Artists work to bring smiles to Oso

OSO — For a time after the Oso mudslide that killed 43 people in March, Jude Galbraith wondered if she should cancel a summer gathering of regional artists in the Stillaguamish Valley.

There had been so much heartache along the stretch of highway between Arlington and Darrington.

After consulting with other artists from the Northwest Pastel Society, she realized the show should go on.

And, for parts of five days ending Sunday afternoon, it did just that.

“We have had so much sadness with the slide,” said Galbraith of Darrington. “I just wanted to bring something back to the community that makes us smile. The idea is to let people know about all the beautiful qualities of this area.”

It was a BYOF (Bring Your Own Frame) event with the artists’ best works made part of an exhibition at the entrance to the Rhodes River Ranch restaurant in Oso.

In a sense, it was another tiny step toward renewal, a reminder that the region can be defined by something more than tragedy.

Nine artists from the pastel society drove through the giant cavity straddling Highway 530 where a Steelhead Haven neighborhood was destroyed. They sought out the mountains, forests and rivers, boulders, pastures and tree-lined trails that have attracted so many others to rural north-central Snohomish County.

For Claire “Pinky” Ridlon, of Woodinville, there was inspiration in the aqua hue of a stretch of water along the sun-soaked Sauk River.

“There is no green in the pastels that matches the green of the trees,” she said. “They can’t duplicate it.”

Sue Swapp of Anacortes could make good use of her turquoise to capture the water near where the Sauk and White Chuck rivers meet.

The opportunity to share a passion for pastels and to paint outdoors is powerful, she said.

“When you are in a group like this, you have the motivation to get in and do it,” she said. “You talk about each artist’s work. If people don’t do it, they really don’t understand everything that goes into it.”

The landscape around Oso and Darrington is Galbraith’s chameleon companion, ever-changing color.

She has been able to study it in different seasons, using pigments to capture fleeting moments and its nuanced lighting. In one of her works, she used an orange pastel to highlight the fluorescent glow of sun reflecting off clouds and snow on Whitehorse Mountain.

For all she has seen in the community that is her back yard, there is much more to explore.

“I am a snooper,” she said. “I know all the back roads. I’ll be driving around and wondering, ‘Where does that go.’?”

Inevitably, that curiosity to find another vantage point lures her on past new bends in the road.

Last week, Galbraith shared some of her favorite spots with her fellow pastelists. They came prepared with brimmed hats, sun screen and bug spray to go with their easels, powdery pigments and other tools of the trade.

There is a kinship to their society with members living across Washington and Oregon.

“It’s a connection with other people trying to do the creative process,” said Cinda Sue Dow, of Friday Harbor.

The former bookkeeper who once lived in Snohomish welcomes the critiques from her colleagues, but also their perspectives. Each can look at the same scene and interpret it differently.

“Pastel is kind of a misunderstood medium. We understand it and we love it,” she said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446;

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