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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Josephy Center marks its first year


Josephy Center marks its first year

 A dream of local artists and art aficionados became a reality last year when the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture opened in Joseph. This past weekend the center celebrated its anniversary with wine, paintings and song.

A dream which hinged on a bold founder, agreeable financing, and a wealth of volunteer effort transformed an empty log building in downtown Joseph to a bustling hub for history discussions, painting classes and dance parties, to name a few of the dozens of uses. 

One of the hinge pins of the Center is its monthly exhibits. This month’s featured exhibit is “Crow’s Shadow” of Native American art. Founder Ann Stephens said the prints evoked a fascinating dialog from grade school students who toured the center. “We asked them to look at the paintings as if they were a book. Of one they said it looked cold and depressing.”

The painting was of the Nez Perce Bear’s Paw battle, the last before they surrendered to the U.S. Army in their flight from Wallowa County toward Canada.

Director Cheryl Coughlan said in October the center started art classes on Fridays, four sessions for different age groups. The classes end Dec. 13 and that evening there will be a gallery show of the children’s work.

Techno-twist dance parties which DJ Shantay Jett spins the records have been a big hit for kids 12 and under, Coughlan said. The next one, held in January, will be for older kids from 12 to 18. The dance parties are fundraisers to offset the costs for the art classes as well as a fun activity for Wallowa County kids.

Another round of Friday art classes starts in January and Coughlan said the center is looking to expand into offering an after school program as well.

“Soon, we’ll have art classes every day,” Coughlan said.

Coughlan, a photographer, started at the center in September and it’s been a whirlwind. Stephens said, “We just love having Cheryl here. She does things like contact April Baer of OPB’s ‘State of Wonder’ who interviewed Joe McCormack, the curator for the ‘Crow’s Shadow’ exhibit.”

A Saturday class starting this winter will teach high school kids how to record, create video productions and make podcasts. Stephens said, “We are the only venue where you could have a conference videotaped and get handed a videotape afterward.”

Coughlan said they purchased audio equipment with grant money earlier this year and fundraiser Amy Zahn is applying for a grant for video equipment. “If we get that it will open our doors to a whole slew of other programs.”

Reaching out to the greater community, the center wants to capture oral histories of Wallowa County with one-on-one interviews. “The history and culture are ever changing and ever expanding,” said Board Chairman Nancy Knobles, “and we really feel strongly about the importance of our cultural mission as well as our art.”

Coughlan said, “So many people tell stories. With times changing it seems important to have it recorded or preserved on video.”

The Josephy Library headed by Rich Wandschneider is also interested in tracking local history, from the first contact of Europeans with indigenous tribes to today’s environmental and cultural stories.

A long-time friendship with author Alvin Josephy led to Wandschneider’s management of Josephy’s collection of books. First housed at Fishtrap, Wandschneider said he originally envisioned building a wing onto Fishtrap’s Coffin House in Enterprise. When the recession hit, foundation giving dried up, so he oversaw the collection in the Coffin House basement until Stephens asked if he’d like to bring the books and his expertise to an arts center in Joseph. The combination of the library and the arts and culture offerings spawned the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture.

Wandschneider said he did some exploring about managing research libraries and was told libraries don’t make money, they cost money. “An archivist at Whitman called me and said, ‘You can’t have a research library, but you can have a combination of a nice Victorian home library/research library.’”

With that model in mind, tables and bookshelves were built by local carpenter Brian Oliver and other shelving was donated by Lewis and Clark College. The upstairs of the center morphed into a well-lit study space.

“I’d love to have people come in and sit down and read,” Wandschneider said, “and some do who are looking for specific history about Indians or Josephy’s work.”

But the tables and comfortable reading chairs are not regularly filled with researchers and readers, so Wandschneider is finding ways to reach out to the public and to scholars. Last year he offered a history class and continues to lead brown bag discussions at noon every Tuesday.

The discussions have covered a variety of topics and attracted a wide range of interested people. He said 75 showed up for a talk by local rancher Scott McClaran who talked about ranching in the Snake River canyon country.

The Josephy Library is not a circulation library, except for a few copies they have in triplicate, Wandschneider said. However, it is part of the SAGE Library, a system of 65 Eastern Oregon libraries, from which readers can access its catalog online. Wandschneider said he can also make copies for people from books which can’t be circulated.

“We are trying to figure out how to be most useful,” Wandschneider said.

This winter he is teaching a four-part Saturday class on the Nez Perce and natural resources. He regularly meets with kids who tour the center and is compiling a box of materials that can be shared by the county’s elementary teachers when they cover Nez Perce history.

What was a dream by a handful of people taking daily walks by an empty building, with the ingenuity of a few and the hard work of many, the Josephy Center not only sprang into being last year, but has become a hub of activity.

Volunteers continue to help keep the center running from landscaping to docents. Wandschneider said he’s looking for help cataloging the Josephy collection. The opportunities for what the Center will become are endless.

“Every time someone walks in the door they say, ‘What an amazing place, you should do ...’” Wandschneider said.

Knobles said, “Its been an extraordinary year. I’m really excited about year two.”


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