entryway showpiece installed at the Forest Grove library.

Meanwhile, the commission continues to offer $500 mini-grants "to assist a coffee house, a restaurant or a store" in covering the cost of hanging art or to buy lights for illuminating art, Leatham said. Anyone interested in receiving a grant for that purpose can contact her at 503-357-6409.

Library Director Colleen Winters pointed out that the presence of public art "improves the livability" of a community. Forest Grove's library is awash in public art: sculptures near the fireplace and outside the Rogers Room; a painting depicting the 2012 Sidewalk Chalk Art Festival; banners hanging from the ceiling; a kite in the young adult section; and a quilt from Forest Grove's sister city, Nyuzen, Japan. by: NEWS-TIMES  PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - A glass display case inside the Forest Grove Library is home to a number of pieces of public art, including pieces by Lynne Taylor of, reflecting an Art As Science theme.

"We have great public art already, and I think we have the opportunity to have some more," observed Winters.

Smith and nine other area artists, all painters, recently started The Green Cab, a networking venue whose members are dedicated to making sustainably-produced art. "We meet once in a while, and we like taking art-filled field trips," notes a paragraph on homepage.

Among the "Cabbies" is Jtineant of Forest Grove, whose large, unframed acrylic paintings are displayed in the News-Times' foyer on Pacific Avenue.

"We decided to take turns putting our art in their lobby," said Jtineant, whose jumbo-size pieces — done in bright splashes of blue, green, red, yellow and orange — are titled "Spring Day in the Pacific Northwest" and "Disturbed Vision." They're offered for sale at $1,250 each.

If Smith, a member of the arts commission, has her way, more visual art will soon appear in even more prominent places around town.

"I am very passionate about public art," noted Smith. "It would be nice if there were more."