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One door closes

Three founders of Art & Soul Gallery reflect on its closing affter 24 years
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Betty Barss, left, Charlotte Peterson and Linda Boutacoff are co-founders of Art & Soul gallery in Ashland.

Editor's note: Community Builder is a periodic Q&A series providing perspectives from local people who have been involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today's conversation is with Charlotte Peterson, Linda Boutacoff and Betty Barss, co-owners of Art & Soul Gallery in Ashland, which closed Dec. 24 after 24 years.

Q: So, 24 years ago what inspired you to start Art & Soul gallery?

Linda: There were seven owners initially; Charlotte, me, Dodie Hamilton, Janet Bocast, Marilyn Hurst, Grace Dye and Laura Dunbar. We decided to start an art gallery and felt Ashland was the ideal place. Ashland is a walking town and it is a big draw in Southern Oregon. We wanted art to be on Main Street. We invited 30 of our near and dear art friends to contribute their work to the gallery. We wanted the gallery to be two-dimensional paintings. We didn’t want it to be a co-op, we were the owners.

Charlotte: Janet Bocast had the business mind and had run other businesses. If we charged each artist rent for their wall space and each artist worked one day a month, with 25 or 26 artists, we could cover our overhead. We invited artists to exhibit their paintings, but we juried their work. You couldn't just come in and exhibit, you’d have to show your work and how you frame. If the seven owners felt that they needed to improve on their work or framing, we would tell them. Or if we liked one style better than another, we would tell them. Sometimes they would fit in and sometimes they wouldn't. It was always very rewarding to deal with all the artists.

Q: How was working in the gallery beneficial to artists and customers?

Betty: Many artists came to Art & Soul for inspiration. They may be beginning artists and wanted to see what other artists were doing. College or high school kids would come in looking for inspiration. People wanted to talk to the artists who were showing in the gallery. We were also a source of art classes.

Charlotte: It was reassuring to work in the gallery, "Hey, I am doing the right thing.” Comments like, “We were in Eastern Oregon, and Betty really captured the feeling," were encouraging. Customers love talking to the artists. They like to find out what inspires you, what resources you use or about your techniques. They're just real curious. That part was very fun and beneficial.

Q: What has Art & Soul done for artists?

Charlotte: The gallery gave artists an audience they didn’t necessarily have. Not all artists have a studio where people can come and visit. Art & Soul gave artists a community, which allowed them to grow, learn and be inspired.

Linda: Visitors come to Ashland to see theater, visit art galleries and eat at great restaurants. Theatergoers appreciate art, and they were a natural audience for Art & Soul. It felt like Carmel or Santa Fe where people stroll and enjoy galleries and shops.

Q: How did you work with student artists?

Charlotte: Ashland had a student art month in March sponsored by the Ashland Gallery Association. Art & Soul gallery would put student artwork up on the featured wall. It brought in a different crowd than we normally had. We got the parents, the teachers and siblings in; it was a real community building experience. We had many art classes from high schools and SOU visit our gallery.

Q: What does art do for you personally? Why do you paint?

Betty: Painting is a way to put my feelings about the world on paper. I really like color. Whatever is inspiring me, I paint. Painting is very relaxing. It's sometimes frustrating, I’ve torn up paintings that weren’t working, but it ends up being enjoyable and rewarding.

Charlotte: I'm an escape artist. I like to just get into a painting and escape from reality. I paint what I love. If I paint what I love and have my heart in it, somebody else is going to love it too. Somebody's going to get that message and it will find a new home.

Linda: I'm always painting in my head. People ask, "When do you paint?" “Actually, I'm painting right now.” It's always a part of who you are. I like up-close things. I like nature. If I were painting flowers, they'd be growing, they wouldn't be in a vase.

Q: How did each of you get interested in art? What got you going? Was there a mentor who made a difference?

Betty: One of my grandmothers painted on china and did oil paintings. I always admired what she was doing. I sat and watched a lot. My other inspiration was paper dolls. Just the idea of creating with paper and with the dolls. It really took me to my next step in art. When I moved to the Rogue Valley, I happened to find Bruce Butte, who worked in the art department at Harry and David’s. I was teaching school, but I spent every Saturday morning at his studio. Every Saturday for over 20 years.

Charlotte: I got a lot of encouragement when I was in school. I didn't major in art; I was engaged to a pre-med student, and not every school back in the olden days had art departments. So, I went into home economics. As an adult I had a couple different instructors. One told me I was hopeless, then I found Dodie Hamilton. She would teach me the basics and allow me to paint the way I wanted. That was 26 years ago. I took a number of workshops and traveled with Judy Morris. We had a wonderful time painting in Europe. Judy is a great inspiration.

