Whidbey Island attracts and cultivates creatives of infinite stripes. Here in no particular order is a sampling of what our artists, collectors, wags, and wits are up to in these days of social distancing. I especially like Don Wodjenski’s term, ‘artist in residence,’ to describe his time at home.
Cathe Mueller—”This is the finished throw I knitted this past month while self quarantined. It is for my grandson Tristen as he goes off to college this fall. The finished size is 48″ x 72″ and has 243,600 stitches. It is knit from the wool I taught myself how to dye naturally using Navajo recipes over 35 years ago while living in Santa Fe, NM. I am so glad I saved this yarn even though I had no idea when I would need it or when I would have this much time on my hands.” Cathe Mueller is a friend and neighbor, an interior designer, and artist living in Langley.
This is Whidbey’s photographer David Welton writes: “It is good to have a project during these crazy times, and here is mine! This airplane started out as a box of sticks and balsa sheets, and is shaping up to be a 1/6 scale model of a 1916 Bristol M-1C, a British WW1 fighter. The army did not trust monoplanes, and deployed most to the Far East, but a few remained in England for training. “Red Devil” was an instructor ship, and was purchased at the end of the war, shipped to Australia and raced! I have nearly finished the airframe and have to install the engine, servos and radio and do the details.” This photo was featured on the front page of the South Whidbey Record. The story was also carried on KING-5’s Above the Fold.
Don Wodjenski, “What am I working on? I’m digging into old work. I’ve been posting on Facebook and Instagram some work that I did years ago. Like all artists we have scads of works on shelves, in boxes stored away in one place or another. Frankly, you forget about it. I’m here as an artist in residence and am an art-chaeologist. I’m a digger right now. I’m resurrecting photos. Working on a piece now. A crow flying over the water.
“What next? You’re working in isolation, you gotta do something. I’m honestly getting tired of looking at the screen. I play music.
My band won’t be out performing for a while. Working on new songs. Hard songs I haven’t attempted. Before, I was too busy gearing up for next gig. Now that the next gig is months away….I have an old flute I’m thinking of hauling out and thinking my way around. It’s a time to dig in and find that creative center again. I play sax. I have a tenor and a soprano. I’m a late comer to saxophone, didn’t start playing until I was 29 or 30 as is classic. I worked at it for a year, year and-a-half, learned enough to learn, put it down. Didn’t pick it up again until 15 years later when I started teaching at high school. Despite that I can pick up and play, 80 or 90 songs. The hard one is Take 5, not only does that challenge me because of the dexterity needed to play it, when (Paul) Desmond plays it , he makes it sound really easy. Man I’m telling you it’s tricky to get the fingerings. Once you have the tune worked out and play it smoothly, you’ve got to work out 5/4 time. So I’ve been at it a little over a week, just focusing on my practice. I practice every day.“
On feeling the music:
“Once you get away from the book and play from the heart, it’s magical. I’m lucky to have a system where I can turn on an original tune through Youtube or my Apple music library and I just play right from my head. I take a certain pride that I can pick up the horn and play a dozen Thelonious Monk tunes. Man, there is no feeling like it—it’s pretty sweet. When you’re playing music with others, a little duet or trio or quartet, it’s magnificent.
“Keeping my hand in photography. Publishing the second volume of Artists of Whidbey Island is definitely on hold with two or three more artists to feature, the second 25 artists in that series.” Don Wodjenski is a retired art teacher from South Whidbey High School. You may see him around town playing his sax.
Plein air artist/nature poet Brian Mahieu founded The Island Bohemians, with a steering committee, which included his husband Tom Harris. The group is open to island artists 18 and older of all stripes, and embodies the roots of cafe art society that began in the 1850s. Mahieu created the Island Bohemians in 2017, while serving as vice president of the Whidbey Island Arts Council. Typically the group dresses up for its twice annual Bacchanals, hosted near the biannual solstices. Check in to find out if June’s event is still on.
“When I pitched the idea, the response was good and two hundred members signed up overnight on our Facebook page and a hundred new members joined each month for the first four months,” Mahieu recalls. “Now with over 889 members, we’re one of the main portals to the Whidbey Island arts community. We’re about how artists connect.”
These days, Brian is cultivating his garden, painting, and enjoying the company of his husband Tom Harris and their rescued Greyhounds.
Kristi O’Donnell, artist, musician, poet, and mood lifter, shared this technique for beloved woolen sock repair. Kristi and her husband Keith Bowers, ran Meerkerk Gardens for years, raising awareness of rhododendron varieties, hosting creative events, and educational programs.
After retiring from their stewardship work at Meerkerk, Kristi and Keith, along with their friend Troy Chapman, formed the gypsy jazz band, Hot Club of Troy. When we can see them perform again, it will be lovely. Kristi is also an artist and poet. She has a memorable speaking voice. I wish she would host a radio show featuring local musicians.
Gretchen Lawlor—is an artist/astrologer and beloved creator of community. As a teacher for the Woodhaven School, Gretchen is virtually teaching her students how to sew masks during the current coronavirus pandemic.
“The mask thing is working so well,” she said. “This is a terrific time to chronicle. We are on the crest of this wave, keeping our spirits up. Weaving together of this community—generosity and enthusiasm–I am stunned. This is mask thing is so lovely—beautiful fabric. Wonderful people. Everyone is finding their own way. I go in for an icy swim in the Sound wearing my mask. I get in the water. It helps me a lot. If I can handle the swim, I can be strong. Receiving and sending is hugely important.”
