Sculptures by local artist and center board member Rodd Ambroson adorn the performance space of the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture. KATY NESBITT - The Observer
Most modern-day Wallowa County homesteaders are drawn to this remote corner of the world by its awe inspiring natural beauty.
This natural beauty is manifested in the Wallowa Mountains, Hells Canyon, Wallowa Lake, and the rivers born in the wilderness that drain into the tributaries of the Pacific Ocean.
“I think it’s the most beautiful part of Oregon,” said Lyn Craig, director of the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture.
Before moving to Joseph a couple months ago to run the center, Craig lived in Fossil where she ran a bed and breakfast and Libraries of Eastern Oregon, a nonprofit library consortium that helps rural Eastern Oregon counties maintain traditional library services.
Craig said she leapt at the opportunity to move to Joseph and run what its board of directors call “A Gathering Place for the Arts.”
“The air here just sparks with creativity,” said Craig.
The Josephy Center follows in the footsteps of a burgeoning arts culture that puts the county on the map. Organizations like Fishtrap, the county’s literary nonprofit, Wallowa Valley Music Alliance, and the Wallowa Valley Arts Council attract interest from outside the area. Some art aficionados are so smitten they move here.
Board member Rodd Ambroson was a medical illustrator in Lake Oswego who took up sculpting in his spare time. In 1998 he started showing his work in Joseph.
A couple years later, looking for a quieter lifestyle, he and his wife, Mary, bought a house in Joseph and he now sculpts in his home studio with the Wallowas out his back door. Three of his pieces are on display at in center.
Ambroson and friends, including Anne Stephens, used to go for walks around Joseph. On their route was a handsome log building on Main Street that was formerly a bank. They dreamed of turning it into an arts center. Several years ago they applied and received a grant to fund a feasibility study of a shared space facility.
“We got the grant and then sat on a hen’s egg,” said Stephens, “and then it happened.”
The hen’s egg hatched this fall when Stephens purchased the bank with the intent to sell it to the center once it gets on its feet. Overnight it became a flurry of activity as volunteers and contractors came together to spruce it up, inside and out.
Board President Nancy Knoble said, “It’s only been three months and it’s nothing short of miraculous.”
Craig said, “It could only happen here.”
The schedule is filling up for the coming year. In January the center’s first exhibit, “Rivers,” will complement Fishtrap’s Community Read of “A River Runs Through It.”
A private art collection will be shown in February and this summer art classes will be held intended to attract visitors from out of the area.
Board member Leah Johnson said, “We want to enhance everything else that’s happening here.”
Johnson grew up in Joseph, studied art at Lewis & Clark and lived in Portland until her daughter was old enough for kindergarten, when she and her husband James, decided to move to Joseph and buy the hardware store from her parents.
Despite a full-time job with Community Bank, running the store, and raising a teenager, Johnson still makes time to draw for events like Joseph’s Art Walk. She said it’s the support and gentle pressure from the community that keeps her hand in art.
Board Member Will Roundy also grew up in Wallowa County. He returned home after living in Montana and Portland and began making soap in his home. He now owns the popular BeeCrowBee skin care store on Joseph’s Main Street. Also an artist, Roundy agrees there’s social pressure to create art.
Johnson said the center is a clearinghouse for local artists as well as a venue for the community to support them.
“It’s not just a place to show art, it’s a place to meet the artists, see friends’ work, and visitors can come in and immerse themselves in our culture.”
On a winter’s morning, the Josephy Center for the Arts looks expectant. Light streams from three directions into the ample performance space on the ground floor. A podium carved by Enterprise artist Steve Arment puts a familiar stamp on the room. The photo club is running a month long digital gallery – a collection of winter photographs taken by the club’s
Upstairs the Josephy Library is coming together. Director Rich Wandschneider is facilitating a seven-week course on Native American History. This week, Joseph High School juniors will join in on a discussion of the Civil War. Craig said it’s a good example of the center’s wish to integrate with the community.
“We’re just about at a turning point,” said Center Director Lyn Craig.
Knoble said, “Whatever vision we have will morph over time. We are still in the formative stage.”
To learn more about the new Josephy Center for the Arts, visit www.josephycenter.org.