Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Visit to Index

I had a job this past weekend as details person for a retreat at Camp Huston, a camp/conference center in Gold Bar, WA. It's located off hiway 2 as you head up towards Stephen's Pass. The job was good. I was assisting the Ethnic Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia at a retreat. The setting would have made just about any job okay with me, there in the foothills of the Cascades, up the hill from the Skykomish River, I believe it was. I got plenty of exercise walking up and down from the lower camp to the upper camp, the highlite of those up and downhill hikes being the pleasure of hearing the river's song each time I walked back down to the lower camp from the upper camp.

I rode to and from the retreat with a woman from my church and her grandson. On the way back, we'd planned to take something of a scenic route, she asked if I'd be interested in going a little further east on Hiway 2 to Index, WA. I was absolutely up for that little excursion and so we went.

As my friend, her sleeping grandson and I drove through this teeny town she asked if I'd like to stop at the little history museum. I said "yes". We parked and she stayed in the van with her grandson while I popped into the museum and encountered a volunteer who knew his Index history and knew how to share it in a way that was both interesting and informative. I would have happily stayed longer asking him questions and learning more history but was concerned that my friend would be antsy to get rolling. So I went outside and found that she now appeared to be napping as well and I decided to pop into the little art gallery next door.

For some reason I didn't expect there to be anyone inside and I certainly didn't expect to find someone in the act of creating. But that was exactly what I found: a man who, after spending years making and selling very popular birdhouses, had switched to painting and drawing. I stepped into this little building and was startled when I saw him sitting, legs folded up in front of him on his little folding chair painting away, creating the most beautiful picture of what was out the door and across the river from us.

I tend to be very intimidated by artists and art museums, but this man and the little building containing him, his works and those of several other local artists was anything but. In those moments that we spoke he didn't for a second fit the "moody unapproachable artist" image that I had in my mind. He was kind and open and only too happy to talk with me about his work and share a bit about how he came to be doing what he was doing.

The encounter really impacted me. Those few minutes of just he and I talking about his paintings, the recent successful Index Art Fair, his aversion to computers and the very off-the-grid way he was living his life were not "a dime a dozen" moments. He shared openly and didn't seem to feel intruded upon by my interest and questions. We talked, as he continued to paint, and as I walked around a bit and explored the other room and other art. His work was the most striking and the most beautiful, to this beholder, and I thought how I'd love to find a way to spread the word around a bit about what beautiful things he was creating. His paintings have an impressionist feel to them and his inspirations for his creations are his immediate surroundings of the landscapes both large and small, of Index. He said that at one point during the winter he ran out of paint and canvas so started doing charcoal drawings. They are not impressionistic, but more realistic, of faces of some of the people of Index, and also very beautiful.

I guess I just fell in love with his art right then and there. Some moments of magic on an August Sunday afternoon. What a blessing they were and, in my recollecting, will continue to be.