Tag Archives: Tokeland WA

Kindred Spirits-2019 Tokeland Studio Tour

An art colony is a place where creative people live and exchange ideas with one another. Think Big Sur or Laguna Beach in the 1950’s and ‘60’s for example These were places artists went to “get away from it all” and live the dream. Today Tokeland, Washington is such a place-a haven for a diverse group of artists drawn here by the beauty and isolation. The lack of development and distraction provides the kind of setting that gives birth to dreams and creative experiments of all kinds. Although the art forms are diverse they are connected by place.

Jeffro Uitto photo

Some make art with material gathered from the beach. Jeffro Uitto salvages wood from coastal waters and builds fantastic large scale sculptures from his Tokeland workshop. From here, his pieces are shipped to national art shows and displayed in museums worldwide.
Judith Altruda is a metalsmith who gathers sea glass and black stones from the beach, setting them in silver and gold. Sophia Anderson, a senior at Evergreen State College, paints portraits of her Shoalwater Bay tribal ancestors on wood reclaimed from houses that washed away at nearby North Cove.

Sophia Anderson

sea glass ring Judith Altruda

Many are inspired by the rustic beauty of the area. Oil painter Melody Gerber only has to look out her bay facing studio window to find inspiration. Joanne (Nelson) Barney photographs the places she has known all her life-from fishing boats to wide open tidelands. Marcy Merrill finds an endless source of inspiration for her photography in the flotsam that washes up on local beaches and river banks. She describes her collection as “Items found in local waters and quirky images thereof.”

Marcy Merrill photo

North Cove Glass blower Jeremy Bartheld says “the climate is very conducive to playing with fire. It doesn’t get too hot or too cold to work in the studio.”

Jeremy Bartheld photo by Marcy Merrill

Shoalwater Bay tribal artist Earl Davis draws on his heritage to carve replicas of bowls, house posts and other items made by his ancestors and now housed in museums.

Earl Davis photo by Marcy Merrill

Once a year these artists open their studios and invite other artists to gather in communal spaces and show their work. Mark your calendar for Saturday, May 4, from 10:00-4:00 Pick up a free map or follow the signage to each studio. After the tour, join the artists at a wine tasting and art auction to benefit Ocosta High School’s art program.

A Tale of Two Artists, Part One

(This is a continuing series about Shoalwater Bay artist Eugene Landry. To see the first post click here.)

Last week I visited two of Tokeland’s finest artists, Wally and Marlene Mann, at their studio on Willapa Bay. They were busy getting ready for Tokeland’s annual art tour.

Wally and Marlene Mann, Tokeland Washington

The Mann studio is a large airy space, made cozy on a rainy coastal morning by a fire crackling in the wood stove. The walls are covered with art and tools of the artist’s trade spill onto every surface. I sipped a cup of green tea and looked at Wally’s work in progress, a pastel of an old bakery in Nahcotta. Wally’s subject matter includes scenic old landmarks, some of them long gone now, like the old Coast Guard boathouse on Toke Point. Learning that Wally had lived in Tokeland as a young man, I asked if he’d known Gene Landry. The answer was yes.

The Mann Studio

Back in Time

Wally moved from Tacoma to Tokeland in 1958, when his parents bought a small grocery store that sold everything from candy to fishing supplies and also housed the post office. Wally and Gene were the same age, about twenty years old, when they met. Both had an interest in art. Wally had studied at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida after graduating from high school in 1955. Gene loved to draw and showed artistic promise as a high school student.

Eugene Landry (far left, front) advanced art class, 1955 Weatherwax High School, Aberdeen, WA

Wally recalled going to Bainbridge Island with Gene’s adoptive parents, Fred and Myrtle Landry to visit him in a care facility, in about 1958. Most likely Gene was there to receive physical therapy. He had been confined to a wheelchair after contracting spinal meningitis when he was a senior in high school. Wally remembered seeing Gene there with crutches and leg braces.

