The Camas Public Library’s Second Story Gallery restarted its regular art exhibitions this week following a more than 2-year closure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The gallery reopened July 1, and kicked off a two-month student art show, “Stepping Out,” featuring the artwork of Camas and Hayes Freedom high school students, with an art reception during the Downtown Camas Association’s First Friday celebration.
“The title of the show is … in reference to our community coming out of last year’s lockdowns, and the whole process of adolescence as a time of emergence and learning to be fearless to speak up,” according to the Second Story Gallery’s information about the “Stepping Out” art show. “Making artwork has been a powerful catharsis for students throughout this time, and the gallery wants to celebrate their bravery and presence in our community.”
Located in the upstairs rooms of the Camas library in the heart of the city’s downtown core, the gallery has showcased local and regional visual artists since its founding in the early 1980s. When the library closed to the public in March 2020 under statewide public health mandates meant to stem the spread of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, the gallery also shut its doors for what many gallery volunteers believed would only be a few weeks.
“As the pandemic stretched from weeks to months, planned exhibitions were eventually canceled,” the gallery’s website stated.
The library reopened to the public in March 2021, but the gallery struggled to get back on track.
“Even before the pandemic, we had been losing some of our core base,” Camas Public Library Director Connie Urquhart told the Post-Record in March 2022. “The pandemic was a double whammy. Some of them had been volunteering for decades and were just feeling like it was time to retire. Then, with the pandemic, they wanted to stay home … and didn’t want to come back.”
Urquhart and other library leaders saw an opportunity to reach out to the greater Camas community to gauge a new path forward for the city’s public art gallery. In March 2022, the library leaders met with a group of people who were most interested in the gallery’s future
“There were only 10 people there aside from library staff … but we had a really good cross-section,” Urquhart said in March.
The library also reached out to other community members with surveys that went out to about 17,000 people through the library’s newsletter, and was available on the library’s website for several weeks.
Urquhart told Camas City Council members in April that the survey had garnered more than 100 responses. The vast majority of those respondents (77%) had visited the gallery in the past and about 25% of those respondents said they preferred to visit the gallery during its First Friday art receptions. Most of the respondents wanted to see the gallery focus on local artists, loved the idea of having local history exhibits in the Second Story Gallery and wanted to see more artwork created by local youth in elementary through high school grades.
“The results are consistent with the direction we’ve been heading,” Urquhart told the Council in April. “Local art and artists need to be our priority, with a mix of historical exhibits sprinkled in.”
The library will celebrate its 100th anniversary in April 2023, and Urquhart said library leaders are already working on a historical exhibit to honor that milestone.
And the new “Stepping Out” art show, which runs through the end of August, turned the gallery’s spotlight on local youth artists.
Hayes Freedom High School student Amy Eckert, 17, is one of the young artists featured in the “Stepping Out” show. Eckert and her art teacher, Miranda Wakeman, attended the Friday, July 1, art show opening inside the newly reopened Second Story Gallery. Eckert has two creations in the show, including a colorful geometric piece in colored pencils and India ink — “Textured Rainbow” — that appeared on the gallery’s advertisement for the “Stepping Out” art show and another titled, “Anxiety sucks, but I knew that already,” that Eckert created using a combination of liquid watercolor and India ink.
“The theme I chose was anxiety and precision,” Eckert explained in a paragraph attached to their artwork. “I chose this theme because anxiety has been a constant in my life for years.”
Eckert said they drew lines “as straight as possible with a paintbrush,” then represented the feeling of anxiety by showing “how scratchy the ink lines are and by how the watercolor blended together despite the solid ink borders.”
Wakeman, Eckert’s art teacher, said Eckert is skilled with line work and has recently delved into cross-stitching — an artform that allows the Hayes Freedom student the freedom to create their own patterns and experiment with a range of thread textures and colors.
Eckert’s artwork accompanies dozens of 2D (paintings, drawings and photographs) and 3D (sculpture and pottery) art pieces created by Camas High and Hayes Freedom High students at the Second Story Gallery, located on the second floor of the Camas library at 625 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas, through August. The gallery is open during regular library hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and closed on Sundays. For more information, visit cityofcamas.us/library/page/second-story-gallery.