Linda: There were artists on my mother’s side of the family. I always had a pencil, crayons or a paint brush in my hand. In school I incorporated drawings, maps and lettering into my reports. My father and grandfather were in the film industry in Los Angeles, so I was exposed to “creating art.” I went to San Jose State and majored in commercial art with a minor in advertising. I was art director of the college quarterly magazine. After college I worked in San Francisco as a graphic artist for an advertising firm.

Q: Art & Soul closed its doors on Christmas eve. What are you most proud of about the gallery?

Linda: I'm proud of the art gallery and its legacy. We opened the gallery in the fall of 1998. After 20 years we sold the gallery Peter Stone. Peter continued to operate Art & Soul gallery. We wanted to spend more time painting rather than owning a gallery.

Charlotte: I think we brought a museum-type atmosphere to downtown Ashland. Tourists have told us, “I come here every year and give your business card to all my friends." That is ending and is really very sad. So, I'm kind of in mourning.

Betty: I’m sorry to see it close. I think the setting is perfect for a gallery. We were like a visitor’s center helping people navigate art in the area. If we didn't have something in our gallery, we’d direct them to go other galleries or contact artists. We supported the art community.

Q: This chapter of your life is closing, what's next for you?

Charlotte: I’m keeping the book open. I’ve got my name out there and painting for shows. I’m getting signature memberships, but I just wish I was 20 years younger so I could go on the traveling circuit.

Linda: I’m keeping the paint brushes wet. I have competitions coming, plus two large shows this year. I don't want to fade away just because one door closes.

Betty: I don't really have any plans. I just know I am not going to quit painting because it’s too much a part of my life. Meals get in the way sometimes. My husband has often called down to the studio and said, "Are we eating tonight?" I know that I can keep painting and enjoy it.

Q: How does art make life more enriched?

Linda: Getting excited about something keeps you young. It’s important to be excited when you get up in the morning. Art can be very solitary, but being part of Art & Soul brought us together frequently. The friendships are deep, and that is a wonderful thing.

Charlotte: When I first started painting, my husband and I took a drive to the coast. I was just blown away by the shades of green. The colors were always there. I'd never noticed the depth or variety of colors until I started painting. Art enriches your life; you see the colors. Everything just takes on new meaning, so it's completely enriching.

Betty: Life is enriched by art that you have in your home. I've had people tell me, “I love waking up and looking at your painting on the wall. It brightens my day and starts me off on right foot.” I know of four people who lost paintings of mine through the Almeda fire. One woman came to me, “I can’t tell you what your painting does for my life.” I gave her a print of the painting because it meant so much to her.

Q: What’s your critique group about?

Charlotte: We meet once a month and we bare it all. You bring some of your work and let them pick it apart. You bring it, to get improvements. It's a real learning experience. Don’t stop, just keep painting and sharing.

Q: What's clearer to you now? What do you know more deeply than you knew before?

Betty: Art brings tourists to Southern Oregon. Art enriches people and has a positive economic impact to the region.

Charlotte: I continue to be impressed with how supportive artists are of each other. We applied “the golden rule,” sell somebody else's art as you would like them to sell yours. In critique groups, everybody is so supportive. We're artists and a good bunch of people who help support each other.

Linda: Art galleries are an important and special part of a region. Paintings highlight the beauty, history and culture of an area. We love our region, and we brought people to the gallery, even from afar, to love it with us.

Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.

Art & Soul bios

Betty Barss moved to Medford 47 years ago. For 25 years she enjoyed teaching fourth and sixth grades at Griffin Creek Elementary School. She is a member of the Watercolor Society of Oregon and the Northwest Watercolor Society. Betty and her husband, Don, have two sons and four grandsons. When not in the valley, she and Don enjoy Eastern Oregon, specifically Plush.

Charlotte Peterson came to Southern Oregon in 1973 from Minnesota with four children when her husband finished his medical training. She started oil painting. In 1995 she studied watercolor with Dodie Hamilton and Judy Morris. She is a signature member in state and national watercolor societies. She exhibits at Rogue Gallery (Medford), Carefree Buffalo (Jacksonville) and 2nd Street Gallery in Bandon. She has six adult grandchildren and five great-grandbabies.

Linda Boutacoff has called the Rogue Valley home since 1972, living in Eagle Point and Medford. Linda was involved in the Artist-in-Education programs for 10 years, Rogue Gallery, Arts Council, SOU and Southern Oregon ESD Migrant Programs. She is 41-year member of the Watercolor Society of Oregon. Linda and her husband, Alex, have three daughters, sons-in-law and seven grandchildren.