Less than a year after his visit with Gene, Wally moved to Seattle and enrolled at the Burnley School of Professional Art. Rated one of the best art schools in the nation (Seattle Times, Jan 16, 1959) Burnley offered fine and commercial art instruction. One day after class, Wally rode the ferry to Bainbridge Island and paid Gene a visit. Could this be how Gene got the idea to attend Burnley?

The Burnley School of Professional Art

Founded in 1946 by Edwin Burnley and his wife, Elfie, the school emphasized the fundamentals of art. The philosophy was “one can’t become a good commercial artist without also becoming a fine artist.” Students attended six hours a day, five days a week, receiving instruction from some of the best-known artists in Seattle, including some members of the Northwest Group.
The school was located in an old building on Pine and Broadway that had been the original home of Cornish College of the Arts. In 1982 the school was sold and renamed the Seattle Art Institute.

By the early 1960s, Gene’s family moved to Seattle and his father got a job at Boeing. Gene most likely started classes at Burnley in 1961. His cousin, Kenneth Baker remembered carrying Gene up a flight of stairs to reach the second-floor classroom as there was no elevator. Another student carried Gene’s chair.

1959 The Burnley School of Professional Art

Art School Confidential

Wally Mann was a student at Burnley in 1959. I asked him about that experience.
“They had some very good instructors, folks that were pretty well known around town then. It wasn’t a real easy place. The instructors pressed you pretty good. I remember one gent was a design instructor. He’d come in once a week and critique our work. We’d line it up against the wall and then he’d walk along and make you uncomfortable.” he chuckled. “He was pretty strict with what he did. There was another guy who ran the life drawing class. William Cumming. He went on to be pretty prominent in Seattle art.”

Cumming, dubbed “The Wayward One”, was a teacher at Burnley when Gene was a student there, and undoubtedly an influence.

In a guest column for the Seattle Times (October 10, 1965) titled Art Schools need Fundamentals, Cumming chastised the Seattle School district’s high school art curriculum for not teaching fundamental skills adding that “creativity cannot be taught”.

“Underlying all the disciplines is the simple fact that art is a special way of seeing which involves much more than looking.”

Nude studies by Eugene Landry, photo by Marcy Merrill

“It is through years of constant seeing like this that the artist develops a unique manner which the world sees as his style.”William Cumming

To be continued

Making Contact

Last week I got a phone call in response to the article about Eugene Landry. (see previous post). The caller said he was sitting in his car at Swanson’s. He’d been reading the newspaper while his wife shopped for groceries, and found my story.

“I’m the guy who built Gene’s dome.” His voice was soft and had a hint of a smile.

This was the second phone call I’d received since the story was published six weeks ago. Since then I’d been working on a timeline of Gene’s life, and had a lot of blank spaces to fill. The story I wrote mentioned the geodesic dome and small beach front cabin where Gene once lived and made his art.

Although many remembered it, so far I’d not been able to turn up any photographs of the dome, which had been razed in 1998 to make room for casino parking. Today a gas station sits on the site. I talked to people to get a history of the dome, but after forty years, the facts were hazy. I heard the dome was put up during the summer of 1978, possibly by a hippie who drove a Rolls Royce…or was it a Citroen? or was it someone else entirely? Maybe it was the guy with the great danes… Someone said a couple of guys from Canada might have put it together from a kit and then moved on. And so it went. I never expected to talk to the actual builder of the dome, figuring he was either a fugitive, dead or just plain untraceable.