Syd Wolcott—made a chocolate cake to celebrate her husband Joe’s birthday last month. “Following a recipe, measuring, mixing, it’s all therapeutic,” she said. “My advice during these times: try doing a project that has been on your mind, but you keep putting off. Now is a perfect time to start it. Remember how important old friends are. Give them a call or send a homemade card. Get out your crayons and color. Make your own coloring book. I made one for my 95-year-old mother.” Sydney Wolcott is a friend, neighbor, and multi-media artist. She paints, crochets, draws, crafts, and has a closet with delightful costumes and hats.
Sheila Weidendorf, is a musician, director of Island Consort, pianist in the piano trio Trio Indigo, and a keyboardist at Trinity Lutheran. “All music, all the time… (and mother of five with only the inimitable actress/singer Ada Faith-Feyma still at home with me…)—For me it’s the usual, except all practice and no rehearsals.”
Mary Jo Oxrieder and D.M. Windwalker Taibi: of Raven Rocks Gallery— “What we’re doing. At the first of the year, we put in motion a Grand Adventure: moving ourselves and our gallery to the Oregon Coast. The ‘shelter in place’ certainly changed plans for our gallery’s last days at Greenbank Farm. Instead of being open as long as possible and saying our good byes to friends and loyal customers, we were closed because of the coronavirus. With our home now listed for sale, we have given notice to the Port of Coupeville and Windwalker is slowly packing up the gallery, returning art work to our wonderful artists (the hardest part of all of this so far) and I’m handling the home front.
With the gallery closed, we are posting art on our online shop. “ In an email sent by Raven Rocks Gallery, the couple write: We love you more than we can say and hope you are all safe and well. If you want to buy an Olympic Mtns/Sound view home (with beach access) on South Whidbey check out 585 Dolphin Dr, Freeland, WA. If you have a sweet home with natural beauty and room for a large studio on the Oregon Coast for two crazy artists, email us!”
Lisa Danovich and Douglas Wertz—are sheltering in a home they bought in a village in the Andalusia area of Spain, and will live in Langley when they can return. Lisa is an interior designer and owner of Migration Home Interior Design.
“Our active project is a retaining foundation wall in which Douglas has learned to mix concrete, many wheelbarrows and rock loads over a long hilly pathway,” Lisa wrote in an email. We started pre-quarantine, and then have to complete it by hand. The threat of the wall collapsing makes this work essential- but with only the two of us together and hand work.
“I have been working with our English electrician to finish the interior work that was started pre-quarantine ‘ignited’ by an electrical fire our third night in residence of our new (to us) old ( original parts estimated 200 years) finca home. There are solar panels that have arrived and new radiators and hot water systems that will be converted from propane canisters hooked up sporadically throughout the finca for room heaters and on-demand hot water heaters.
“My decorating goals are to restyle the old furnishings that we could salvage as well as well as some of the new acquisitions. Painting woodwork, grillwork, metalwork and walls has me in quarantine at home and with masks and one person at a time in the hardware store or post office, grocery, bakery for supplies in the village.
“I am in heaven even with the non-stop home projects. The project breaks that we had planned for sightseeing to Morocco and other parts of Spain are obviously on hold. I am only able to resource locally or online, when possible. There are only two places that will receive package deliveries If we can get any. I had to open an Amazon Spain and UK accounts in order to get some supplies that will deliver to these village receivers.
“Lastly, the U.S. embassy asks that we citizens shelter in place if they have the means, and the requirements to not overstay a 90 passport visit will be waived at this time. The Malaga airport is closed and airlines have stopped service…we are happy to stay here in quarantine and keep busy moving our project renovation ahead and enjoying our Old Spanish farm in the country. We have a broad view of the Mediterranean and sometimes, Morrocan Africa (the Atlas Mountains) on the clearest of sunny days, so we do not feel constrained to a small urban apartment. The spring wildflowers are blooming, including poppies and wild orchids. Some citrus is still blooming and scenting the air. We hear birdsong all the time, and roosters and, occasionally, sheep and goats.
Sharen Heath—who is a South Island connector and all-round volunteer said she is, among other things, sorting socks with her dog Jip. “So here is the freaky me people. I save photos that interest me when I can’t sleep at night. Now that I have so much time on my hands I’ll share this with you… because… why not? Here is my stairway collection.Check out the images I posted to I LOVE LANGLEY, namely the ones of Gretchen Lawlor, Sharon Emerson, Claudia Walker and Beverly Graham who are sewing face masks. Whidbey Island Mask-i-teers.”
Susan Cyr, a licensed mental health counselor, writes: Here is a photo of our new cedar potato bed. 3 varieties of potato. All from Bayview Farm and Garden, of course. All planted. Then first watering.
And here are some other island artists, David Welton sent in:
Thanks for weighing in everyone. Hope these days cultivate your creative side.
Kate Poss David Welton
This Is Whidbey was founded by Kate Poss for readers who are interested in cultivating our island’s quality of life, including its land, sea, and air; its people, plants, and animals; and the bodies, minds, and spirits of its inhabitants. You may know Kate from her work in island libraries through May of 2016. Her background includes a career in newspaper reporting in Los Angeles for various weeklies and dailies, including The Los Angeles Times. She was a frequent contributor to the online Whidbey Life Magazine and still writes for the biannual print magazine.
Stories are highlighted by David Welton’s excellent photography. David is a retired physician who was a staff photographer for Whidbey Life Magazine since its early days. His work has also appeared in museums, art galleries, newspapers, regional and national magazines, books, nonprofit publicity, and on the back of the Whidbey Sea-Tac Shuttle!