Paving the way for arts in Lake Oswego
Joan Eliot Sappington, 93, helped grow the arts scene in Lake Oswego and paved the way for quality art and artists to flourish.
Sappington, who died June 15 from complications with Alzheimer's disease, was a big contributor to the arts in the community, both locally and regionally.
Sappington was heavily involved with various city organizations including the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts and the Lake Oswego Arts Foundation — which has since evolved into the Arts Council of Lake Oswego.
"In the artwork itself and in its presentation, mother always looked for quality so people would know the difference," said Sappington's youngest daughter, Carrie. "She wanted to stretch people's thinking and imaginations. The arts in her mind were part of a healthy, engaged and creative community."
Sappington was always surrounded by art — it was in her blood.
Her mother, Martha Bigelow Eliot, was a well-known dancer and later in life she helped her mom establish the San Francisco Players Guild, a theater company that traveled from southern California to southern Oregon.
Carrie said although Sappington was more involved with the technical side of theater, the company performed in schools, presenting quality theater to children who oftentimes couldn't receive those experiences on their own.
After Sappington worked with her mom to get the company started, she went on to work for United Airlines before moving to Lake Oswego in 1959.
Sappington owned the first bowling alley in town near where the former Palisades Market Place was located. Though that company didn't last, she found a job as manager of Kingsbury's, a former women's clothing store in Lake Oswego.
"She got pretty bored with her job," said Carrie, adding that the owner suggested she get involved with the chamber, where she eventually came to be the second woman president.
Sappington's involvement with the community continued to grow as she became heavily involved with the Festival of the Arts.
Andrew Edwards, executive director of the Lakewood Center for the Arts, said Sappington was probably involved with the festival for more than 50 years, even when the festival started as a small business promotion venture to drive traffic to local merchants and to celebrate artists.
"It was becoming a time consuming task and the chamber felt it would be better served with the Lakewood Center for the Arts," said Edwards, adding that when Sappington first started it was just a weekend sidewalk sale with a couple hundred participants. Now the festival has more than 25,000 attendees each year. "In her tenure it's grown quite a bit."
Sappington served on the Lakewood Center Board, but when the festival moved under Lakewood's umbrella she became the festival's director. Since then she was involved in many different capacities.
Major contributions, Edwards said, included creating the festival's special exhibit and FESTIVA Awards, which recognized art achievements by high school students.
"From my perspective, it's been such a pleasure working with and following in the footsteps of the festival founders, all of whom have (so far) been remarkable women in Lake Oswego," said Selena Jones, artistic development and festival coordinator, in an email to the Review. "Joan in particular attended all our meetings until just recently, and she and her daughter (Carrie O'Bryan) have been unbelievably important in helping me understand the history of the festival and continuing its growth."
Lake Oswego resident Lois Suwol knew Sappington through the festival and, like others, called Sappington her "mentor."
"I love Joan," Suwol said. "Joan really taught me everything I know. She taught me about quality because she always wants people for the festival to know what quality art is."
Outside of the city, Sappington joined the Regional Arts and Culture Council and was one of the founding members and an officer of the Board of the Clackamas County Arts Alliance. She also won numerous awards including the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce and Lake Oswego Review Bob Bigelow Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Lakewood Center Kay Vega Award for outstanding contributions to the arts.
"The style of the community that's changed over the years isn't directly influenced by her necessarily, but the way she envisioned the arts seeped into community awareness in a way that it was not solely her but she was one of the people who contributed to it," said Sappington's oldest daughter, Chris. "She really understood so many more dimensions to the arts and how important it was to have it in our world."
During Sappington's final years, her family and friends kept her strong, active and engaged.
Jan Rimerman, one of Sappington's close friends, said she was part of the family.
"Joan Sappington kick started my art career and then got me very involved in the art scene in Lake Oswego," said Rimerman. "I learned so much from her as a human, as a leader, as a friend, as an artist, and she gave me tons of opportunities to work with wonderful people and learn things I didn't even know you could learn. She changed my life."
Rimerman said when the house next door to her in West Linn went up for sale, Carrie and Sappington purchased it so Carrie could help take care of her mother.
Rimerman has spent holidays and birthdays with Sappington and her family. Together, they attended art events and enjoyed going out to eat and traveling.
Rimerman remembers when Sappington bid in the Rotary Club of Lake Oswego's annual Lobster Feed's auction and won a trip to a cottage in England. Rimerman, Carrie, Sappington and another friend traveled to the United Kingdom and "had the most amazing time in this cottage," Rimerman said. "It was absolute hoot and I think Joan really enjoyed that."
Carrie was determined to keep Sappington active, so within Sappington's last five years of life, Rimerman said Carrie signed them all up for an international cruise.
"Carrie had Joan up and running every morning," Rimerman said. "She (Joan) was so proud of everyone's accomplishments — small and large. She loved her people; she embraced people and whatever their dreams were and just celebrated. She celebrated her people and that was one thing that was so enticing for me to have her as my friend."
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