The cold, damp air and clouds of the South Sound laid behind us as the team from Explore Washington State and I drove up the 405 towards our northern destination. Exiting onto the 532, each of us had just entered personal undiscovered territory and began to observe all that was around us. The sun had broken through the clouds and we had arrived.
Sprawling farmland, beautiful homes and scenic views of Skagit Bay and Penn Cove, we were a world away from our Seattle-suburbian life, and it was only a two hour drive. It was island life without the tourist traps – and we were hooked! The island itself has over 30 cabins, Air BnB’s, great restaurants, a zip like, and miles of hiking trails. No ferry required to get to this island!
We had made our way here to visit the Camano Island Studio Tour, which only happens two weekends a year for five days, Mother’s Day weekend and the following weekend. This year marked the 20th anniversary of the art event that has transformed the community of Camano Island into an art destination. The tour and the Camano Arts Association were both founded by Karla Matzke and Jack Gunter. The tour’s humble beginnings started with a coffee meeting and then touring a few artist galleries – and is now what it has become today. The unique event gives visitors an inside look at the artists behind the art. From ceramics to glass, from painting and mixed media to jewelry, from photography to sculpture to textiles and more – the tour has become one of the premier art events in the Pacific Northwest.
Our first stop was O’Neil’s Arts, located on the northeast part of the island. Blown glass artist, Stan O’Neil, demonstrated his skills and techniques to us by creating a beautiful spiral wrapped platter. Stan has been blowing glass for over 14 years and learns something new everyday. He often has his mind set to create one thing and then something else comes out of the kiln entirely. With glass blowing, there are so many different steps, that if one thing goes wrong, your project is over. It’s all about timing, heat, and how much you blow with each piece he creates. Stan and his team can create up to 50 pieces of art per day and two sculptures a day (depending on how many people are working in the studio). You can purchase one of Stan’s beautiful pieces at his studio or online here.
Our next stop was at the Matzke Fine Arts and Design Gallery and Sculpture Park, tucked away towards the south end of the island. The Matzke Gallery is open year round and is considered one of Camano Island’s destination galleries. The gallery is committed to representing the best and the brightest talent from the Pacific Northwest, the United States and Japan. Phillip Levine, Hiroshi Yamano, Tracy Powell, Kevin Pettelle, Betty and Russell Frost are among over 65 emerging, mid-career, and established artists exhibiting at the Gallery and Sculpture Park. Artists from around the globe travel to the gallery to create their exquisite designs instead of shipping them to the island. Their goal is to connect artists and collectors through special events, exhibits, art production, and art education programs. We met with the legendary Karla Matzke herself, who moved to Camano Island in 1990 after growing up in upstate New York. She bought the 10-acre property in 2002 and lives above the art gallery. Karla wanted a peaceful place to display art both indoors and outdoors. When she couldn’t afford to have someone help her create the sculpture park, she rented the tractors and heavy equipment herself and cleared pathways through the densely forested area (girl power!). In 2008, the gallery and sculpture garden opened to the public. Karla changes the gorgeous and unique displays every six weeks and the public can attend a variety of shows, retreats, workshops and art classes throughout the year.
After our visit with Karla, we stopped by Camano Island State Park for one of the most scenic picnics ever experienced. The sun was shining with a warm and gentle breeze and we all relaxed and ate while taking in the views of Whidbey Island and Skagit Bay.
Our final stop for the day was at the home of famed-Camano Island watercolor artist, John Ebner. Ebner has been painting watercolors for the past 35 years and one of his pieces was the featured cover art this year on the Studio Tour brochure. His absolutely stunning backyard looks like one of his paintings – with the splash of colorful flowers, trees and water fountains – I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be inspired to start painting watercolors themselves.
Carve out Mother’s Day weekend and the following weekend out in your calendars in 2019 for the next Camano Island Studio Tour and put the island on your Washington must-see destination list! You can watch our full adventure on Explore Washington State’s YouTube channel here: