The buzz was already on at the Jansen Art Center by the time I slipped up the back stairs.
It reminded me of the advantage of group shows — the social pressure is not all on your own shoulders.
Of course I wanted to be there to support my work and see it hanging in a public space, but truthfully, the main goal was to meet other artists. A juried group show is an excellent place for finding colleagues so I don’t have to navigate every step of this art journey on my own.
The Jansen Art Center is in Lynden, about 60 miles from my Arlington base. Physically it’s not any further than Seattle, and with far fewer traffic variables.
The main draw for me is how close it is to Bellingham, where I have some friends (and collectors). They spoke well of the facility, and more important, they showed up at the opening! It was wonderful to walk through the door and see familiar faces.
That included my two rooster paintings hanging by the piano lounge. There’s another beauty of this kind of show. You don’t have to hang your own work, and the submission process is digital (via the Call for Entry website).
You still need to drop off your paintings, but I had the pleasure of Aarene’s company, as it was on the same day as a birthday party we were attending. Although Aarene once lived in Lynden, the Jansen Art Center is a relatively new development, and she hadn’t seen it..
“That looks like the old City Hall,” she said as we found a parking spot less than a block away on Front Street. You could probably find it even without the address, (321 Front Street) as downtown Lynden stretches less than ten blocks.
Aarene gave me some background on Lynden that I’ll paraphrase into a capsule bio. “It was mostly a farm town. Plus the border crossing. But Chuck and Dee Robinson of the very successful Fairhaven bookstore, Village Books, recently opened a bookstore here.”
Other Fairhaven businesses have also opened branches in Lynden.
Canadian dollars probably do account for a good share of the town’s retail revenues, but Lynden also promotes its strong Dutch heritage with decorative windmills everywhere. It’s other claim to fame is its church culture – at one time it had the most churches per capita in the U.S.. It was only in 2008 that the town laws were amended to allow alcohol sales on Sunday. Front Street now has several hotels and a string of upscale cafes and bistros to serve visitors, and many of its businesses are now open on Sunday (the Jansen Art Center is closed on both Sunday and Monday, though).
I was curious about how this mix of rural tradition and downtown renovation had created an art center. It turns out that the border location made Lynden an ideal hub for Lynden Transportation, a family business that grew into an international shipping empire. Its founders, Eleanor and Henry Jansen, created a foundation in order to invest some of that wealth in the local community.
In 2009, their daughter, Heidi Jansen Doornenbal, revealed plans to do something to support the arts in a very substantive way. She sought opinions of local artists to shape a proposed art center that would serve the local community as well as the greater region.
It wasn’t going to be either exclusively a performance space or a museum, but something more multidimensional, a place where dance studios share a roof with ceramics, fiber, painting and other classroom and work spaces.
The mix of craft and fine arts is remarkably similar to the first art school I attended, Colorado State University, On the other hand, it visual artists rub shoulders with dancers, musicians and other performers. This can lead to the kind of cross-pollination that happens at an arts-centric school like the State University of New York at Purchase, where I completed my BFA.
The dimensions at the Jansen Art Center are intimate, rather than monolithic – and unless perhaps you were a regular at the old City Hall, they feel warm rather than institutional. The use of every scrap of wall space to hang art and generate social space also reminded me of art school in a positive way.
It enhanced my feeling of nostalgia for the camraderie of those days to find a room full of the work of fiber artists — and the artists themselves. I knew that because they were wearing name tags.
I learned from a fellow exhibitor that if I had come in through the front door instead of the back stairs, I too would have gotten a name tag to wear. That was’t hard to fix. Appropriately labeled, I set out on a second cruise of the show with Sirie, Josh and Jim. Two solo exhibitions were also opening on the same night. (Apologies to the artists – most of these photos were taken at the opening in sub-optimal light with an aging iphone.)
The bigger meeting rooms held work from a couple of solo shows also opening the same night: painters Lynn Zimmerman and Mike Bathum.
Work from the group show was spread throughout the building. with even the stairwell space in use for black and white photography.
The structure of the original city hall is still very apparent, with upstairs rooms that still serve as conference and event spaces, but with gallery lighting and hanging systems. The administrative offices share the basement level with the original vault and the jail cells, currently in use for beer storage.
A cafe with a liquor license (Kulshan beer on tap!) and a piano lounge provide built-in amenities for the exhibition opening as well as for regular visitors, students and patrons.
Those patrons are essential. Artists can create and perform, and even curate their own shows and manage their own art centers if necessary, but having access to a more polished platform like the Jansen Art Center can really make a difference. In the fibers room upstairs, I met two women from Bellingham who had come to check out the show.
“I don’t just covet this coat, I want the while lifestyle that goes with it,” I said.
A discussion followed about where exactly you might wear a gossamer-light coat of wool felted over silk, a technique known as nuno. Along the way, I learned about
Ragfinery, a Bellingham institution featuring recycled fashion.
Later I met artist Ruth Hesse, who had some of her ceramic work in the show – little hand-built bowls, cups and vessels that stood on pointed legs that gave them a lilting, animated feeling.
“They have a ritualistic quality,” I said.
“I use them for ice cream.” she replied.
“Ah, small portions.” We smiled and nodded.
Ruth is from Bellingham, and she told about a few online resources and then introduced me to one of the organizers of the Art by the Bay festival (July 7-9, 2017 in downtown Stanwood) — and also, it turned out, the maker of the hand-painted silk scarves I admired upstairs.
Karla Kay Benjamin added a few more things to my homework/followup list. Because you don’t have to take classes to be a student.
And that’s kind of the point of an Art Center. All I can say is, lucky Lynden to have such a resource. I personally am grateful to Heidi Jansen Doornenbal, along with the staff and volunteers, for creating such an inclusive space, and hope to be able to participate more in the future. (The Jansen Art Center is already soliciting entries for their Summer group show — information on their website).
The work at the show (including my own) is for sale, and there is also a wonderful museum shop. So if you need a day trip (and it is not Sunday or Monday), Lynden has a lot to offer a patron of the arts.
Jansen Art Center – where you can see a list of all the artists included in the show.
North Sound Life article by Gwen Parker about the Jansen Art Center
RagfineryArts by the Bay Festival – deadline for entry is May 31st.