Magic Skagit: The Edison Art Scene by Chloé Dye Sherpe

Wednesday, September 04, 2019 3:24 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


It’s common to hear Skagitonians refer to their home as “Magic Skagit.” For decades, well-known Northwest artists have been visiting or moving to the area in order to capture its light and landscape. Morris Graves, Guy Anderson, Philip McCracken, Richard Gilkey, and the infamous Fishtown group are just a few significant artists who chose to live in Skagit Valley. But another town in the valley is now making its mark on the Pacific Northwest art scene. You may have heard of the amazing food in Edison, Washington, but have you heard anything about the thriving art scene in this tiny town? As a lifelong Skagitonian myself, I have many fond memories of traveling to this small town to get cookies at the Breadfarm, but over the last few years I have been mostly drawn to the amazing art community. In order to get an insight to this unique place, I spoke to Margy Lavelle and Andrew Vallee, the directors and founders of i.e. gallery and Smith & Vallee Gallery respectively. 


Margy Lavelle isn’t new to the Northwest art scene. She managed Mia Gallery in Seattle for five years in the 1980s and 1990s. As an artist herself, Margy often came up to Skagit Valley for inspiration. In our interview, she said:  “I used to drive up here with my kids on the weekend. I love the light, and I love the space. After the kids finished college and got settled…I moved up here to paint.” We also talked about Dana and Toni Ann Rust, who ran the Edison Eye Gallery in Edison and were significant patrons of the arts in Skagit Valley. The Edison Eye building had been sitting empty, and Margy started asking Toni Ann if she could curate art shows in the space. Eventually, Toni Ann gave in and Margy started the gallery with David Kane, another artist, in 2015. Now, Margy is the sole proprietor and the beautifully curated shows clearly exhibit her vision. 


Margy has a clear vision for her gallery, and that is evident in the September and October shows. In September, i.e. gallery welcomes Drie Chapek. Chapek is an abstract painter who uses broad brushstrokes, thick paint, and a natural, yet colorful, palette. Margy reported that Chapek’s new work is more angular, contrary to her usually billowy paintings, and the colors more subdued. Juliana Heyne will fill the gallery in October with landscape paintings from her travels. Her pieces often include an element of collage, making them also textured in their own way. Both artists certainly contain “the hand” that Margy mentioned that she looks for when selecting artists for the gallery. 


Right down the street, visitors can stop by another art gallery. Interestingly, Dana Rust and the Edison Eye also brought Andrew Vallee to Edison. After showing his artwork at the gallery, Rust kept inviting Valley back. One evening in 2006, he was walking down the street with his future wife and they saw that a historic schoolhouse was for sale. They put an offer on it the next day and Smith & Vallee Gallery was born. But the Smith & Vallee brand consists of more than an art gallery. Andrew Vallee and Wesley Smith also make furniture and cabinetry and have been in business since 1997.  Regardless of whether they are making cabinetry or selling artworks, the result is consistent. When asked about his vision for the gallery, Vallee responded that “Smith & Vallee has the highest standards with the artists we represent and the way we show their artwork, while fostering a friendly environment where everyone is welcome to enjoy the experience.” And that is clear the moment you walk in the door. 


Smith & Vallee Gallery shows often consist of two artists. The September show features Andree Vallee and Patty Haller. It is interesting to note that both Vallee and Haller live in Skagit Valley. Vallee is showing his sculptures and Haller paints large-scale oil paintings of nature scenes. Texture is again a theme for the gallery’s October exhibition which includes Julia “Joules” Martin and Brian O’Neill. Martin paints landscapes in acrylic and is a newer artist to Smith & Vallee Gallery. O’Neill is a ceramicist, and both artists live in Whatcom County. 


When I asked Vallee and Lavelle why they think people are drawn to Edison, their answers were relatively simple and consistent. Vallee believes it is because Edison is authentic. Everything is made locally, whether that food, wool sweaters, or art. Lavelle told me that the people in the area naturally live a “creative life.”  I encourage everyone reading to visit this town and stop in the restaurants, shops, and especially the art galleries. Beyond the two described in this article, a new gallery, Hadrian Art Gallery, opened recently and focuses on nature-inspired objects for everyday life. Come see for yourself what makes this place unique and why Skagitonians, myself included, refer to our valley as Magic Skagit.


Chloé Dye Sherpe

Chloé Dye Sherpe is a curator and art professional based in Washington State.


These galleries are in Edison, Washington. i.e. gallery, located at 5800 Cains Court, is open Friday through Monday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. For information, visit www.ieedison.com. Smith & Vallee Gallery, located at 5742 Gilkey Avenue, is open daily 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. For information, visit www.smithandvalleegallery.com.  Hadrian Gallery, located at 5717 Gilkey Avenue, is open daily 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. 


   
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