Walk into Tumalo Art Co., in the heart of the Old Mill District, any day of the week and you will be greeted by an artist. There may be classical, jazz, native American flute or reggae music playing and an easel might be propped in the small space by the desk. An animated, impromptu critique about a new painting that has just been brought in might be going on. This is an art collective—it’s professional but relaxed. It’s about art and relationship, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which comes first.
The idea for creating an artist-driven gallery sprouted from a deeply felt need for artists, who often are isolated, to work together to create and enhance their visibility and sell their art. “As an artist, I work alone, so it’s especially important to be connected to an art community, and this particular group has become like family to me,” says founding member Tracy Leagjeld.
Tumalo Art Co. will celebrate their tenth anniversary with a Retrospective show opening May 4, from 5-9pm, featuring past and current artists. The gallery started 10 years ago at Tumalo Junction, moved to downtown Bend and then to the Old Mill District. Over the years many Central Oregon artists have displayed their creations at this thriving gallery of working artists.
When the gallery first opened in Tumalo, founder Marta Batha brought the artists from her art mentoring group into her vision of pairing fine art with interior décor. When Batha moved to another venture, Tracy Leagjeld and Susan Luckey Higdon stepped-up as proprietors and moved the gallery to downtown Bend. They restructured and doubled the number of gallery artists.
“I believed in the dream of a gallery consisting of independent artists,” says Higdon. “Tracy and I knew it would be a lot of work but we just couldn’t let the gallery end. When we signed the lease for the space on Greenwood it was scary, but the group worked together and helped remodel the space and got it up and running. Everyone does their part with very little oversight. It just works.” Higdon and Leagjeld moved the gallery to its present location across the street from Lahaina Gallery in the Old Mill District three years ago in June. Again, each member in the group painted and cleaned and it all come together.
Though all members are asked to weigh-in on important decisions, the collective model at Tumalo Art Co. is different in that there is an owner, who acts as the glue and holds the overall perspective of the gallery. As with all collectives, the artists pay dues and help with day-to-day operations in exchange for having a beautiful place to display their work. “I wouldn’t say we are typical sales people,” Higdon says, “but our customers enjoy meeting and talking to the artists and hearing about the art directly from the creators.”
Each member artist in the group is guaranteed a minimum amount of space each month, with their art displayed in such a way that it shows their work as a body. They are able to show what they chose within the space parameters. This allows artists to explore their own creativity. To a particular artist it may be more important to exhibit work that is not as commercially successful, but fulfils their goal to stretch their artistic boundaries. Tumalo Art Co. participates in the First Friday Gallery Walk with a monthly opening of rotating shows, giving each artist a yearly exhibit. For the most part art the whole gallery is rearranged each month, refreshing the look.
“This group is remarkable,” says photographer Bruce Jackson, “fifteen very different personalities have come together with a common goal. Each artist contributes to create an atmosphere of support and mutual respect. Rarely enamored with group dynamics, this has been a journey that has changed my beliefs about what is possible. A true testament to the power of art, and those who live it,” Jackson says.
The artists at Tumalo Art Co. are some of the most recognized names in the region for the arts. Many have sold their work nationally and even internationally, and all are professional artists who continually expand the quality and scope of their artwork. They interact with art lovers from all over the world, as well as people young and old to whom visiting an art gallery might be intimidating. “We consider ourselves to be ambassadors for the arts and love talking about it with our visitors and making them comfortable. Sales are important, but helping people have a good experience in a gallery is also our goal,” says Marty Stewart.
“We critique, support, and inspire each other,” says Annie Ferder. “In other words, friends who can talk my kind of talk.” And, in a real-life twist, Mary Marquiss adds “I worked at Higdon’s fathers restaurant, the Luckey Woodsman, while putting myself through college at the University of Oregon. It was like family to me then and here I am all of these years later—working with his daughter. She has created the same sense of family in this business,” says Mary Marquiss.
Tumalo Art Co. now has 15 member artists and also shows art by several ceramicists, jewelers and 2D artists. Current Member artists are: Nancy Becker, Paul Alan Bennett, Helen Brown, Janice Druian, Annie Ferder, Dorothy Freudenberg, Susan Luckey Higdon, Alisa Huntley, Bruce Jackson, David Kinker, Tracy Leagjeld, Danae Bennett-Miller, Mary Marquiss, Carla Spence and Marty Stewart. Marlene Alexander, Amber Bremmer, Judy Clinton, Nancy Dasen, Aimee Herring, Barbara Hudin, Donna Lutzky, Lyn Magnuson, Vicki Shuck, Chris Keylock Williams and Tom Willing comprise the other artists showing.
Along with all current gallery artists, May’s Retrospective show will include art from: Marta Batha, Pam Jersey Bird, Kim Chavez, Janet Guiley, Deanna Hansen, Cheri Lee Helfenstein, Judy Hoiness, Ingrid Lustig, Karen Piedmont, Barbara Speck, Katherine Taylor and Gary Vincent.
“I have been a member of Tumalo Art Co. for only two years out of its ten-year history,” says Helen Brown,” but I’m proud to be a part of such a successful, professional art gallery. The artists all have diverse interests, and work in very different mediums and styles, yet when combined we seem to complement each other. With continued help from our patrons and the Central Oregon community, we hope to be around another ten years.”
Tumalo Art Co. is located at 450 SW Powerhouse Dr. # 407, Bend, Oregon and is open 7 days a week. www.tumaloartco.com; 541-385-9144