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The Arts — Alive and, Well?

"Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

— Pablo Picasso

Or, one man’s sweat provides another’s entertainment.

I make no apology that I’m a lover of the arts and all they accomplish toward stimulating thought and making life bearable. I believe some people are gifted with specific talents they must develop, like a muscle, for their health’s sake, but also for the betterment of others. Reception of the project, whether it’s in music, theater, writing or visual arts, completes the circle.

If I were a rich man, I would encourage and support the artist, who puts in untold hours of hard work and, too often, with little or no pay. It’s a competitive arena and, while compliments are nice, they fall silent on an empty plate. What’s an artist to do?

Others among us seem born to the purpose of facilitating others’ artistic dreams.

For example, today I had a little talk with Evelyn Arnold, widow of Harry Arnold, the local business genius once referred to, in an article written by former Mail Tribune writer Cleve Twitchell, as “the man who entertained a generation.”

The Arnolds owned and operated The Varsity Theater in Ashland, Fat City dance club and Manhattan Rose in Medford, to name just three of 18 businesses they bought, built-up and sold. From the late '50s through the '80s, they worked in tandem putting smiles on local faces and helping teens dance off their angst. The Arnolds were responsible for bringing all musical acts and concerts to the area in the early days. There’s no doubt Southern Oregon would have been a dry peanut butter on white bread sort of place without them.

A mutual friend had told me about Evelyn’s connection with the Varsity Theater, an Art Deco treasure built in 1937. My friend and I had just enjoyed a film there, so I decided to give her a call. It didn’t take long to realize that the Arnolds were involved in much more. After an enjoyable several minutes with Evelyn, I realized I could spend a few afternoons and never plumb the depths of what she referred to as a drawer full of information and memories.

“He did the talking, and I did the work,” Evelyn confessed about her husband.

Despite the fact that she was the functioning cog behind the big wheel, and no matter what path my curiosity took during our conversation, her thoughts soon returned to her Harry’s side, whom she married after having known him for eight days.

“He never did ask me to marry him. He just talked about when we were married, we’d do this or that.”

No doubt, Harry Arnold was a visionary. Apparently, marrying Evelyn was another in a string of successful ideas he had. I’d say his best. She obviously took to his notions.

Before the Arnolds took over in 1955, the same people owned The Varsity in Ashland, Craterian (now the Craterian Theater at The Collier Center for Performing Arts) and Holly theaters in Medford, the two latter venues having closed at the time. Now, the rejuvenated Craterian hosts a diverse menu of high-quality live acts, and The Holly Theatre is well into the restorative process. Those in charge are working hard to revitalize a glorious landmark, helping to make our area a more peaceful cultural alternative to the traffic and chaos of the big cities north and south of us. They are offering guided tours of the progress, and donations are most welcome. Visit their website at www.hollytheatre.org.

One final art plug. Don’t forget to enjoy the bucolic drive to Favell Museum in Klamath Falls next weekend, Sept. 27 and 28, for their annual Art Invitational reception. By purchasing from Favell, you’re supporting two cultural efforts in one, the museum and the artists. Some Southern Oregon artists represented this year are Lane Hall, Ilene Gienger-Stanfield, and Carl Seyboldt. I’ll see you there!

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.