Local artists open their doors

Fifth annual Clark County Open Studios tour gives rare glimpse inside artists’ inner world

Washougal area artist John Furniss calls himself "The Blind Woodsman" on his Etsy site. Blind since 16, Furniss says he gets a visual "blueprint" in his mind and then relies on his woodworking training and sense of feel to produce gorgeous wooden art pieces that look like sculpture, but are usable as jewelry dishes, bowls and more. (Contributed photo courtesy of John Furniss)

The annual Clark County Open Studios tour allows everyday art lovers to get an inside glimpse at local artists' studio spaces. Often, an artist's work space is just as beautifully designed as their artwork. Inside East Clark County artist Megan McGaffigan's studio, for example, even her jewelry tools are displayed in a visually appealing way.

East Clark County artist Megan McGaffigan shows a visitor an example of her art jewelry. This 2017 piece, titled "My Mother's Pearls," was influenced by Victorian mourning jewelry and incorporates antique-style tintype photograph, pearls, spinel, steel, silk and sterling silver in its design.

Megan McGaffigan, an artist taking part in the fifth annual Clark County Open Studios tour this weekend, holds a box of uncut Montana sapphires she mined herself. To the right of the box, a tray of faceted, polished Montana sapphires sits ready to be incorporated into McGaffigan's art jewelry.

Artist Megan McGaffigan shows a visitor the garden -- complete with fancy chicken coop and handbuilt duck hut -- she tends with her husband outside of the East Clark County barn where they live with their two dogs and where McGaffigan has her art studio.

Visitors to the fifth annual Clark County Open Studios tour who venture as far east as Washougal this weekend can find handturned wooden bowls like the one pictured here at artist John Furniss Washougal River Road studio. Contributed photo courtesy of John Furniss

A wooden jewelry dish by Washougal artist John Furniss is pictured here. Furniss will show similar art at this weekend's Open Studios tour, which features 50 different Clark County artists. Contributed photo courtesy of John Furniss

Washougal artist John Furniss will open his studio during this weekend's Open Studios tour to show the public how he works and to sell his art, which includes wooden bowls, jewelry dishes, rings, tea cups and canisters, like the one pictured here. (Photo courtesy of John Furniss)

If you’ve ever admired a piece of locally made artwork and wondered what was going through the artist’s mind when they crafted it, the annual Clark County Open Studios tour offers you a chance to peek inside several local artisans’ workspaces and maybe even pick their brains about their influences and process.

The fifth annual Open Studios tour happens this weekend, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11 and 12, throughout Clark County, and features 50 different artist studios, including several in east Clark County.

The self-guided tour is free and participants can plan their route using a custom Google map showing each studio location, available at www.ccopenstudios.org, or with a printed guide available at several sponsor business locations listed on the Open Studios website. Visit one or two artists — or try to visit all 50. The choice is yours.

Over the course of its five-year lifespan, the tour has exposed 130 different artists to Clark County art lovers and tour director Jennifer Williams says she never has trouble finding new or returning talent.

“After five years, I’m still surprised by the number of new artists applying and participating,” Williams says. “It’s really a testament to how many artists we actually have here in Clark County.”

The tour is broken into various geographical sections, with the “East County” part of the tour encompassing much of east Vancouver and all of Camas and Washougal.

We’ve previewed two of the east Clark County artists — Megan McGaffigan and John Furniss — to show what tour visitors can expect to find at the fifth annual tour.

A blueprint in his mind

This is the first year that woodworker John Furniss has taken part in the Open Studios tour, and he says he’s looking forward to hosting visitors at his Washougal River Road studio.

“I plan to be working while people are coming through. So I’ll be able to talk with people and tell them what I’m about,” Furniss says, joking that some visitors might be alarmed when they realize they’re watching a blind man work a wood turning lathe.

The Washougal artist isn’t shy about his visual impairment. In fact, his Etsy site is called The Blind Woodsman.

“I’m totally blind now, but since I was able to see (until age 16), I have a detailed visual memory. I can take this picture in my mind and make it a reality. I can see the finished product in my mind and I can move it and change it … like a blueprint.”

Once he has that blueprint in his mind, Furniss turns to his tools and relies on his other senses and his woodworker training to produce gorgeous wooden bowls, Japanese tea cups and jewelry dishes that are more like sculpture than standard woodworking.

Furniss moved to Southwest Washington from Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2011 to train as a piano rebuilder. He soon learned that the piano technology market wasn’t for him.

“It’s hard to make a living because it’s expensive, several thousand dollars to get a piano rebuilt, and people just don’t have money to spend on pianos anymore,” Furniss says. “And it’s repetitive work. I got burnt out on it and just couldn’t stand the thought of doing it anymore.”

He had trained with a blind woodworker in Salt Lake City at a vocational school for blind adults and says he had always loved woodworking, even as a high school student.

“I love woodworking. It’s always different and new,” Furniss says. “I tend to use a lot of exotic woods, padauk and mahogany … and I’ve been making things out of ash and walnut lately.”

Although he purchases wood at Portland area wholesalers, Furniss also works with Friends of the Carpenter to secure some of his raw materials.

“They have a program where they will donate wood to you if you make a few things for them to sell for their charity,” Furniss explains. “I’ve made some wooden canisters for them, and some jewelry dishes and Japanese tea cups.”

On his Etsy site and at art shows, Furniss tends to sell a lot of jewelry dishes as well as mortar and pestle sets. If they venture out to Furniss’ Washougal River Road studio — the most eastern of the East County studios — visitors will see Furniss’ jewelry dishes, bowls, delicate wooden rings and more. Plus, they can watch the artist’s process and talk to him about the Washougal area art community.

“We have so many artists here. There are a lot of very talented people living in Washougal,” Furniss says. “And I’ve had so much support from the community — I can’t say enough good things. In this area, the word ‘community’ has a real, true meaning.”

To learn more about Furniss, visit www.etsy.com/shop/theblindwoodsman or swing by his studio at 530 Washougal River Road, Washougal, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11 and 12.

Old meets new inside east Clark County barn

To visit artist Megan McGaffigan’s studio, you must first venture through the twisting roads that meander through east Clark County’s old farms and brush up against the area’s new developments.

This old-meets-new concept doesn’t end once you reach 6904 N.E. 217th Ave., and make your way inside the barn that contains McGaffigan’s light-filled studio as well as her living space — which she shares with her husband and their matching black-and-white dogs, 7-year-old Sully, a soulful Great Dane and Finley, a sweet 13-year-old Dalmatian mix.

In her artwork, you can see how McGaffigan, 29, breathes new life into old concepts. Her Victorian mourning jewelry inspired pieces incorporate tintype photography, popular in the mid-1800s, and pieces of vintage tin tea canisters.

Although she is adjusting to life in the Pacific Northwest and says she’s grateful to have met so many open and gracious artists since moving to the area about 18 months ago, a part of McGaffigan’s spirit still longs for her former Bozeman, Montana home.

You can see this sense of longing for a place reflected in several of McGaffigan’s pieces. In fact, many jewelry items even contain a little piece of the artist’s beloved Bozeman home.

“I pan for them myself,” McGaffigan says, showing off a small box of blue-green raw Montana sapphires. “I go back to Montana once a month … I drive and take the dogs.” Eventually, McGaffigan will facet and polish the gems and place them in one of her unique pieces of jewelry.

McGaffigan will open her studio at 6904 N.E. 217th Ave. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11 and 12. To get a better sense of the type of artwork you can see at McGaffigan’s studio, visit her website at http://meganmcgaffigan.com.

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