Creative minds often do their best work when the space around them empowers dreams. Oregon landscape artist Michael Gibbons and his wife Judy carried this premise one step further when they created an environment which not only sustains them creatively, but also enriches the community in which they live.
Gallery Michael Gibbons is located in Toledo, Oregon—an historic hamlet established in 1866. As the local timber industry unraveled, the Gibbons’ experimented with a new paradigm—and ended up reshaping the center of their town into an artist-driven and supported destination. Their gallery and museum now attracts visitors from around the globe.
“Cultural tourism works really well for the fine arts,” says Michael. Gibbons’ statement has merit—his own curriculum vitae is peppered with exhibitions at the Portland Art Museum and prestigious galleries. “It now seems as though more people are moving to town specifically because of the fine art environment.”
A prolific painter, Michael has generated a large body of work over his lifetime. He and Judy deliberated on how best to preserve his collection for future generations. Their conversations bore fruit when they created the Yaquina River Museum of Art. Michael and Judy live and work in the “house museum” with the intention that one day, the Toledo community will inherit its contents. Paintings and sculptures by other accomplished artists are included in the collection. The house is now part of living history, for as long as the couple resides there.
“We kept asking each other ‘what are we going to do with all this work’” says Judy. “We got everything together, know where it all is, and can now leave a real legacy to the community. In fact, that’s how we were able to get one of OTE’s museum signs.”
A studio with a French connection
For many artists, access to an open and airy space is fundamental to serious work. When an artist prepares a “construction zone” within their studio, it’s often an interlude to a fugue state. Skewed hours and non-definitive work schedules enable artists to enter the zone without worrying about interruptions.
Michael and Judy were touring and painting in France, when Michael realized there were few accommodations for artists to be in-studio away from home.
“It occurred to me that I could find a great place to live temporarily, but where was I going to paint?” Michael says. “We ended up at a hotel with a small building behind it that had been made into a visiting artist’s studio. And that’s when I thought about our own little building back home in Toledo. As my late friend, Senator Mark Hatfield once told me, ‘What are you going to do with all of this? You’ve got the place, now just do it!’”
The Gibbons’ back-yard building was originally used as a justice of the peace office in the 1920s, but with the help of Michael and Judy, converted into a short-term living and working space for artists, writers and composers. The Justice of the Peace studio is now available for reasonable weekly rates and includes cozy sleeping quarters and kitchen facilities on the bottom floor.
“We also started a program where we invite well-known artists to stay in the studio for a month for free,” says Michael. “But there is a cost—they have to leave behind a piece of work that was created during their stay and donate it to the museum collection. It’s great to have something like this where we can draw in high caliber artists from around the world and at the same time, build a community collection. There’s really no way to put a value on what these visiting artists can give back to the community.”
Highway signs point the way to a town powered by imagination
Judy Gibbons tells OTE that the gallery’s Tourist Oriented Directional (TODs) signs have drawn significant traffic from Highway 20 and into the Toledo community. “We’ve been here for 25 years, and actually tried a billboard for awhile. The billboard was kind of hidden behind some large trees. Plus, it was really expensive.
“We decided to try out the TODs in 1998. What’s great about them is they’re right at eye level, so people can see them easily. They’ve made a big difference for us. We would ask people ‘Did you like our billboard?’ and they hadn’t even noticed it. However, they always would always say it was our blue and white TODs which encouraged them to stop.”
The Gibbons’ gallery eventually opted for TODs instead of billboards and added a museum sign after the Yaquina Bay Museum of Art was established.
For Judy and Michael, their livelihood and their endowment depend on travelers finding their way into historic Toledo. They both agree that highway signs have been an important piece of their business and mission’s success.
If you would like to make Gallery Michael Gibbons a destination on your next visit to the Oregon coast, you can read more about Michael’s paintings, the studio’s hosted events, and the little town where art reigns supreme at www.michaelgibbons.net.
Interested in your own TOD or Oregon highway business sign? Contact Harry Falisec via email or phone 1-800-574-9397.
Already an OTE sign customer? Want to be featured in OTE’s Customer Spotlight and on our website? It’s free as part of your customer care package. Contact Madeline MacGregor via email or call 503-373-0090.
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