Note: this article first appeared in the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune.

You might have noticed a new feature spring up in Oroville, on the corner of 14th Avenue and Main Street – a towering wood sculpture, bearing a wooden flag inscribed with “49° Artists.”

The piece was installed Saturday as part of the first in a summer series of art-gallery events put on by 49° North Artists (note: in full disclosure, the author is a member of 49° North Artists, and is working on the gallery series described here).

Saturday’s gallery brought the fine arts to center stage on Main Street, in a celebration of local talent. The gallery series is called “Art Happens!” – and Karen Beaudette, Program Director of the series, is more than pleased with the results so far. “We had 65 visitors come in on Saturday,” Beaudette says, “which exceeded our goals for this first show. From talking to them, it seemed like the majority had come in from Canada. That was also a great sign of success, as one of our primary goals is to create more arts-based tourism opportunities on Oroville’s Main Street for our northern neighbors to enjoy.”

The primary displays featured five artists from Okanogan County – Dan Hulphers, Justin Haug, Jim Weaver, Barbara Conner-Reed, and Tina Tharp.

Hulphers, whose work was described in this column last week, showcased an array of wood sculptures, including the towering piece outside of the gallery. Justin Haug, a photographer specializing in nature photography, had a variety of prints on display featuring breathtaking shots of the Okanogan landscape and wildlife. Some of his photographs were printed directly onto aluminum backing, which lent an enchanting glowing sheen to his pictures. Jim Weaver is a painter specializing in watercolor, whose work explores scenes of rural life. His vivid watercolors and light-filled scenes create a dreamy tone in his paintings, drawing the viewer in like the recollection of a well-loved memory. Barbara Conner-Reed presented an array of semi-abstract paintings, including a series of depictions of aquatic life in which her abstracted coloring created a surreal depiction of movement and the beauty-in-chaos of wildlife. Tina Tharp displayed a series of multimedia paintings, including several engrossing depictions of quiet winter scenes. Some of her pieces combined sculpture with paintings, in a dynamic composition.

The gallery took place in the old bank building at the corner of 14th Avenue and Main Street. After its transformation, the space seemed perfectly designed for an art gallery – soaring ceilings, ample natural lighting, and a huge central room to comfortably house dozens of paintings and sculptures. Throughout the day, a steady stream of attendees came to enjoy the talent on display – and enjoy the company of fellow artists and art-lovers. “One of the things that really struck me about the experience was the energy in the room,” Beaudette says. “Our artists were having a great time both with one another and with the gallery patrons. A lot of our visitors had such a wonderful time that they stayed with us for awhile, sometimes an hour or more.”

Throughout the day, those attendees had the opportunity to discuss the artwork with the artists themselves, as four out of five artists were able to be present at the show for at least part of the day. “Being able to talk right there with the artists, about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, really elevates the viewing experience,” Beaudette notes.

The success of the first Art Happens! gallery was truly a communal victory, Beaudette emphasizes. “There was a lot of community involvement to get this gallery series going,” she says. “Beyond the artists, there was a small army of volunteers and supporters helping make this happen.”

Initially, Beaudette planned for a series of five one-day showcases throughout the summer, but the overwhelmingly positive response is already adding additional dates to the calendar. “We weren’t planning this originally,” Beaudette notes, “but based on the enthusiastic suggestions of some of our guests as well as our artists, we’re going to hold an encore event of this first gallery this coming Saturday. So anyone who missed the first of our pop-up gallery series will get another shot on July 8th, from 10am to 4pm.”