Aug 12, 2023
At Manzanita's Hoffman Center, a gathering place for artists looks ahead
Exhibitions at Hoffman Center for the Arts feature work by experienced and emerging artists, such as Chris Belluschi, whose sculpture is featured during July in the gallery. It started nearly 20 years
Exhibitions at Hoffman Center for the Arts feature work by experienced and emerging artists, such as Chris Belluschi, whose sculpture is featured during July in the gallery.
It started nearly 20 years ago with a donated house. The Hoffman House, as it became known, was to be a place for art and artists.
And they came, a few friends, then a few more. The creaking structure on the main road of Manzanita was soon teeming with paints, clay, fabric and furious creativity.
When Ben Rosenberg first arrived in Manzanita 12 years ago, he was looking for a place to practice his art, teach and connect with other creatives. He didn’t know a soul.
On an early walk around town, he remembers catching sight of a skeleton propped up on a porch holding a sign that read, “Life Drawing.” A lifelong illustrator, Rosenberg often used humor in his art. He had found his people.
Artwork in progress by painter and instructor Ben Rosenberg waits for the final touches in his Manzanita studio.
Inspiration was stoked, and he began working long into the night. Lights would mysteriously turn on, or off. Occasionally, he’d get so spooked he’d call his wife at home. “It was definitely a haunted house,” Rosenberg said, “but it was fun.”
The house served its purpose, but it also needed maintenance. The art collective wanted to tear it down and focus on a bigger structure across the street — something more focused and ambitious. But Rosenberg dug his heels in, only relenting when faced with the sizable cost of renovation. He saved what he could and let it go.
A garden of wonder
In its place, artists planted a sprawling garden, now the Wonder Garden, a fusion of horticulture and art. The newly-christened Hoffman Center for the Arts took shape across the street.
Fast forward a decade or so and the roots of its vision have grown deep, as a place for art and artists that reflects the beauty and inspiration of its coastal home. Today, the center continues to connect emerging and seasoned artists with exhibits, workshops, readings and a clay studio.
Rosenberg now teaches visual art at the center, as well as at Clatsop Community College. He is one of a dozen artists featured in an inaugural open studio tour.
Nearly everything finds its way into Rosenberg’s enigmatic work — from popular culture to personal mementos, humor to grief. Antique puppets saved from a dumpster once insured a whole series of paintings.
Rosenberg recalls lessons from his earliest years. His parents, both New York City artists, abhorred limits. He remembers how they encouraged him to always utilize various disciplines — “many ways of interpretation,” he said.
Manzanita has become something of a refuge for Rosenberg. His work has become simpler and more direct. Still, the vibrancy of the city, and its many modes of expression, find their way in.
“I was born in New York City. I was exposed to the mega capital of the art world,” Rosenberg says of his path to becoming an artist. “I had no choice.”
Now he’s honored to be part of the fabric that holds this collective together. An old Hoffman House holdout, he now sits on the nonprofit’s board of directors.
Rosenberg points to Hoffman’s director, India Downes-Le Guin, as critical to the arts center’s relevance and resurgence.
Taking the helm of an organization that’s been humming along for 20 years can be a hard adjustment, but Downes-Le Guin has hit the ground running. “We’ve been around for a while, but in some ways, we’re entering a new era,” she said.
India Downes-Le Guin, director of Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, is challenging the art collective to maintain its diversity of art offerings and instruction while remaining affordable and accessible.
She’s not doing it alone. Downes-Le Guin points to dozens of volunteers and artists that form the backbone of the center, those that support its juried gallery shows, monthly publications, lecture series and numerous workshops.
Still, this directorship is the center’s first permanent staff position, part of an effort to expand even further. Current goals include more youth programming and new community partnerships.
Downes-Le Guin is no stranger to the intricacies of the art world, but the center’s milieu of a gallery, workspace, lecture hall and venue opened her eyes to new possibilities. “I didn’t really understand how impactful a place to meet can be,” Downes-Le Guin said.
Now, she’s bringing in artists that are resurgent and capable of teaching what they’ve wrought from years of study and work. Iris Sullivan Daire fits that bill. Her textile-based work currently hangs in the gallery. She came to Hoffman much like she came to indigo and natural dyes — by simply following her curiosity.
Sullivan Daire’s July talk, “The Devil’s Dye,” covered various aspects of this ancient tradition. “Everyone’s worn indigo, because everyone’s worn jeans,” she said.
That familiar denim hue comes from indigo, though these days it is often the synthetic kind, mass-produced and hard on the environment. But the use of indigo goes back thousands of years and appears among Indigenous cultures from India to the Americas.
“It’s been hugely important culturally,” Sullivan Daire said. “In some cultures, it’s the first thing you wrap (a) baby in.”
Less than 1% of plants contain the precursors for creating the dye. And while there is no tradition native to the Northwest, the plants now grow all over Sullivan Daire’s garden.
Painter and glass artist Rae Mahaffey serves as curator at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita. She is part of a cadre of experienced volunteers bringing art world professionalism to a growing collective.
