Local artist couple realizes dream of joint gallery show

Gary and Deborah Watson showcase new paintings, art quilts at Aurora Gallery through September

Gary Watson shows one of his recent wildlife-inspired paintings inside his art studio in east Clark County on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

East Clark County artist Deborah Watson shows one of her 3-D art quilts featuring an octopus from her home on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

Gary Watson shows the "Winter Hawk" art print he plans to give away to the first 40 visitors to the Aurora Gallery's Sept. 16 art reception for "Art and Sew Forth," the joint show featuring the artwork of Watson and his wife, quilting artist Deborah Watson. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

An east Clark County couple’s dream of showing their artwork in a joint show is coming true this month.

Gary and Deborah Watson opened their monthlong joint art show, “Art and Sew Forth” Friday, Sept. 1, at the Aurora Gallery in downtown Vancouver.

“The show is many things, but to Deborah and me, it’s a celebration,” Gary Watson said. “For over 15 years, we’ve wondered whether our collaborative paths would allow us to show our work together in a single space.”

The couple got their answer in 2022, when Gary walked by Elizabeth Steinbaugh’s Aurora Gallery.

“I looked in the window and saw someone I knew in there, so I walked in and, eventually, Elizabeth and I got to talking, so I thought, ‘You know, I’ll ask if she’s interested.’”

The gallery owner agreed to a joint show the following year — for the entire month of September 2023 — that would showcase Gary’s paintings and Deborah’s art quilts.

“She’s supported so many artists over the years,” Gary said of Steinbaugh, a 20-year veteran in the art gallery business.

In fact, Gary said, local artists often rely on people like Steinbaugh to take a chance on them.

“How many people would take the time to give a ‘retired,’ 75-year-old local artist who they’ve never met the time of day?” Gary said of Steinbaugh. “The same could be said of Marquita Call, the owner of the Camas Gallery, where I’ve shown many times over the past five years. There’s an expression: ‘It takes a village,’ which is true, but it also takes individuals willing to step up and support art and its growth within the community. We are so thankful.”

The Watsons, who came into their artist roles later in life — Gary had already retired from a corporate career when he began painting in 2015 — said they’re thrilled to finally have a show that will highlight their love of wildlife and nature and showcase both their talents.

“Deborah, now 65, and I figured it was our last chance to share our collaborative journey with the community,” Gary, 75, said. “There will be over 50 pieces on display — big ones, little ones, all originals — the majority of which have never been shown in a public venue.”

“The show theme, ‘Art and Sew Forth,’ will attempt to create a space where wildlife and nature abound,” Gary added. “Deb has done a lot of shows on her own, and I’ve been in numerous galleries, but we haven’t ever threaded the two together.”

In fact, many Camas-area art lovers may already know of the Watsons through their local shows at the Camas Gallery and, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, at the Second Story Gallery on the second story of the Camas Public Library, where Gary showcased his wildlife paintings in the fall of 2017, and promoted the nonprofit Art for the Life of Elephants, an advocacy organization the Watsons founded to raise money and awareness for the Elephant Crisis Fund.

When the COVID pandemic shuttered galleries, many artists — including the Watsons — realized they needed to rethink how they might get their artwork out to the public.

“One of the things we’ve learned from the shutdown and the pandemic is that people became more comfortable purchasing (artwork) online,” Deborah said.

The Watsons decided they could both use this new trend to help promote their art as well as their advocacy for wildlife groups as well as the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders and groups researching the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

The couple “could see the future,” Gary said, and so they pivoted, creating online sites that could showcase their artwork, sell directly to interested customers and raise money to help wildlife.”

“We’re old people, and so some may laugh and say, ‘Why are you doing this? Starting online stores at your age?’” Deb said. “But we realized that this was going to be the trend moving forward.”

Gary also saw the flexibility of an online store. Instead of just being able to sell his original paintings, he could now easily sell his artwork in print form or on “functional products,” such as T-shirts and mugs. On Gary’s site, 15% of the proceeds from his artwork benefit the Wildlife Conservation Network and Doctors Without Borders.

The pandemic also forced the Watsons to branch out artistically.

“It was really a blessing in one respect,” Gary said. “I went in a new direction, working with oils, collages … things I wouldn’t have done had I not had that time.”

Gary also published his third novel, “Mercy in Masquerade,” inspired by the life of Dr. James Orbinski, the former president of Doctors Without Borders’ international board, during the height of the COVID pandemic, and Deborah, an accomplished quilter, learned about online marketing and taught herself the art of creating three-dimensional art quilts.

The couple said they have been working throughout the past year on the artwork now featured at the Aurora Gallery.

They also have been trying to find ways to keep their advocacy work alive and donate some of their art proceeds to causes near to their hearts — especially those causes that recognize, as Gary described it, “the interplay between the value of human life and the value of animal life.”

“We’re not rich people and can’t contribute bunches of money to everybody,” Gary said. “We have tried our best to use our art to advocate and support three causes: wildlife, Doctors Without Borders, and the fight against Alzheimer’s. Both of us have launched new legacy businesses this year (through) online galleries, aimed at making small contributions to these causes after we are gone. Family members will take the helm once we can no longer maintain them.”

Gary said the couple have had their share of trial and error throughout the past few years, and sometimes thought they should abandon their push to build online galleries at this point in their lives.

“We have had so many failures along the way and so many reasons to abandon the course,” Gary said. “But, each time, we come back to the notion (that) no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. For us, sharing our time and making art as a gift to others is the reason we do it.”

The Watsons will host an after-hours art reception for their “Art and Sew Forth” show from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, at the Aurora Gallery, 1004 Main St., Vancouver. The first 40 attendees to the free art event will receive a free, limited edition print of Gary Watson’s “Winter Hawk” painting.

For more information, visit garywatsonart.com and artandsewforth.com.

For information about the Aurora Gallery show, visit auroragalleryonline.com.