How many artists—professional and serious amateur—are there on Whidbey Island?
We might as well try to count the clams on the beach.
We just know this: Every time we go to any of the island artists’ annual shows, like Woodpalooza or the Whidbey Working Artists Studio Tour, we’re blown away by Whidbey Island artists’ creativity and command of their craft.
Langley, population 1,045, has seven art galleries alone. There are more than a dozen others strewn around the island.
Several artists’ organizations provide their members with a sense of community, and the island being the inclusive and congenial place that it is, they generally welcome both professional and amateur. The Whidbey Weavers Guild claims a current membership of 165 fiber artists. The Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild has nearly 50. The Artists of South Whidbey meet for a brown-bag lunch in Langley every month.
The Whidbey Art Trail includes 16 working studios and galleries, open either by appointment or on regular hours. The Pacific Northwest Art School in Coupeville offers workshops in painting, photography, fiber art and mixed media.
What attracts artists to Whidbey Island, or prompts some of us to try becoming artists once we land here? It’s the nature of the place itself.
Art takes time to incubate. Islands offer time, rather than the mainland’s seemingly infinite grid of deadlines and appointments.
Art wants creative freedom. Islands don’t impose expectations on us. People are free to break loose from who or what they were and try new things without fear of disapproval.
And of course, there’s Whidbey Island’s tranquility. In a feature on three of Whidbey’s artistic furniture builders, Western Art & Architecture magazine explained how Gary Leake will sit and contemplate a slab of wood for hours—sometimes years—to let it tell him what it wants to become.
“The isolation is a treasure,” Leake said. “I’ll build a fire, sit in the chair, just look at the wood — and maybe an idea will come to me. The environment may not directly influence the work, but it certainly encourages the method.”