Heritage art with heart
Visitors to the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg are enjoying the artwork of Dee Vadnais, a resident of Deer Island, a small community just north from Columbia City.
The exhibit, "Dee Vadnais: Her Family Story in the Oregon Landscape," runs through Jan. 28 in the arts center's Parrish Gallery.
The exhibit "presents the artwork of Vadnais, contextualized in the story of her families six generations in Oregon, and the creative communities inspiring her art," according to the CCC website, which adds the exhibition celebrates a sampling of Oregon's creative communities, rural history and cultural heritage through the Vadnais' family explorations.
Vadnais described the display in her own words.
"I'm a landscape painter, so we're using that as a basis to talk about artists who live in Oregon, not just me," she said. "The exhibit features my work, but it's about artists who live in various parts of Oregon, especially rural Oregon, that are carrying on a tradition of culture that exists in their families."
Vadnais, born in Portland and moved to Columbia County in the early 1970s, discovered a love of art early in her life.
"That's part of the story that I try to tell," she said. "My parents introduced me to art. They were interested in art. My parents were architects. They had a community of friends who were artists that were in my life as I was growing up. Those people were always important to me. I sort of modeled myself after many of them. They are also represented in the show.
"One of the things that we did with the show was to display work from our family's private collections, of artists that we collect. A lot of those people were the people that influenced me growing up."
Vadnais said she is pleased to have her work exhibited in Newberg. Her son, Joe, a folk musician, performed at an artists' reception at the cultural center as well.
"We've worked for months trying to gather material and figure out a way to present it coherently to give this idea across that people have artistic cultural heritage, represented by lifestyles within the state and heritage from homesteading on up," Vadnais said. "It was extremely challenging for us to all work together and kind of pull it together."
The curator of the project, Owen Premore, also gave his take on Vadnais' work.
"I think some of the love of Oregon comes from her exploration of Oregon as an artist," he said. "When she's out exploring the Oregon landscape, she's thinking of the place changing, environmental change, herself changing as an artist in response to places she has visited many times."
Premore, co-founder and director of Art in Oregon, talked about the importance of the exhibit as well.
"The important part for us for Art in Oregon is creativity in the family and showing the importance of having creative encouragement within the family," he said. "That was key to us for this."
The next step was reaching out to the Newberg arts center.
"We submitted a proposal to the cultural center. We were trying to find a place to post this exhibition," he said, noting he was very appreciative of the center's open-mindedness.
Premore talked about Vadnais' contribution to the arts community.
"Dee has been involved with the arts in various different ways," he said, noting that Vadnais has served on the Columbia County Cultural Coalition, a coalition that supports local heritage, art, and humanities. "We saw this as a great opportunity to (say), 'Hey Oregon, here's Dee.'"
"I think it was Owen's concept to try to create a context to present art within," Vadnais said. "His idea was 'let's take an artist and show their context,' so you see that it comes out of a background, a history that is personal in terms of the community I live in — in my life — but also that there's this heritage represented."
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