Amanda Smith strongly believes that many people's creative talents often lie dormant until the right combination of opportunity and encouragement draws it out of them.
In teaching art to intellectually and developmentally challenged adults — through the Advocates for Life Skills and Opportunities (ALSO) program at Infusion Gallery in downtown Troutdale — she sees up close how a little gentle guidance and mentoring opens up worlds of inspiration and confidence in her clients.
"What inspires me is seeing when (drawing and painting) starts to make sense to them and they see their own capabilities," Smith says. "A lot of times students have no clue what they're capable of creating. They haven't had that experience, so it's like an awakening to them in many respects."
Those who visit the First Friday Art Walk this afternoon and evening along the Historic Columbia River Highway will see for themselves what Infusion Gallery's students and other featured artists create. The gallery is among the downtown Troutdale businesses such as Columbia River Gallery, Caswell Gallery and the Troutdale Art Center that lend the monthly event its visually defining flair while showcasing the talents — both fledgling and well-developed — of locally based artists.
Launched 15 springs ago by Columbia River Gallery owner Donna Erwin, Troutdale's First Friday highlights not just painters and sculptors, but also musicians, craftspeople and a bevy of boutiques, gift shops, restaurants and pubs that line Troutdale's original "main drag."
Erwin, an international award-winning frame designer, envisioned First Friday as an event to draw visitors into galleries and other businesses. She admits the event takes on a more festive air when spring weather moves things outside.
"When it's nice enough, artists can set up on the sidewalk out front," she says. "We get a lot more foot traffic."
The concentrated yet eclectic nature of Troutdale's original business district lends itself particularly well to such a community-based event, she observes.
"It's a nice mixture of businesses. It's a quaint downtown. And in every case, you're dealing directly with the owners. It's a family/community thing.
"And there is a lot of art in town," she adds. "For a town our size, we have a lot of high-quality artists and galleries."
Erwin opened Columbia River Gallery 19 years ago in the space above her current storefront facing the Union Pacific railroad tracks. In 2012, she moved her business below street level to accommodate Infusion Gallery upstairs. She donates her time and talents to help Infusion, its students and Art Director Parris Foley.
Foley, who left Erwin's gallery to start the program for developmentally challenged artists through ALSO, says Erwin's help is typical of the community collaboration in downtown Troutdale.
"She's amazing," Foley says. "She donates old frames to us and helps us present our work. She does it all out of love. Rarely do I have to pay her for something. I couldn't do it without her."
The artists Foley mentors at Infusion look forward to every First Friday event, which provides them with a golden opportunity to present as well as sell their work. Students make 70 percent of profit from the sale price of each piece, with the remainder going to keep Infusion and ALSO running smoothly.
"It's really empowering to them," Foley says of the students. "It helps them feel a freedom of expression and makes them feel they are the same as everybody else."
Even though Mike Kordowski, this Friday's featured artist, has yet to title his latest piece depicting a mountainous, big-sky landscape, the 37-year-old Troutdale resident looks forward to sharing his creations.
"I really am," he says. "I've got to make a few changes here and there. This is my first time doing (First Friday)."
Amanda Smith, who worked with Kordowski on a recent afternoon with volunteer artist Saundra Kitzmiller's help, says the regular instruction and First Friday showcase allow the students to realize their capabilities.
"It's one thing for us to tell them what they can do," she says. "It's another for them to see first-hand, to see it themselves."
Kitzmiller, whose background in speech and hearing therapy for children morphed into working with developmentally challenged adults, agrees.
"They're teaching me much more than I'm teaching them," she says.
Take a walk downtown
Downtown Troutdale's First Friday Art Walk for June kicks off at 4 p.m. this afternoon along Historic Columbia River Highway in downtown Troutdale east of 257th Avenue. Here is a list of featured businesses, events and artists. Addresses are in parentheses.
• Ye Olde Pub (202 West): Open to minors until 10 p.m. Happy Hour 3-6 p.m. and 10-closing. Easy listening music by Kaleo
• Troutini (101 West): Happy Hour 4-6 p.m., open until 10 p.m.
• Bandits Bar & Grill (108 East): Happy Hour 3-10 p.m.
• Ristorante Di Pompello (177 East): "THE SOUNDS OF SINATRA" by Kevin Minkoff, 8 p.m.
• Caswell Gallery (253 East): Phelps Creek Wine Tasting; J M Broderick — acrylic paintings
• Ali Peret Designs (253 East): 10-20 percent off all pearl jewelry including necklaces. Enjoy wine tasting and appetizers while browsing jewelry by Emily Start, Nancy Myers and many other artists work at Caswell Gallery.
• Taste of Village (302 East): Chinese/Mandarin cuisine, Happy Hour 4-6 p.m.
• Columbia River Gallery (303 East, downstairs): Newly framed artwork starting at $35; Motown Flashback with musician Ricky Hopson
v Infusion Gallery (305 East): Mike Kordowski, Soaring Hearts Artist; Lazy Acoustic Swing by Swingali; sign up for art classes with local artist Doug Hunt; Karen Rhein, From the Heart beaded jewelry
• Celebrate Me Home (319 East): Wine tasting and hors d'oeurves; Vicky Ogden, "Head Hugs" crocheted Items; Rebecca Leonard, cork art.
• Nostalgia Antiques & Collectables (345 East): Romantic classical guitar by Gyorgy Brezovay; oil paintings.
• Calcagno Cellars (336 East): Troutdale's newest winery. $12 wine tasting 3-7 p.m. featuring new release, 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon/Melbec blend.
• Firwood Design Group (359 East): Art for sale by Columbia River Gallery, featuring award-winning framing of Donna Erwin; Amy Machesic, Rainshine Studio Stained Glass; Betsy Soifer, recycled art to make you smile.
• Troutdale Art Center (903 East): Alison Brown, Rip Caswell, Marlena Nielsen (sculpture); Matt Eaton, Heather Wells (photography); Diane Castillo-White (pottery); Loree Harrell (The Mirror Project); Elise Bush — (Natural Science Illustrator); and Chris Tymoshuk (Upcycled Art).