From the Astoria Column to shops downtown and the natural environment, life on the Columbia River provides much material for artists to explore.

But what are places or things that are special to individual artists?

This is the subject of “My Secret Astoria,” an Astoria Visual Arts member exhibit opening on Saturday, Jan. 12, at the RiverSea Gallery during the Second Saturday Art Walk from 5 to 8 p.m. The show will be on view through Tuesday, Feb. 5

It’s also what Betsy Millard has been tasked with jurying.

“My job is to try to sort of take all these bits and make some sort of sense out of them,” Millard said about selecting works for the show submitted by AVA members. The AVA is a nonprofit that supports arts and culture in Astoria.

Millard is the executive director of the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in Ilwaco, Wash., and was previously curator at the St. Louis Art Museum and director of the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis.

Millard is hoping to see a couple dozen works. “I will fill the space as much as I can. I love creating dialogue between pieces,” she said.

Personal wonderment

Millard looks for authenticity in the artist’s work. She said she’s looking for works that “make Astoria, Astoria.”

Artists were invited to submit works that “depict a place or memory of special significance to convey their personal experience of Astoria,” according to Jeannine Grafton, owner of RiverSea Gallery.

Grafton did a previous “My Secret Astoria” show more than 10 years ago at the gallery and suggested the AVA do it again.

She said in the original show she “wanted to explore all the different aspects of Astoria that were meaningful in a private way to local residents, beyond the obvious tourist attractions and the sort of experience you might have on a quick trip or a drive-by of the town.”

The works will be for sale; 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the artist, the other half will go to the RiverSea Gallery, which will give 10 percent to AVA’s Miss Bea Johnson Fund For Young Artists. The Fund provides community-based learning opportunities for students at Astoria and Knappa High Schools interested in visual art.

AVA Executive Director Annie Eskelin said the fun part of group shows is that each artist lends their own experience to the theme. “It’s everybody’s own personal wonderment,” she said.

Connection to the area

Millard’s mother’s family had property on the Long Beach Peninsula and Millard often came to the beach in the summer as a child.

Both Millard’s parents were artists. Her mother grew up near Portland and graduated from the Portland Art Museum’s Art School, now the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Her father was a ceramic artist and started the Oregon Ceramic Studio.

Millard was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, and went to the University of Kansas where she studied the history of photography, which led her to a career as an arts professional focusing on prints, drawings and contemporary art.

Millard built a house in Washington in 2002 and lives near Osterville on the Willapa Bay.

Astoria’s art scene

Millard said there are more artists in Astoria now than when she moved to the area 20 years ago. She said opportunities have gotten better for artists.

“Ever since I got here I was amazed at the people and the level of work being done here,” she said.

Millard recognizes that it can be difficult for artists to make art that isn’t related to the beauty of the landscape or that challenges it. “Artists are innovative, they are hard working, they make things, they make places,” she said. 

It can be hard for artists to have their work seen even in a small town, she noted, and shows like this offer an opportunity for viewers to learn about the AVA.

“I hope people will come away knowing that AVA is vital and exists and what it does for artists,” she said.

IF YOU GO

Astoria Visual Arts’

‘My Secret Astoria’ exhibition

When: Opens 5 to 8 p.m. Jan. 12 during Astoria Second Saturday Art Walk, on view through Feb. 5.

Where: RiverSea Gallery, 1160 Commercial St., Astoria, Ore.

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