Chris and Jan Hopkins, lifelong professional artists, have a time-tested repartee, a give-and-take, ebb-and-flow timing in conversation that feels like being in a top-notch sitcom.
But you’re not.
You’re in the presence of two of Everett’s most celebrated artists. The husband-and-wife tandem of abundant talent have decades of work to their names. For their extensive catalog, they were named the Schack Art Center Artists of the Year in 2018.
“They’ve been really integral in the art scene here,” said Carie Collver, Schack’s gallery director.
Later, she added: “We’re just so happy that they live in Snohomish County. A lot of people don’t know that these gems are here in Snohomish County.”
An exhibit at the Everett art center celebrating the Hopkins’ myriad artwork, past and present — “2018 Artists of the Year: Jan & Chris Hopkins” — is showing concurrently with another exhibition, “Americans Interned: A Family Story of Social Injustice” about Jan’s family’s World War II-era experiences. This is the last week to see them.
Collver has known the couple for nearly three decades. She first met Jan when she came to the gallery — then the Arts Council of Snohomish County at the Monte Cristo Hotel — and sought to showcase dolls made from bull kelp. They were put on display and became popular, so much so that Collver considers herself lucky to have bought some then.
“Now I can’t afford her work,” she said.
The Hopkins’ interactions with each other are expressions of their personalities and, in some ways, their art styles. There are some of the obvious, perhaps cliché, differences in their works and studio spaces at their home near the city border with Mukilteo.
Jan keeps her work space tidy and organized, with bins for her natural materials: barks, fish skins, hides, rinds and yarns.
Chris prefers a managed chaos, with his paintings and illustrations stacked up and leaning against one another in his converted garage studio. But he knows where everything is, or at least most everything, if he’s asked about it or needs to retrieve it.
His career began in movie poster illustration. Some of his most notable contributions have been to the “Indiana Jones” series. The Los Angeles-Hollywood lifestyle wasn’t for him, and he said that became obvious when he jumped from a second-story balcony to avoid a producer.
For the past several years, his work has shifted to historical minority figures such as Native Americans, the Tuskegee Airmen and Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. His paintings are reminiscent of Norman Rockwell — as a matter of fact, he has the second-most works on display at the Museum of Illustration, only behind Rockwell himself.
“I view all of this, not as an activist, but more as a historian,” Chris said.
Recently, some fantasy, steampunk, almost cartoonish odds and ends have poured from his mind and onto canvas and paper. Adorning the walls of his studio are several framed works of creatures based on animals but given human features — legs, a mustache, a helmet. One is sailing on an ancient Egyptian-style ship from the ruins of Petra, here reimagined as though they were in a flooded and lush canyon.
“I can only get so serious for so long,” he said.
He treats his passion like a job, only the hours are longer. He starts early in the day with sketches, moves into the studio to work on projects, reconvenes with his wife for meals and evening TV, keeping his sketch pad at hand.
Decades into his career, creating still has a mystical hold on him.
“It’s all a real thrill,” he said.
Jan’s basketry and mixed-media pieces are far more subtle and require the viewer to pore over their meaning.
Earlier in her career, her basketry caught the attention of an avid art dealer.
“I always felt like I was lucky, because I was in the right place at the right time,” she said.
In recent years, her work moved away from basketry. The lessons learned in that medium resound in many of her current pieces. She weaves several natural materials together to create one whole artwork, such as a torso bust in honor of, and inspired by, Frida Kahlo, made from grapefruit and melon peel, hydrangea petals, leaves, bark, shell beads and linen.
One of Jan’s hand-stitched tapestries shows stick figures at the bottom. The figures represent people of Japanese ancestry being forced from their homes and livelihoods in America during World War II. A stick figure carries a violin case instead of a suitcase. That’s her mother, who opted to bring her cherished stringed instrument with her to the Minidoka Relocation Center in southern Idaho.
Many of Jan’s works take countless hours to create. She will think about each one’s meaning, then go about selecting the materials and a form.
“My work is really tedious,” she said, through laughter.
Their lives and careers started in the Los Angeles area, but they have lived in their Everett home since 1990.
For Chris, the environment of the Pacific Northwest has long spilled into his creativity. Some of his illustrations and paintings are directly inspired by what he sees during their hikes and foraging walks to gather some natural materials for Jan’s pieces. An oil painting of a tree trunk sitting in his studio and another of a downed tree over a stream were based on scenes from Whidbey Island.
The pace of life here suited them better, even as their children have grown up and moved to other parts of the country and state.
“It’s a calmer existence,” Jan said. “Luckily, we’re able to make a living here.”
If you go
What: Chris and Jan Hopkins, Schack Art Center’s Artists of the Year
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 1
Where: Schack Art Center, 2921 Hoyt Ave., Everett.
More: 425-259-5050 or www.schack.org
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the fall issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.