Amusing Monday: ‘Plein air’ art captures beauty of Columbia Gorge

More than 40 artists traveled to the Columbia River Gorge in late July to participate in what was essentially a four-day paint-off — a competition to see who could best capture the heart and soul connected to this rare and magnificent landscape.

“Bingen Skyline” by Lilli-anne Price, winner of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Award in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo courtesy of Friends of the Columbia Gorge

While I often feature artwork that receives recognition in children’s art contests, I was impressed by the professional paintings in the 14th annual Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition that was completed a little over a week ago, and I wanted to share them with you. The competition, sponsored by Maryhill Museum of Art, features artists from throughout the Northwest and a few from more distant locales.

Artists often tour the area in advance to select a vantage point that will inspire their creations. Most paintings include an image of the Columbia River, but some focus on Mount Hood or other features of the landscape, such as interesting trees or historic buildings. Plein air painting, made popular by French impressionists, calls for venturing beyond the studio walls to paint “en plein air,” which is French for “in the open air.”

“Vista House at Sunset” by Yong Hong Zhong, first-place winner in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition. // Photo courtesy of Maryhill Museum of Art

“The Gorge is just an amazing motherlode of a landscape for artists,” said Lilli-anne Price of Salinas, Calif., who was named the winner of a new Friends of the Columbia Gorge special award. “The day before the paint-off started, my husband and I were riding our bikes around the White Salmon area to scope out potential scenes. As we made our way around, we stopped for a rest in the parking lot of Skyline Hospital, and I knew instantly: There it is; this is where I want to paint.”

Lilli-anne’s painting, “Bingen Skyline,” is the first on this page. Her comments and a photo of her at work appeared in a news release from Friends of the Columbia Gorge. You can see more of her work on her website, Lilli-anne Price Fine Art.

“Sandy River Reflection” by Yong Hong Zhong, “Best Water” winner in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition. // Photo courtesy of Maryhill Museum of Art

“If conservation in the Gorge hadn’t happened, what would we paint?” she asked. “It’s important to see the natural beauty kept intact. Our planet is so beautiful; it’s everybody’s heart. If we don’t have this what do we have?”

Named as the first-place winner in the overall completion was Yong Hong Zhong of Lake Oswego, Ore. His watercolor, “Vista House at Sunset” is the second on this page, and you can see more of his work on his website. He also took the award for “Best Water” with his watercolor “Sandy River Reflection,” third on this page.

Runner-up for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Award was Elo Wobig of Portland, Ore., with her oil painting “Shoulders of the Columbia River” (fourth on this page). Her website: Elo Wobig Fine Art.

Photos of all the winning paintings can be viewed on the Pacific Northwest Plein Air Facebook page. The paintings will be on display and available for purchase at the museum until Aug. 24.

“Shoulders of the Columbia River” by Elo Wobig, runner-up for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Award in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition.
Photo courtesy of Friends of the Columbia Gorge

The plein air contest was launched in 2006 by Hood River artist Cathleen Rehfeld to make a stronger connection between art and nature in the Columbia Gorge. This was the first year that the Friends organization joined the contest with special awards.

The Maryhill Museum of Art, about two hours east of Vancouver, Wash., overlooks the eastern portion of the Columbia Gorge. It was originally intended as a mansion for Samuel Hill, who started the town of Maryhill, which was named for his daughter Mary. The unfinished mansion was dedicated as a museum after Hill’s land company failed. Read the full history on the museum’s website, where you can also see a description of permanent and special exhibitions.

Artists are attracted to the annual plein air competition not only by the possibilities of landscape painting but by the museum’s hospitality. Receptions allow the artists to show off and sell their paintings, with a portion of the proceeds going to the museum. A figure painting workshop was offered this year by artist Randall Sexton.

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