And suddenly this sweet guy from the nearby town of Cosmopolis was on the phone, with a story to tell.

collection of Don Norkowski

A Dome Primer
Buckminster Fuller popularized the geodesic dome while teaching at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, in the late 1940’s. Fuller believed human societies would soon rely mainly on renewable sources of energy, such as solar- and wind-derived electricity. He hoped for an age of “omni-successful education and sustenance of all humanity.” The dome design embodied Fuller’s personal worldview of Less is More. Even the U.S. government recognized the usefulness of the structure, and hired Fuller’s firm Geodesics, Inc. to make small domes for the Marines. During the 1960’s the dome became synonymous with the counter culture. Drop City AKA “the first rural hippie commune” formed in 1965 in Southern Colorado. Foraging for sheet metal from junk cars and dumps, the artist/residents created a series of domes that served as housing and communal gathering spaces. For a short video clip from a BBC documentary, click here
Over the years Gene had two domes built on the Rez. Each had a wooden ramp to accommodate his wheelchair and were used as studio space. One was on the hill behind the smoke shop,the other was on the edge of the bay. Obviously the dome design was important to him. Was it the philosophy? The lifestyle? I had to learn more.

Meanwhile, Back in Cosmopolis
One week later, I drove through a quiet neighborhood in Cosmopolis, an old logging town, looking for the home of Don Norkowski. Following his directions I turned off off Highway 101 and looked for “the house surrounded by rhododendron bushes”. A sandy haired man wearing a grey blazer over a colorful shirt and blue jeans greeted me at the door. He reminded me of a high school band teacher, he had that air of patience and good natured smile. Don invited me inside and introduced me to his wife.
In the living room a box of photos and old newspaper clippings sat on the couch, along with two original pieces of Gene’s art. Like something out of a dream, he handed me a photo of Gene’s dome. At last-proof that it really existed!

collection Don Norkowski

“I was an Infamous North River Hippie”

While a student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, Don took a class called Space, Time and Form. He learned how to build geodesic domes from a book by Lloyd Kahn called Domebook.

“I would read Buckminster Fuller-he was the guru of domes. I just got the urge to build one. I’d spent too much time in acedamia and not doing enough with my hands. Once I got into it I never left. I went blue collar.” He shows me a photo of a dome at the corner of Smith and Butte creek.”This was my hippie place,” he smiles. “I was an infamous North River Hippie.”

Don was 22 years old when he dropped out of Evergreen and went into the dome building business, setting up shop in the home of a friend on Cedar Street near the river, where he built a greenhouse. And then, “Gene showed up one day. He heard about me and he looked at this (the greenhouse) and he said ‘can you build me one?'”

Gene hired Don to build his dome. Back then, in 1976, the daily wage was five dollars an hour. Don recycled old growth 2x4s, planing and oiling the surface, to build the frame. They used beach-salvaged Alaskan cedar to make the girders. “It smelled like perfume when you cut into it.” he said, with a nostalgic tone of voice.

photo collection of Don Norkowski

A Dome for All Seasons

Over the course of a summer a dome was built and a friendship made between Don and Gene. He visited after the job was completed, showing me a photo of how Gene kept it as an art studio. It was sparsely furnished inside, with a wood stove and simple lighting. I ask Don why he thought Gene liked domes.
“The dome had an ambiance about it. You always found yourself looking up, staring at the patterns..and it would definitely help with inspiration, especially with a window looking out over the bay.”

photo collection of Don Norkowski

After The Dome
After we finished talking about building the dome, Don showed me two pieces of Gene’s art he bought during that time period. One was a highly detailed charcoal drawing of a boat at the docks. Don said “I liked his art. But we were poor hippies. I had a sister in law, she was older than me, she grew up in a different generation. She never said anything but I could tell she didn’t like me…being a hippie. There was a short period of time where my brother and I exchanged gifts at Christmas. So I decided to take a chance. I bought the picture from Gene. I remember the price, $75. That was two days wages. I gave it to my sister in law and she loved it. Had it professionally framed. And I got treated a little nicer since then.”
Don’s brother gave the drawing back to him after his sister in law passed away in 2001.

Fond Farewell

As the time came for me to leave, I asked Don how he would sum up his time with Gene. He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts and find the right words.
“He always had a smile, was always positive…there was never any negativity or reaction to his plight. I know that. That’s one thing I definitely came away with.”

photo courtesy of Don Norkowski