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The art scene in the tiny town of Joseph, Oregon (population 1,054) really took off when bronze sculpture became popular. Drawing their inspiration from the unparalleled natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, artists have carved out an important niche for themselves in the town. In addition to its local artisans creating public works that enhance the beauty of the locale, Joseph has also been the host of the Wallowa Valley Festival of Arts for the past 33 years.
Though his eyesight is failing and he’s not able to stay locally in Joseph due to healthcare issues, Austin Barton is a town legend. His works are emotive and show a high level of skill, and his subject matter (mostly humans and animals) is easy to decipher and appreciate. His work, particularly Attitude Adjustment, is very popular among western art fans.
Although this incredible woman never likes to boast, Shelly Curtiss has a BS in Microbiology and raised two children off the grid in the backwoods of Montana before moving to Joseph, where she learned to sculpt, designed a gallery, ran her own foundry and became the first female Mayor of the town. She then spearheaded the project to renovate Main Street that really solidified Joseph as an ‘Art Town’. Ten of her pieces are on display in New York City parks, and her company cast the chandeliers that hang in the U.S. Treasury Building. She has also recently finished an adorable trio of larger-than-life basset hounds that sits in a new development in Woodinville, Washington. She is also the current President of the Wallowa Valley Arts Council.
Steve Parks and his brothers run the successful Parks Bronze Foundry. Although the sculptor himself lives in Joseph, his foundry is six miles north in the small neighboring town of Enterprise (population 1940). He is an important and well-respected local artist, which is evident in the fact that his bald eagle statue, entitled Spirit of Joseph, is the first bronze sculpture people see as they arrive in town.
Tom Clevenger makes some of the most incredible segmented wood artworks we have ever seen. The variety of woods used and the patterns he creates are a wonder to behold. Clevenger’s working process includes using mathematical calculations and incredibly detailed sketches to create each separate part of his stunning and impossibly intricate pieces, which include handmade bowls, globes and vases.
Stewart Jones studied architecture before moving into jewelry design, and his architectural background in structural integrity and linear interest are evident in his jewelry designs. In 1978, Jones was presented with the DeBeers Diamonds International Design Award in Paris, France. Since then he has branched out, utilizing an engraving machine from 1860 called a ‘Rose Engine’ to create his jewelry. The patterns created with this machine are exquisite, featuring perfectly placed lines and interesting additions such as Tahitian Pearl.
Mark Kortnik really captures how Joseph, Oregon appears to most: a great mix of Native American culture, incredible landscapes and the various wildlife inhabiting these landscapes. Many of his paintings feature one of these components of the natural makeup of Joseph, but some of them, such as the piece entitled Predator of Time, combine multiple elements in interesting ways as to create something unique and unexpected.
Malcolm Phinney paints in several styles that are evocative of European Old Masters. Although most of his work is in western landscapes, he creates some beautiful still lives as well. Phinney’s work is so enticing because of his masterful use of color and his soft, natural style that is often reminiscent of romantic British artists such as JMW Turner and John Constable.
In addition to these individual artists, there are some other remarkable art projects in the area. The LH Project, for example, was founded by the accomplished potter Jakob Haßlacher and brings potters from around the world to Joseph.