Lopez Island’s Artists Studio Tour marks a quarter century

Submitted by Steven R. Hill.

This year, 2022, marks the 25th year the artists of Lopez Island will be opening their studio doors to invite the public to see firsthand, not only what, but why and how they create their artwork.

It is an event that began at informal art gatherings originally held at Grayling Gallery, which was the first significant working and exhibition venue for artists on the island.

Opened in 1974, Grayling Gallery was founded, financed and operated by legendary artist, Shirley Wright, Bern Sundell and myself as business partners, when the three of us moved to Lopez Island from Pullman, WA specifically to build and establish a private art school and gallery venue for artists on Lopez Island.

Then, 50 years ago, we could only find four other practicing artists living on Lopez Island. We made a point to visit and get to know each of those artists, as much for professional support, as for camaraderie on a remote island.

Why on earth would anyone move to an island to try to start a private art school?

One word: passion. After our first visit, when we fell in love with the place, we felt strongly we could fulfill a dream to make an art school work on the island.

There were just over 1,000 people on Lopez then. Most were farmers, fishermen, retired folks, hippies, free spirits, and about a dozen school teachers at Lopez School for all grades, 1-12. Two small grocery stores were here with three small restaurants/bars forming the backbone of the social strata where folks went for dinners, to party, and gather socially. Sunset Builders Supply alongCenter Road, a small lumber and hardware supply store had formerly been located at the huge old building (Yost Millworks), that Shirley Wright had purchased for the art school. A small medical clinic had just been built and there was a tiny post office, marking the north and west boundary of the village, which had more open fields and pasture land than commercial anything. That was it!

Everyone, I mean absolutely everyone, waved at each other when cars passed on the roads, a social tradition that has somehow managed to survive, albeit in a fragile way.

It should come as no surprise that a group of three artists who announced they would soon change the fabric of this small island by building an art center became “much discussed.” We quickly learned that if you hadn’t heard a daily rumor by 10 a.m., it was your civic duty to get out there and start one.

It took more than three years to actually launch the art school and gallery plus another two decades to really put it on the map. Artists started coming to the island, with many (past and present) getting their start at the old Grayling Gallery, either renting studio spaces, teaching classes or just hanging out with other artists.

Shirley passed away in 1996, the same year as the first studio tour that started with a handful of artists who wanted to maintain an annual event to maintain a presence after Grayling closed its doors.

In the past quarter century, The Labor Day Weekend Studio Tour has not only survived but indeed prospered as the largest annual art event on Lopez Island, with crowds in the hundreds visiting and buying multi-thousands of dollars worth of artwork over the Labor Day weekend.

More than just a gallery walk or a series of art sales, the studio tour has broadened the public’s perception of what it’s like to be an artist through the many hands-on demonstrations that participating artists provide, as well as art education opportunities for visitors, in the privacy of their studios, where it all happens year-round.

As 34 artists at 26 studios celebrate a quarter century with this year’s self-guided tour on September 3 and 4, they wish to thank the Lopez community for its unwavering support of the arts on Lopez Island! A celebratory invitation is extended to the public for the annual Preview Party to see a sampling of artwork, at the Lopez Center for the Community and Arts on Friday, September 2 from 5-7 p.m.

When you say it out loud, “Lopez Center for the Community and Arts” has a pleasant ring to it, reminding us all that we live in a very special place.

The Lopez Artist Guild members and volunteers spend hundreds of hours each year to make this annual event a success. Please join us on Labor Day Weekend to kick back and relax Lopez style as you witness first-hand all of the fabulous artwork, and meet the artists of all disciplines who open their studios to you!