| |

Nancy Spaulding: Co-founder of Studio Tour & Talented Pastel Artist

Nancy Spaulding is a quiet leader — a pillar — of the art community of San Juan Island. She carried the idea of the Studio Tour here from a visit to Bellingham 30 years ago. She is a source of inspiration and wisdom for her fellow artists here.  A pastel drawn by her was honored as an icon for San Juan County that is seen on highways all over western Washington. 

This is Nancy Spaulding.

In 1991 Louis and Nancy Spaulding moved to San Juan Island (SJI). They had been career silk screen artists in Bellingham since the late seventies. After they lived here a while, and old friend from Bellingham, Don Salsbury, recommended that the Spauldings consider importing a new event to SJI that was proving successful in “The City of Subdued Excitement:” a Studio Tour.

“We thought that was a really exciting idea,” Nancy told CNL2’s Jeff Noedel. “And I remember being on the ferry and Mary Sly was on the boat, and we started talking about it, and she had been thinking about the same thing. And so we said, ‘Well let’s get together with people we know, and see if we can pull something together.'”

The idea took root with SJI artist Melissa Callahan and her furniture maker husband. Amanda Richardson was a tapestry artist from Cornwall, England. Nancy called Amanda “a dynamic figure in our group.”

The very first Studio Tour featured nine studios. At a picnic on the beach afterward, they decided there would be more. Nancy hasn’t missed a single Studio Tour since.

Nancy says one welcome change over the decades is the number of larger studios here, which now allow for multiple guest artists to display their work across this year’s 23 studios.

“I definitely think the islands do pull creative people here,” said Nancy. “I think there’s something about the island environment. It’s not just the beautiful place. It’s a place removed, and that makes it a meditative place at times. And there’s a bit of mystery here… the water moves daily with the tides. We don’t know what’s under the water around us. It’s a place in flux.

“I like shapes. And here’s a piece of geography that you can see the shape of. It’s a fascinating world. It was a good move to bring our family here.”

Louis and Nancy came to Washington state from their native Vermont as Vista volunteers in the sixties. Assigned to the Olympic Peninsula, they assisted low-income families in the lumber industry and native Americans.

In the 1970s, Louis and Nancy took up silk screen printing, and they took their work to street fairs. When they realized that they could do silk screen printing anywhere they wanted, they began scouting other possible places to live. In 1977, their adventures eventually brought them to SJI, where — while riding bicycles around the island and we thought “This is it.”

Nancy has been an artist since childhood. Botany was another passion, but while attending University of Arizona, she found herself drawing plants for a botany professor when she realized art was an even better fit.

“I just thought everybody draws,” she said. “And to this day, I find sketching is a way to get to know the things around you.” For example, she said she learned about how petals attach to the flower, by studying it so as to draw it.

She credits silk screen printing for teaching her how colors and shapes interact. In a way, silk screen printing is similar to the Indonesian tradition of Batik, silk screen printing is a technique in which “a resist” is applied to cloth. Said Nancy, “It’s a reductive process.”

She laughs remembering that the first time printed on fabric was when they were asked to print on T-shirts for a Canadian rock group. The order was so big that the shirts we drying all over their front yard in Bellingham.

But by the year 2000, the physical demands of silkscreening, and the fumes associated with the process. She woke up one day and told Louis, “I can’t do this anymore.” He replied, “I’m glad to hear you say that.” She began a new search for her chosen art form. She tried several disciplines when she finally tried a set of pastels that had belonged to a great uncle. “I could see it’s what I wanted,” she said. She found pastels to be the bridge between drawing and painting.

Nancy’s works are generally inspired by views on SJI and on Orcas Osland and smaller islands.

In fact, one of her pastel creations was immortalized — on license plate, the San Juans’ license plate. Her image of a Madrona perched over the sea — with whales nearby — was the chosen artwork for a specialty license plate, which is a money maker for San Juan County non-profits. Her prize included the license plate numbered 00000.

She said, “It’s such an honor. It gives me so much pleasure to think that a piece of my artwork is bringing gifts to so many organizations here.”

She said she is still adjusting to the loss of Island Studios. She’s planning to open her studio to the public for a couple days a week, and “to wait and see if something else happens in town at some point.”

Nancy even wrote a book some time back: Home In an Island Garden in pursuit of an artful life. It’s still for sale at Griffin Bay Bookstore. Plus she has created artwork for book covers for other writers. She intends to publish another book next year: a short story children’s picture book featuring silk-screened images of black cats.

Noedel turned the conversation toward Nancy’s daughter Heather Spaulding, editor of The Journal of The San Juan Island. Nancy is very proud of her daughter’s commitment to small-town newspaper publishing. She spoke of Heather’s childhood here, being busy with projects; getting lots of sun, and being outdoors.

“She had a great childhood here,” said Nancy. “Always curious, always had an opinion. One of the wonderful things about being a parent is the world that your children open up to you.”

This video is approximately 37 minutes in duration.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *