It Starts With Art // Bainbridge Arts & Crafts Keeps Art Alive in Winslow

By Dina Satterwhite

A Community rich with art, artists and art galleries, Bainbridge Island boasts a calendar full of public art installations, community art programs, art workshops and school art programs. There are regular performing arts programs for adults and youth alike. We even socialize artistically, joining together for art walks, studio tours and gallery talks. How did our little island create such artful abundance? How does it continue to grow? If we peel back the layers of the current thriving island art scene, we’ll find that the first brushstroke was made by Bainbridge Arts & Crafts in 1948.

Back then, Bainbridge Island was mostly rural farmland, and anyone who made art did so mostly in isolation. Crafts people were typically weavers, painters, basket makers or wood turners and they often created art from necessity. Ultimately a group of these artists came to look at art from a new perspective and resolved to experience art together, share their skills, and sell art by forming a co-operative gallery. In the 1950s that gallery became a nonprofit concentrating on art education and building community. Groundbreaking for its time, the gallery was the first visual arts organization on the island and pioneered the way for other art galleries in the state that later become nonprofits.

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Today, this community art gallery is known as Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, or BAC, and continues its 65-year mission of encouraging the creation and appreciation of fine contemporary arts and crafts. BAC’s first location was the old “ferry building” on the waterfront. After losing that building to fire, the gallery moved to Madrone Lane, taking up residence in the space that is currently home to Churchmouse Yarns and Teas. Around 1970, BAC’s current space on Winslow Way became available. Initially, the gallery occupied the front section, eventually expanding to include the back. Although BAC would love to one day have their own building—a dedicated space where they could focus even more on education—for now, they relish their current downtown location.

Their neighbors, collaborations with other shops and galleries, the Art Walk, and the busy foot traffic have helped the little community art gallery become a big success. That success wasn’t always easy to achieve. A low point came in 2011 when Bainbridge’s main downtown street was literally torn up. The process to create a friendlier Winslow Way with wider sidewalks temporarily created a horrible mess and lack of parking that put a serious hurt on local retailers. “It just doesn’t get any worse than that,” recalled Susan Jackson, BAC’s executive director. Fortunately, once the project was finally completed, Winslow Way again bustled with activity. Jackson noted that BAC’s sales are certainly back up and then some.

There has been a steady increase in enthusiasm, and they are finding that more and more people are enrolling in art education programs. “Lynnette Sandbloom is now our director of education, and she is truly enthusiastic about older people, kids, just the whole gamut of people who would love to learn to draw but feel timid about it.” BAC offers encouragement in many forms, including free First Saturday Gallery Talks each month right after their new exhibitions open, and painting and drawing classes throughout the year for all ages, children to seniors.

The organization provides scholarships for students and grants to teachers, and has student art shows every year in the gallery. A unique offering of works by the late German-American artist Henry J. Dietrich was made to the gallery with 50 percent of the proceeds going to the West Sound Wildlife Shelter.

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Great partnerships with groups like the Bainbridge Island Land Trust bring art education to new audiences—their “Messages from the Land” exhibition included 10 artists with nature-inspired artwork. And collaborations with the Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation District give kids a chance to show and sell their artwork in the gallery, under contract, with the full experience of a working artist. The recent Paint Out Winslow—Plein Air Weekend event represents the ideal joining of art, education and community that underpins the mission of BAC.

In fact, the event was so well received that it’s now scheduled to take place annually. (The 2015 date is set for August 15.) BAC invited artists locally and from other galleries to paint outside for a weekend, attracting 39 participants. After a complimentary breakfast and equipped with BAC tote bags, the artists set up their easels around town for the day. Passersby were encouraged not only to watch, but also to talk to the artists as they worked. The following day, the resulting art was presented at a juried reception.

The winning artists received cash prizes and painting supplies. All artists received the intangible benefit of building up a roster of potential collectors; many of the visitors at the reception were the curious art enthusiasts the artists had met the day before. Some of BAC’s programs are less showy but no less powerful. Art in the Lobby is a good example. In this program, artists conduct demonstrations in the lobby of Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton to provide a creative, engaging distraction for people waiting for a loved one to get out of surgery.

In addition, BAC has connected artists with residents of local retirement homes to work on monthly art projects, and the gallery rents out works for installation in various locations, such as the lobby of the Peninsula Cancer Center in Poulsbo. Of course, no art gallery exists without working artists. A major part of BAC’s mission is certainly to provide artists with income. The retail store is the nexus for that, representing 265 artists and providing them with advice, publicity, exposure and encouragement. The BAC staff is made up of one full-time publicist, 13 part-time paid staffers and 30 volunteers. It truly does take a village, and over the past six decades, BAC has helped make ours a thing of beauty.