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Local artist studio tours offered a peek behind the curtain

The Whatcom Artist Studio Tour returned for its 27th year

Ben Mann, an artist at the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour, shows their work to studio visitors. The tour has been around since 1995 and was started by local Whatcom artists. // Photo courtesy of Barbara Plaskett

As life attempts to make a new normal, some Whatcom County artists have once again opened their studio doors to the public for the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour during the first two weekends of October.

The Whatcom Artist Studio Tour was started in 1995 by current Tour Board Chair, Chris Moench, and a few other artists to better connect the artists and the community. 

The tour is self-guided over the course of two weekends, and this year it offered a tour of 27 artists in 30 studios scattered across Whatcom County. Moench said that the tour started with eight to 10 artists and each year has a different number, but there have been up to 50 artists featured in past years.

“It introduces anyone who cares to go on the tour to a whole lot of different art mediums and production techniques,” Moench said. 

Moench also owns Axis of Hope Prayer Wheels, a clay craft home studio at the end of a 400-foot long driveway that goes through a forest and wetlands to help inspire his work and give visitors some adventure. 

Prayer wheels originate from Buddhism, so Moench said he creates contemporary prayer wheels which are all about celebrating the connections people have with the natural world. 

Brian Kerkvliet, the owner of Gossamer Glass Studio, said he’s been a part of the tour since it started.

“It’s good community outreach,” Kerkvliet said. “It's about talking to people and showing them what we do and allowing them into the actual studio environment so they can understand what it takes to create the work.”

Kerkvliet first became enthralled with glassmaking when he was in high school. He said it started as a five-year apprenticeship program at a stained glass studio and grew from there.

“I like the spontaneousness of working with glass,” Kerkvliet said.“It's like a dance with a liquid medium, so it's this dialogue that happens between the medium and yourself.”

TOUR - ROPER (SECOND IMAGE)

Brian Kerkvliet is a glassblower who has been part of the Whatcom Artist Tour since its beginning in 1995. Kerkvliet said the tour is a good opportunity for some community outreach. // Photo courtesy of Brian Kerkvliet

During the tour, Kerkvliet and Moench offered demonstrations to their visitors. Kerkvliet mentioned that people are most intrigued by his process of creating glass that started out as sand.

“I melt the glass from raw sand and formulate a number of my own colors,” he said. “So that alchemy, chemistry aspect of it is pretty magical.”

Moench said he enjoys sharing with visitors the knowledge of the illustrations on his piece as it’s the key part of his art.

“The process of applying those illustrations, there's quite a number of different ways to go about it,” Moench said. “And doing a little bit of a demonstration [helps], because there are ceramic techniques which not a lot of people are using in Whatcom County.”

Allied Arts of Whatcom County sponsors the tour as it is one of the six projects they sponsor, Executive Director Kelly Hart said. To assist the tour, Hart said in an email that Allied Arts of Whatcom County hosts an exhibit of works by studio tour artists at their gallery in downtown Bellingham throughout September and offers tour maps at their gallery.

Moench said the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour was started because, at the time, Allied Arts of Whatcom County was really the only organization around to build the arts in the community.

“It wasn't focused on studio artists,” he said. “So I was interested in connecting with other artists and it seemed like a good way to do it was to put on an annual studio tour.”

The Whatcom Artist Studio Tour is hoping for some new artists to join next year. Moench said if an artist doesn’t have a studio, the people who put together the tour can usually find another studio to host them.

Moench said he enjoys when people visit his studio as it allows him to interact with them on a deeper level than he can at most other venues. The tour is also a big help in connecting with other artists in Whatcom County.

“Most of us work alone in our studios for most of the year,” he said. “So it's just a great way to develop some friends in an occupation which is often very isolated.”

If you’d like to visit a studio, participating artists can be contacted about a personal tour. Kerkvliet encourages people to make contact, because the end of the tour “doesn't mean we just disappear the rest of the year. We're here.”


Madison Roper

Madison Roper (she/her) is a senior reporter for The Front in fall of 2021. The ‘21-’22 school year is her last before getting her BA in news/editorial journalism. She enjoys writing pieces on art, local businesses and events since her favorite part of reporting is interacting with the community. Random conversations on LGBTQ+, mental health, and Asian entertainment are always welcomed. You can reach her at madiroper.westernfront@gmail.com. 


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