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Portland Artist Wins Columbia Gorge "Paint Out"

Portland Artist Wins Columbia Gorge "Paint Out"
Detail from Janie Lowe's Friends Award-winning painting "Westcliff Glow."
August 16, 2022
Categorie(s): Latest News

Friends of the Columbia Gorge & Maryhill Museum of Art Joint Press Release

Janie Lowe Wins Friends of the Columbia Gorge Award at Pacific Northwest Plein Air in the Columbia Gorge “Paint Out” and Exhibition

Creating her award-winning work “wasn’t just plein air painting; it was adventure painting," said Portland-area painter Janie Lowe.


Stan Hall, digital communications manager, Friends of the Columbia Gorge | 503.307.3228 (Cell) | (email)

Maryhill Museum of Art | 509.773.3733 (general inquiries) | (email)

GOLDENDALE, WA – Portland-area painter and art instructor Janie Lowe was recently selected as the winner of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Award in the 2022 Pacific Northwest Plein Air in the Columbia Gorge at the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington. Lowe's winning oil painting ("Westcliff Glow")—a stunning piece capturing a summer sunset in the Gorge from a vantage near Westcliff Lodge—was one of several Gorge plein air paintings recognized by Maryhill and partner organizations.

"I will never forget painting “Westcliff Glow”; it wasn’t just plein air painting; it was adventure painting," said Lowe. "Another artist attending the plein air event, Jeff Markowsky, and I wanted to paint a sunset over the Columbia. We thought the winds would die down as it became dusk, but they seemed to get stronger. But with weighted easels from our backpacks and large stones around the feet, we continued on, battling the 30-40 mph winds and sun glare."

Aaron Cordell Johnson of Moscow, Idaho, was selected as the Friends Award runner-up for his gouache painting, "My Favorite Basalt," depicting Hat Rock in the East Gorge at dusk, and Yong Hong Zhong of Lake Oswego, Oregon, was selected as second runner-up for his watercolor, "Shallow Waterhole," capturing the wonder of shimmering water on a summer day. Celeste Bergin of Portland, Oregon was additionally recognized as an honorable mention for her oil painting, "All That I Can Say," of Crown Point.

Chosen from over 100 entries, the Friends' Award-winning paintings by Lowe, Cordell Johnson, Zhong, and Bergin were selected by a special Friends’ judging team (Kassy Delgado, Friends' community engagement specialist; Melissa Gonzalez, Friends' outdoor programs & communications specialist; and Natalie Yap, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, community space coordinator) as best illustrating and celebrating the natural beauty and sense of wonder of the Columbia Gorge. For her winning painting, Lowe will receive a $250 cash prize. Cordell Johnson and Zhong will both receive a $100 runner-up cash prize. All three artists will receive a complimentary one-year Friends gift membership and their paintings will be featured in an upcoming Friends' print newsletter and blog article.

The paintings were chosen at a special judges’ viewing held at the museum on Saturday, July 30. The Maryhill Museum of Art has facilitated and hosted the plein air competition since 2016; the 2020 event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Their Own Words

2022 Friends of the Columbia Gorge Award Winner: Janie Lowe (Portland, OR), "Westcliff Glow," oil, 8" x 10"

"At one point I stepped away from my painting to take a video when a big gust toppled my easel, and my painting took a face plant. Horrified, I checked out the damage, finding dirt and grass covering my painting! All I could do was laugh, scrape it off and continue. I had a painting to finish. In the end, I think it was my best painting of the week, because I wasn’t thinking about painting: I was thinking about how to survive the elements and the painting just happened." (from Friends' 2022 email interview)

Runner-up: Aaron Cordell Johnson (Moscow, ID), "My Favorite Basalt," gouache, 7" x 14"

"As a painter I am a creature of habit. I consistently check back in on some of my favorite places/trees or rocks. I am interested in change, whether that change be time of day, season, the weather or time.

"This chunk of Basalt on The Dalles Mountain Road is one of the places I return to 'check in' each time I’m in the Gorge. " (from Friends' 2022 email interview)

Second Runner Up: Yong Hong Zhong (Lake Oswego, OR), "Shallow Waterhole," watercolor, 9" x 12"

"A lot of times we just focus on hiking and not having a lot of time to slow down and really enjoy being in that moment," Zhong said. "So the plein air painting really just slows you down, to stay in one location and take an hour or two just to paint that location. You can really sense the mood, the feelings of that location." (from 2021 Oregonian interview, "This Oregon artist adds painting to essential outdoor experiences in the Northwest.")

Honorable Mention: Celeste Bergin (Portland, OR), "All That I Can Say" (Crown Point), oil, 6" x 8"

"On the third day of the Pacific Northwest Plein Air Competition I made plans to meet artist friends at the Vista House to paint the sunrise. I arrived at 5:15 a.m. and I set up my easel faster than I ever had before. The sky and water was orange, yellow, crimson and purple; it changed by the moment. What to do but dip into the colors on my palette with abandon! Another group of sunrise revelers joined with us to welcome the morning. It was exhilarating to share the thrill of this new day with everyone there, the teenagers, the tourists, and the Plein Air artists." (from Friends' 2022 email interview)

About Pacific Northwest Plein Air in the Columbia Gorge

Seeking to deepen and celebrate the connection between art and nature in the Gorge, Hood River artist Cathleen Rehfeld launched the first Pacific Northwest plein air gathering and competition in 2006. The annual paint-out and exhibit draws on a long tradition of painting in the open air, attracting some of the finest painters from across the country to capture the Gorge's stunning light and inspiring vistas. To paint en plein air essentially means to paint outdoors, coping with heat, cold, or other elements.

After four days of painting at Gorge locations selected by the artists, the works will be displayed at Maryhill through August 27. Guest jurors (including Friends) awarded several prizes ("Best Sky," "Best Mountain," "Best Water," etc.) to the most exceptional works. This year marks the third time Friends has partnered with Maryhill to award a ribbon in the competition. The Maryhill-Friends community partnership seeks to collectively build on previous individual efforts by both organizations and to illustrate the Gorge's beauty and its fragility.

"We are pleased to continue our collaboration with Friends of the Columbia Gorge," said Steve Grafe, curator of art at Maryhill. "Friends and Maryhill are both Gorge-focused and we agree that responsible and visionary management of the region is advantageous to both local residents and those who travel from near and far to experience its unique natural and cultural wonders."

Staff from Friends and Maryhill first met in February 2019 to explore potential partnerships that could further both organization's public education efforts. Following up from that meeting, the idea of awarding a new Friends of the Columbia Gorge ribbon award at Maryhill's summer plein air competition was developed.

"There is a long, deep connection between art and protecting natural treasures like the Columbia Gorge," Friends Communications Director Burt Edwards. "Seeing our partnership and joint public educations efforts with Maryhill not only endure throughout the pandemic but grow is a tribute to the passion of those in both the art and conservation community."

Paintings from the Plein Air event will remain on view and available for purchase at Maryhill until August 27 in the Event Sales Gallery in the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust Education Center. Proceeds support Maryhill Museum of Art.

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