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Vashon Grange Artists on Spring Studio Tour

“Shepardess” oil on board by Najua K. Frost.
“Shepardess” oil on board by Najua K. Frost.

When, as a young boy, Gus Schairer, one of 7 artists exhibiting at the Grange Hall with next month’s Vashon Island Art Studio Tour, saw sculptor Constantine Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” he was stunned and energized with the realization: “That’s what I want to do!” Although that vision became obscured by the challenges and vagaries of life, Gus never lost sight. Various business ventures were a source of pride and the joys of family life demanded responsibility, but those and a range of other obstacles seemed to push that dream away. Still, the passion remained inside, dormant, and waiting.

When Gus finally came to the good life on Vashon Island, he found all the tools to finally bring to life the beautiful sculptures that have been waiting to come out his whole life.

His exquisitely carved sculptures will be featured along with six other artists at the north end Grange Hall, a new venue on the Arts Tour and one of 23 artistically rich and exciting stops on the upcoming Vashon Island Spring Art Studio Tour during the first two weekends in May.

Participating in the Grange Hall exhibit along with Gus are Suzanna Leigh, Marcia McKinzie, Valerie Lulu Roberts, Najua Frost, William Forrester, and Lenard Yen. These seven artists are among the many island artists that make the weekly Thursday night trek up to the Grange Hall to engage in the difficult but foundational challenges of drawing the human figure. The discipline of drawing the human figure, capturing its light and shadow, emotion, gesture and proportions is a tall order for the Grange Artists. Yet they steadfastly continue in the belief that it informs and sustains all of their studio art. Many of us are finding our artistic tools and mediums that, like Gus in varying degrees, have been too long dormant.

Suzanna Leigh learned to paint watercolors at her mother’s knee. After 20 years of teaching, including running “Suzanna’s School”, Suzanna began to truly focus on her art. After painting watercolors and printmaking with Quartermaster Press, Suzanna found her affinity with painting on silk, achieving the vibrancy of color she sought. Suzanna’s painted stories might accompany folktales from China. She draws from the natural beauty around her, stroking her brush like a sumi painter. Suzanna paints patterns on silk using silk dyes and employing “Serti” and Shibori techniques. Serti is the use of lines of resist to contain the dye, and Shibori is the traditional Japanese way of folding and blocking cloth to create surprising patterns. The work of Suzanna’s hands express the joy of her beautiful spirit. Suzanna will have paintings on silk, wearable art including scarves, and hand painted and dyed silk fabrics waiting for your creative touch.

Valerie Lulu Roberts is a longtime Vashon Islander who also finds exuberant beauty in our natural world. Valerie continues to paint in watercolors which satisfies her more fluid and sensual muse, but also has found an affinity with the encaustic (wax) medium that satisfies her more visceral and expansive needs as an artist. This broad range of mediums is “a type of therapy or vehicle to explore the unrevealed parts of my soul” The act of painting for Valerie is all about love. What kind of love? “Love of beauty, love of nature, love of human intelligence…” Or, to quote the great soul singer Barry White: “Capitol L: Love!” Valerie will also have greeting cards of her work.

Najua Frost began her life as an artist in childhood, when she learned to her chagrin that art class was never long enough to finish her current piece underway. After a 20-year hiatus from creating to raise a family, she began painting again in 2003. Najua’s passion is landscape painting in oils, and her interest in the figure often leads her to integrate them into her landscapes. She captures many scenes of Vashon life in her sketchbooks, facets of which eventually find their way into her paintings. She also works abstractly and in watercolors; her exhibit for the Studio Tour will be a collage of her many explorations.

Marcia McKinzie, is a self-taught artist, whose retirement recently provided the opportunity to unearth her hidden talent. Marcia has developed a technique called “Watercolor Batik”. She paints on rice paper, and then the painting is covered with paraffin wax. Through a process of crumpling and adding more color, then more paraffin, the end result is a “richly colorful, beautifully textured painting”.

Lenard Yen has not lost the puckish, whimsical and adventurous spirit of an artist that for many of us is muffled by the demands of life. After a career of running restaurants (and a mysterious career of teaching at Columbia University in the previous mid to late century!) Lenard moved to Vashon and set his energies and expressive line to task: Lenard’s unique and rich drawings and paintings often appear like a walk through art history. An homage to Toulouse Lautrec, a bow to Ferdinand Leger, a quote from Rouault, an influence from Odilon Redon, and a reference to the American modernist Leon Golub. Lenard has a keen eye for a rich heritage that keeps him grafted onto the tree of contemporary art. “I’m into visual potlucks, shape shifting jams, and rummaging the closets of memory and dreamscape for my journey to the canvas. Relationships are part of paintings, a love affair.” In the end, there’s Lenard: unique and honest.
William Forrester’s dad wanted him to be a political cartoonist, but he found he was too willing to hear the other side of the story to ever convincingly ink a good caustic cartoon, and he did not relish the prospect of “getting angry six times a week”. In the late 70’s He attended The New School of Visual Concepts, ran by the parents of our former Beachcomber editor Leslie Brown. There Leslie’s parents taught him to draw and paint to the aroma of turpentine and Twinkies as the school was next to the Hostess Cupcake Factory on Aurora Avenue. Then, in 1982, he got lost in the New York art world for 16 years. In these recent days, Will is taking a break from painting murals to offer a new medium: Jigsaw Puzzles for Weddings; large scale custom cut jigsaw puzzles for weddings and other festive occasions. Let him take a photograph of you and your fiancée (or you and your graduating friends, or whatever!) and he will glue it down to Russian Birch 9 ply plywood and cut it into enough pieces to hand out to your wedding or party guests. They can then sign the back of thier puzzle piece and put the puzzle together. Come see the three puzzles made thus far and watch the progress of the large 12’x 8’ 60 piece puzzle being slowly assembled on the McFeed’s building by Vashon Allied Arts.Will is also showing Watercolors of GreenMan Farm vegetables, (originals and greeting cards) and his continuing series of charcoal Portraits of Elders and Mentors.

The Grange Artist website can be found at
The Vashon-Maury Grange Hall is located next to the parking lot just above the north end ferry dock.
Vashon Art Studio Tour will be held May 3rd and 4th, and May 10th and 11th from 10am to 5pm. There are an abundance of 23 studios on the tour, all over the “Shire” of Vashon. This is a tremendous opportunity to visit some colorful studios with a range of colorful artwork: Painters, potter, weavers, sculptors, printmakers, woodcarvers, jewelers, photographers, glass blowers and more. Maps to guide your tour will be available at most island businesses and all tour stops, identified by a Vashon Art Studio Tour sign.

You can review all the tour sites, and review artists personal websites, all found at