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Touring the arts

Portland Open Studios Tour gives the public a chance to visit artists where they work
by: JONATHAN HOUSE, Virginia Leonnig’s Beaverton studio will be a lot busier this weekend when hundreds of people journey through it.

What four-day art tour gives the public a chance to check out 95 artists and their studios, all for less than $2 per person per day?

The answer is the Portland Open Studios Tour, which kicks off this Saturday and Sunday and picks up again on Oct. 21 and 22. Studios will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, giving people ample opportunity to visit a number of different artists in their natural habitats.

Bonnie Meltzer has been involved with the tour since 2000, first opening her studio as a participant and now holding additional responsibilities as a member of the board in charge of publicity and web maintenance. She said throughout her years on the tour she has had a great time talking with all the art lovers, as well as getting to know more about what people think of her work.

'Portland Open studios is probably one of the most interesting things I've been a part of,' she said. 'On all levels, it's very rewarding.'

The first weekend of the tour will feature artists from the Westside, such as those living in Beaverton, Aloha and Tualatin; the following weekend will showcase artists from Portland's Eastside.

Beaverton resident Virginia Leonnig, who primarily does paintings of Pacific Northwest nature, is entering her third year on the tour. While she is something of a veteran now, Leonnig said her first year of letting people come through her studio was very nerve-wracking.

'It really was sort of a scary experience to have the public come through and view your work, and it just turned out to be wonderful,' she said. 'It was very validating as an artist and definitely made you feel a part of the community. Since it is my third year, I'm really looking forward to it, and I've probably learned as much as the people coming through my studio have.

'It is really very rewarding, and I have a strong feeling of commitment to the community as an artist. I think it's important for artists to share what they have with the community.'

Buck Braden knows how it feels to be a rookie on the tour, as this is the first time he has opened his Tualatin studio for the public's perusal. He said in order to prepare for visitors he is putting up more artwork and tidying up, as well as trying to decide what he's going to be painting when people stop by.

'You clean things up, you straighten things up and you try to make it inviting for folks. It's going to be great. I'm looking forward to it, and hopefully I'll get a good turnout,' Braden said. 'I think it's a great opportunity for folks to get out and see what is going on in the art community here.'

The Portland Open Studios Tour began in 1999, when a handful of artists agreed to try an idea that Director Emeritus Kitty Wallis brought from her former home of Santa Cruz, Calif. Since that time the tour has grown, with enough room now to accept 96 artists.

Meltzer said there are only 95 stops on this year's tour because an artist dropped out too late to be replaced, but she still expects people will be able to find something out there that fits their interests. She also said people who are less experienced with art should still be able to enjoy themselves.

'We also want to be welcoming to those that aren't quite sure what art is about,' Meltzer said.

The whole point of the tour is to give the public a chance to check out a variety of artists at work in their own studios, making jewelry, pottery, sculpture, paintings, fabrics, glass, photography, prints and more. Visitors purchase a tour guide for $15, which contains two tickets to both weekends of the tour, a map of all the locations of the studios and an entry form for those who bike to the studios to win a bike painted by the artist of their choosing. The tour guide also serves as a 2007 calendar, with the contact information and works of six artists on each page.

Guides are available at Art Media, New Seasons, Powell's and Weir's Cyclery, as well as a several other places listed on www.portlandopenstudios.com.

While each studio will be as unique as the person who works in it, Meltzer said artists are always ready to talk about their work and answer any questions visitors have.

'What they can expect is the artists who enter are friendly, they want to tell you about their work. They like people,' she said. 'People should expect an adventure, should expect that each environment will be different.'

As one of the more unique art forms on the tour, Aloha's Joe Pogan is used to getting questions about his work. The No. 1 question he is asked is where he gets all the materials he uses to make his found metal animal sculptures, which are constructed out of old nuts, bolts, watches sprockets, keys and other metal bits.

Visitors, he said, 'get to see my shop full of junk. They always seem to enjoy how much stuff I have. The tour, he added, 'is just a nice opportunity. I can show more of my work that way. Here they can see everything that I have made or have on hand.'

He also said he likes not having to make the trek to the different locations that he does when he participates in other art shows.

'I really do enjoy this one,' Pogan said. 'It's fun just to stay at home and show them how I do it, and I don't have to do the traveling.'

Something Leonnig is planning on doing this year that is a little different is to have a large canvas and paints set up so all visitors can help create a large abstract painting. She also said she always sets out materials for children to do artwork, and she loves to see the younger crowd experiencing art in a way they may have never been able to.

'I just think it's a wonderful educational experience for families to come and see artists where they work,' she said

Last year Leonnig said she had about 250 people come to her studio, and by the time Sunday night rolled around she had lost her voice. But in the end it was all worth it.

'My head is so swollen at the end with compliments that it's hard to fit out the front door,' she said. 'And that's a good feeling.'