Art in the Dark

A small miracle happened on Whidbey Island last weekend.

It was the weekend of the Whidbey Working Artists Studio Tour, an event that artists all over the island had spent months weaving, welding, painting, and prepping for - anticipating an opportunity to share their work, chat up some art-lovers, and maybe make a few sales.

Experienced artists knew better than to hope for too much - some years the tour is hot, some years its not - but still we tidied our studios, hung out our work, and prepared ourselves to greet the public.

If, on the surface, the mood was cautiously hopeful, it is also true that many of our hearts were already heavy with weeks of news from the massive wildfires that had been devastating communities Washington and Oregon and taking the lives of beautiful brave young men.  And, in other news, Hurricane Trump had been blowing his toxic winds across our political and media landscapes, whipping up dust-devils of anger and fear, and howling around the foundations of our already shaky sense of union.

On Saturday - Day 1 of the studio tour - a November-like storm hit the Island and the region. Gale force winds toppled drought-dry tree branches, power-lines went down, the ferries were running way behind, and by 1:30 in the afternoon hours of flickering "will they or won't they" lights gave way to complete power outage across the island.  And that, we thought, was the end of that.  

At Blueschool Arts, my group joked that we had just become a "school of the dark arts" and some of us (me) thought we might as well pack it in for the day.  Who in their right minds would drive around on debris-laden rural back roads, with nary a working traffic light, to visit darkened art studios?

But, right minds or not, that's just what they did.  Dozens and dozens of them.  They just kept showing up.  We lit candles in our cave-like gallery space, and people cheerfully went spelunking for art, determined to see what they could see.  Many of our visitors walked earnestly through the entire dark space, using their smartphone flashlights to illuminate each art work, one by one.  Amazing.

We had a table full of fruit and cookies, a little lemonade, and some good windows in the artist studios, and so we all stayed and had wonderful conversations with our visitors about art and weather while the winds shook the doors and brought leaves and branches scuttling across the gallery floors.

As artists, we labor mostly far far far away from any spotlights, alone in our studios, acting out our own needs for order and beauty, following our own stubborn curiosity about the new possibilities we haven't yet explored.   We are grateful, all of us, for all the intrepid souls who came and looked around in the dark and laughed with us and took home some of our work.

They reminded us that art itself is precisely how we weather life's storms. It is the lifeboat that keeps us floating, and the place where we gather together to hope. So, regardless of what the coming months may bring, we now trust that we'll see you again next year.  

We'll provide the candles - but better bring your smartphones...just in case.