The process ends in a big, blue vat, where projects are folded, pressed and soaked, sometimes for days, dipped and exposed to air repeatedly to set the dye. Hues of the deepest blues, but also pinks, reds and purples, are possible.
Sullivan Daire is emerging as a leader within a movement of indigo dye use. She has taught traditional dyeing methods and led presentations at local schools. In January, Hoffman Center for the Arts will host a group show, fittingly themed “Indigo.”
“Indigo can be a force for reconciliation,” Sullivan Daire said, “for looking with new eyes at our past, and maybe it can help us make better choices about our future.” She points to tobacco farmers using indigo crops to regenerate soil, and how some denim brands are once again experimenting with the traditional indigo process.
Hoffman’s curator, Rae Mahaffey, knows cool. She is a prolific painter herself, and has shown her work at eminent galleries such as the Russo Lee Gallery in Portland for many years.
Because Hoffman’s shows are juried, Mahaffey focuses less on who to show but on how to get the best out of the work jurists have selected.
Artists often want to show all their work, explains Mahaffey, but she helps them narrow it down to a body that is as cohesive as it is expressive. “What we really aim for is to be very welcoming,” she said.
The center seeks to bring more people into the fold — artists, art appreciators and educators. “We like it to go full circle.”
She’s still blown away by Manzanita’s talent pool, one that sometimes appears bottomless. “These are just great people, willing to put their time and energy into something,” Mahaffey said.
Carving a lifeM.J. Anderson has certainly put in the time. She has been in Nehalem for 38 of the 40 years she’s spent sculpting — when she’s not in Italy. For someone with a global reach, she has largely avoided large galleries and cities.
“Their business models don’t suit my business model,” Anderson said. But going against the grain is nothing new for her.
Even today, the world of sculpture is dominated by men. In the early 1980s, Anderson stood out, but she was tough, and better yet, she always knew what she wanted to say.
A marble sculpture by M.J. Anderson shows two figures turning away from each other.
“I’m still carving work about what it feels like to be a woman, not what it looks like,” Anderson said. She has always considered her work “a feminist reaction to living in the world.”
Occasionally, she is asked why her sculptures rarely have heads. She explains that she’s not trying to create an individual, as much as an essence.
“They don’t have the same kind of power as these essential core forms,” Anderson said, “I don’t make statues. I make sculptures.”
Anderson’s works often evoke forms that are graceful yet firm in presence. She insists she’s not trying to create alluring bodies but work that demonstrates power. “Beauty, but realistic beauty,” she said.
Her Nehalem studio and home meld into a singular place. Torsos emerge from chunks of rock. The space delights the eye and its transcendent figures cast an almost eerie presence.
“A sculpture is more like another entity you’re sharing your home with,” Anderson said. “It’s like the other. It has a real presence.” When she takes on a rough hunk of stone, she has no idea what will emerge. “I get to stay present in the moment of creativity the entire time,” she said.
It’s when she talks about how the marble was once alive at the bottom of the sea, the strength in her eye gives way to a wondrous sparkle. “I just love stone. It’s metamorphic,” she said. Part of a process over millions of years, she recounts, “and I get to carve it.”
Teaching has helped her become a better artist, too. It’s in talking about the work — not just doing it, but understanding why. That’s where a community like this one comes in.
Anderson looks at everything, from the modern to the ancient. She has sat with the work of masters, and yet consistently speaks with a clear style.
Artists should find their unique voice, she said, their mode of expression. But passion alone is not enough. With that, she doesn’t mince words. “It’s good for people to understand that making art is work,” she said.
A community like this one in Manzanita can be a step into a practice that is more informed and visible. Art can exist in obscurity, but it thrives by being seen. While effusive with her knowledge, Anderson only rarely takes on apprentices. They have to be plucky and have thick skin.
Sculptor M.J. Anderson at work in her Nehalem studio.
But, occasionally, that person comes along. Christoper Belluschi grabbed ahold of Anderson one day and wouldn’t let go. She recognized his fierceness of spirit. Now, Belluschi is showing his sculpture for the first time this month in the Hoffman Center’s gallery.
While his forms are less human, more organic and primordial, they breathe with the balance and volume of Anderson’s figures, suggesting an influence. But Belluschi’s works are remarkably realized for someone who has never before shown in public.
“His work is incredibly strong,” Anderson said.
Artists, Anderson said, need to be challenged. Sometimes that means telling students to look at their pieces less and touch them more. “Your hand has body memory. Your eyes will deceive you,” she said.
Her upcoming talk, “From Nehalem to Carrara — Carving a Life from Marble,” is an account of incredible hopscotching between continents, sourcing her marble in Carrara, Italy and finishing off her work in Nehalem.
She was 30 years old when she started attacking the stone with a chisel, hammer, faith and grit. She’s 70 now. Is she slowing down?
Waving her hand across maybe 100 unfinished forms, Anderson speaks plainly, “I have to finish all these pieces.” No doubt, she will.
594 Laneda Ave., Manzanita
Open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday; workshops, check online for exhibits, readings, workshops and studio space available
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