A young woman pays a backward glance over her right shoulder in Tonya Smithburg’s portrait entitled Graceful.
Behind her trails a dirt road into the countryside, along the darkness of a fenced-in woodland. The woman appears to be at a crossroads – she is looking back, but she is not turning back.
There is a sense of urgency that permeates this and many of Smithburg’s images, with her use of vivid color and kinetic imagery. Some of her favorite work has been “about receiving energy and being present and aware, and being in the moment,” she said.
At this moment Smithburg, 23, is a fixture in the Silverton area, where she has spent the last several years since graduating from Silverton High School. She currently has paintings on display at both The Gathering Spot and Lunaria Gallery.
Her work can also be seen in several of the murals adorning the walls around town. In July, she will host a joint exhibit with fellow artist Lori Webb at Lunaria.
According to Smithburg, her work is both a passion and a responsibility.
“My overall goal as an artist is to create a sense of curiosity and presence in the viewer,” she said. “I like the reaction I get out of people when I create art for them. I feel like it’s a gift that I have to give.”
It’s an important service, local artist Emily Start says.
The purpose of art is “to make you smell roses in December,” Start said, “it doesn’t matter if it’s a poem or music or a painting or jewelry or anything like that.”
“We all have a tie-in with the natural world. We see something beautiful and we recognize it. And then artists will help you relive that moment when no roses are blooming.”
For Start, a lifelong Silverton resident, it is her identity.
Friday, April 6, 6 to 9 p.m.
Celebration of Cultures
Friday, April 6, 6 to 9 p.m.
Displays, music, dance and
art from different cultures in
downtown Silverton. Free.
Silverton Poetry Festival
April 13 to April 21
Silverton Wine & Jazz Festival
April 14, 7 p.m.
Dave Friesen Trio at
The Oregon Garden Resort
Day-long Festival May 19 in
“Art is something that’s been in my blood my whole life.”
And over the past two decades it has increasingly become a part of Silverton’s identity.
On April 6, as part of the town’s First Friday events, Silverton Together hosts its annual Celebration of Cultures.
According to the event’s website, the goal is to celebrate “the diversity that lies not only within our own community but the global community as well.”
There will be programs that “explore various cultures through their food and arts,” as well as “discussions, workshops and featured speakers who deal with both historical and current cultural issues.”
Doreen Kelly, program coordinator of Silverton Together, said Silverton’s Celebration of Cultures is a time for community members “to jump in with both feet and dance to music, try a new food or listen to music or to just sit back and enjoy.”
But Celebration of Cultures is not the only cultural event of the month.
In addition, the 12th annual Silverton Poetry Festival will be hosting poetry readings, performances and discussions with authors and poets at venues throughout town.
In May, the Silverton Wine and Jazz Festival will take center stage. Later in the summer the Silverton Arts Association will be hosting the 11th annual Silverton Fine Arts Festival at McClaine & Coolidge Park. Plus there is everything in between from book clubs and author readings to musical performances at local restaurants and art classes to local plays.
“I think most people, their first impression of Silverton is that it is an artistic community,” said Lori Webb, a local artist who doubles a manager for Creekside Grill.
How did a rural, once milltown become a center for the arts?
“The arts and culture are just infused into our community,” Kelly said. “It’s a mindset. People value arts and culture in our community and that’s a reason many people move here.”
With so many activities happening throughout the year there are numerous opportunities for people to experience arts and culture hands on, Kelly said.
“People are eager to share what they know with others,” Kelly said. “They don’t make art or culture intimidating but rather something to learn. “It’s pretty special. It’s pretty magical here.”
Start credits the efforts of the Silverton Arts Association in energizing and involving artists throughout the community.
She also has a theory – Silverton was founded by farmers. It is this legacy, she believes, that laid the foundation for the type of cooperative culture that artists thrive upon. Like artists, farmers support and depend on each other.
“Being a farmer you have to be a creative and inventive and entrepreneurial person,” she said. “Artists like beauty, artists like solitude, and they seem to group up.”
“I got sucked in, just like that.”
Silverton is not only a good place to create, but for artists it’s also a compelling subject itself, Webb said.
“They’re painting this place, because it’s got so much charm, the rolling hills, and Silver Falls,” she said, “there’s just a lot to look at and share with people, using art to do that.”
It’s that charm that inspires Vince Till, long-time president of the Silverton Mural Society.
Since 1992, the group has placed more than 20 murals on walls throughout the area. The murals depict various images from Silverton’s history, from Homer Davenport to a collage celebrating Silverton native and NASA astronaut Don Pettit.
The murals serve an emotional purpose, Till said, in celebrating the town’s rich history.
“I think [having murals] brings thoughts into your mind, that lets you realize that there is more in the world,” he said. “That when you see an image on there, it reminds you of your past history and your roots. I think it has a soothing effect to your mind.”
But according to Till, perhaps the most important purpose of the murals is an economic one. In 1992, the main idea behind starting the project was to bring about an economic revival.
Leaders wished to pull in tourists on their way to Silver Falls State Park, and the lure of the murals would bring them into the town and its businesses, Till explains.
“That means they’re going into the stores to help the merchants in the downtown area,” he said.
According to Michelle Fenney, owner of the Green Store and Café Earth, the murals have a noticeable impact.
“We have the brochures here,” she said, “and they always ask, ‘Do you have some information, do you have a map?’ They want to go see the murals.”
Hosting cultural events like First Friday and poetry readings also bring customers into the store, she said. And even if they don’t buy, they think about coming back later.
“I think that, when we have [events] here in the store it gives people an opportunity,” she said. “If they haven’t seen the store before, to get to know that we’re here.”
A similar event – a fashion show – was put on by Webb at Creekside Grill in November drawing more than 60 people.
Celebrating art and culture does a lot for businesses like her own, she said, “because you have to connect yourself to the community in as many ways as you can.”
Many feel Silverton’s vibrant cultural scene is something unique in the region. In times of economic uncertainty, it also may be one of the most marketable parts of the community.
“We do need something to be unique about us,” Fenney said. She feels the city council could do more to invest in and promote the arts, in particular the murals.
“I think the jury’s out” on how supportive of the arts the town leadership is, she said.
For Webb, there’s no other place like it.
“I think it’s the synergy of all of it coming together,” said Webb.
“You probably couldn’t transplant it, because it’s Silverton’s history, Silverton’s architecture, Silverton’s landscape, Silverton’s people, Silverton’s businesses that all support the appreciation of art.”
And it’s not that there aren’t some other towns that contribute, she said, “but [Silverton] is kind of where all comes together. And a river runs through it.”
At the Stone Creek Café, Tonya Smithburg sits beside a Shari Lord painting, Sun Flowers on Red Chair, as she sips a warm coffee. A heavy snow cascades onto the street, outside the window.
“A world without art would be very mechanical, uniform, I would think,” she said, “not much room for individual expression.”
After the July exhibit, she’s uncertain what her future holds.
She’s thinking about leaving for art school, possibly in California. But she is hesitant to leave Silverton. She has roots here, she said.
“People value beauty and I think that’s why people like it here.”