Kris Ekstrand & Andrew Vallee at Smith & Vallee Gallery in Edison, Washington

Thursday, December 31, 2020 7:17 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

Artists have lauded and sought out the beauty of Skagit Valley for generations. There is something about the color that is transformed by the sun shining through fog and in-between the hills that provides a stunning palette for artists and viewers alike. As I sit in Edison it is currently dark, but I can still see the outline of the hills as they are wrapped in the evening fog. Since I have just come from the studios of Andrew Vallee and Kris Ekstrand, my eyes and ears are drawn to the landscape. I can hear a snow goose landing in the slough nearby and the shapes of the landscape have a painterly quality. It is likely that I am looking at the same scene that Kris can see from her studio window, or that I am sitting near where Andrew may have salvaged a Douglas Fir for his sculptures.

Andrew Vallee and Kris Ekstrand’s studios are a stone throw away from each other, so it is only fitting that they are featured in an exhibition together in January at Smith & Vallee Gallery in Edison, Washington. Andrew creates beautiful wood sculptures that are inspired by objects from the natural environment—sea urchins, feathers, owls, and more. Each object is carefully examined and then its image is transformed into a salvaged wood carving. A favorite is “On the Edison Slough” which includes a small bird carved out of maple that is resting on a base, or cradle as Andrew says, made out of 2,300-year-old Douglas Fir. The veins of the wood are easily discernable, but they are juxtaposed with the ripples carved into the surface. The resulting effect is the appearance of the small animal hovering over moving water, which is somehow appropriate since the Douglas Fir itself was salvaged from mud and brackish water where it rested for thousands of years.

Vallee starts with an object and then creates elements of its image in wood. All appear to have aspects of both hyper-realism and abstraction. In a short walk from Vallee’s studio, guests can also see Kris Ekstrand’s painting and print studio. The artist’s hand is ever present in Ekstrand’s work. The shapes of the landscape outside the studio are echoed in her paintings and prints, but it was her use of color and gesture that caught my attention immediately. One painting in particular, “Berry Fields in Winter”, is an excellent example of color, composition, and texture. The horizon line is in the top third of the painting and a thin line of yellow paint articulates the flat fields of Skagit Valley. The bottom of the painting is a flurry of green, yellow, pink, and orange brushstrokes overlaying a body of water. The title of the painting leads me to think about all the berry bushes, now empty of berries, that fill the fields. During the winter, the rainwater collects on the fields and creates a mirrored effect which only amplifies the natural beauty surrounding it. The viewer can imagine Ekstrand’s hand and brush moving the paint across the surface of the canvas with every visible brushstroke.

Ekstrand’s landscapes look like a welcome landing field for one of Vallee’s owls, which makes the two artists an excellent duo for an exhibition. The color and life are a welcome view in the often-dreary month of January. Smith & Vallee Gallery continues to celebrate the environment of the Skagit Valley in February with the opening of their annual invitational of artworks featuring birds. Dubbed “The Bird Show” by locals, the idea of hosting events in Edison around the arrive of hundreds of birds to the area is about 10 years old. Vallee recalls talking about hosting a festival for bird watchers with his friend Jim Kowalski. This conversation led to a festival that lasted about 5 years and the infamous “Chicken Parade” that occurs in Edison every year. While the festival no longer takes place, the annual exhibition lives on and is an opportunity for bird enthusiasts to gather at the gallery every February.

The gallery is excellent about keeping their website up to date with available artworks. They are also very meticulous about COVID safety and social distancing guidelines. If you are able to visit the gallery in person, expect to see expressive paintings and prints that almost appear to vibrate with intensity on the picture plane. Vallee’s sculptures range in size from a few inches to a five-foot tall wooden feather resting on top of a book. I looked up at the feather to admire the smooth, sanded surface and then knelt to marvel at the pages of the book that seem to all be articulated with expert precision. Looking at these artworks certainly lifted my spirits, and I hope the same for you.

Chloé Dye Sherpe

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

Smith & Vallee Gallery is located at 5742 Gilkey Avenue in Edison, Washington. It is open Friday through Sunday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. and by appointment Monday through Thursday. For further information, please call (360) 766-6230, email, or visit the gallery website at

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