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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

River Artist Studio Tour helps fill void left by Inland Crafts

Above: Stone carver Sam Bates uses hand-held tools to create incised and bas relief carvings in fine-grained hard stone, which he gathers from all over North America. His work includes wall pieces, small carvings and outdoor sculptures. At top: Collista Bejjani creates functional and decorative pottery. “I love the process,” she wrote, “finding the materials, coming up with an idea, molding and manipulating the clay and then finally giving it up to the kiln gods to either be smiled upon or destroyed.”

In the unsteady business of fine arts and crafts, the Little Spokane River Artist Studio Tour strives for balance.

Saturday’s self-guided tour will span the studios of five artists who live and work near the river. Each will display their own work and host several guest artists.

In inviting participants, artist Hulda Bridgeman said, she and other organizers sought a mix of work, bringing together high-quality pieces at a range of prices.

They sought artists from home and afar, providing a venue for Spokane artists – including photographer Gay Waldman and others well known to local patrons – but also others from the Northwest.

They sought artists working in a variety of media – oil paint, photography, pottery, jewelry. Bridgeman and her husband, Ken, make clothing from hand-dyed and digitally printed silks. Lamp maker Will Richards creates shades using epoxy glass cloth with carbon fiber and other materials, matching them with ceramic bases. Two doll makers will show their work: Patti Osebold uses handmade paper to outfit Japanese figures she sculpts from clay, and Wendy Zupan Bailey draws partly on children’s books and fairy tales to create her fanciful pieces.

In all, 29 artists will show their work in a venue – the river valley – that is an attraction in its own right, Bridgeman said. While some artists will show their work inside the studios, others will set up outdoors amid the fall colors in the artists’ gardens. The studios’ proximity creates an “intimate scale” for the tour, which can be biked or driven, she said.

The annual tour has grown since it started in 2008 with about a dozen artists, but organizers are likely to keep it on the small side, said Sheila Evans, another artist and organizer.

The tour is self-limiting by definition – only so many artists live near one another along the Little Spokane. But, also, its small scale affords customers the time and space to make connections with the work and the artists, Evans said.

Considerations like that – what engages customers, and what keeps them coming back? – are important to an art event’s long-term success, the organizers said.

The river tour may be helping to fill a gap left when the Inland Crafts show folded after last November’s event, its 29th year, Evans said. Organizers of that popular show cited the economy’s effect on sales among reasons to end it. Among lost venues for fine artists, Evans also pointed to the 2009 closure of the Lorinda Knight Gallery in downtown Spokane when Knight retired.

The Bridgemans spend much of the year traveling to high-end, juried shows elsewhere in the U.S. Hulda Bridgeman said she’s seen peers quit exhibiting because they couldn’t make it financially.

“It’s hit everybody, the economy,” Bridgeman said. “The sales are not like they used to be in the ’90s, the good old days.”

It’s not that people are less interested in self-expression, she said. They’re doing it differently, using their smartphones and social media, for example, to make virtual marks on the world.

“Crafts are individual and expressive, too,” she said.