The local community is known for its abundance of both artists and art galleries, but Laurie Riley has made her art such a personal part of her life that she and her husband converted part of their …
The local community is known for its abundance of both artists and art galleries, but Laurie Riley has made her art such a personal part of her life that she and her husband converted part of their home into a gallery.
While Riley’s “Art of the Wild” gallery is typically only open by appointment or on special occasions, she’s following the First Saturday Art Walk on Dec. 7 with an open house (literally) for Art of the Wild on Sunday, Dec. 8, starting at 2 p.m.
Walk through the front door of Riley’s stately Port Townsend home, and you’ll immediately see her art gallery in the expansive room to your right, with her colorful canvases complemented by the stone sculptures of Colorado-based fellow artist Rosetta.
Riley credits her training, which included tutoring in her teens by a nature artist from the Wedgwood Company of England, with impressing upon her the importance of detail in achieving verisimilitude.
“He taught me a style of painting which, if you were painting a flower, for example, would allow you to make it look as real as possible,” Riley said.
Riley excelled enough in the field to land her first one-person gallery show at the age of 16, as well as a scholarship to study art and music at Marlboro College, Vermont.
As for Riley’s love of nature, it grew to full bloom when she moved from the East Coast to the West in her 30s, after selling her works of graphic art, illustration and jewelry at craft shops, galleries and art fairs for several years.
“I love being able to see nature just outside my window,” Riley said. “The landscape is so beautiful. They have mountains back east, but they’re nothing compared to the mountains out here.”
The final ingredient in Riley’s transition to nature art was her inability to continue her career as a full-time professional harpist, which she’d started in 1985 and was forced to step back from in 2005.
“I was facing health challenges and touring all the time,” Riley said. “I needed something I was just as passionate about, so I returned to painting, which I could do from home, on my own time.”
Back then, home was Sedona, Arizona, where the quality of her art earned her several local gallery showings, and her work was seen in juried art shows, in both Arizona and Washington.
Riley connected with Rosetta through the Canadian-based Artists for Conservation, of which they’re both signature members.
According to Riley, such a status requires one to demonstrate not only “a certain level of skill” in wildlife art, but also to donate portions of their proceeds to conservation-centric causes.
The recipients of Riley’s largesse have been the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, and she plans to add the Sarvey Wildlife Care Center in Arlington, Washington, and the Center Valley Animal Rescue in Quilcene.
Riley is also a board member of the International Society Of Scratchboard Artists, “whose works are so detailed that they’re often mistaken for black-and-white photographs,” as well as a member of the International Guild of Realism, but to her, what matters most is capturing the vitality and awareness of animals, in ways that make all those fine details come to life.
“I’ve always been passionate about animals,” Riley said. “There’s an honesty to them. You always know, by their actions, what’s on their minds. Even those animals some might consider scary are simply doing what it takes to live. They deserve our compassion.”
Riley lamented the loss of many animals’ natural habitat, noting the near-extinction levels of species such as tigers, and expressed the hope that her art might help spur people to take action on behalf of animals and nature alike.
“Animals have souls, and deserve to live well, not just whatever limited lives we might choose for them,” Riley said. “I want to show what’s inside an animal’s soul, what they’re thinking and feeling. These aren’t just painted mug shots of different animals. If I’ve done it right, the people who come here should take away something about the value of life.”
While her heart was willing, Riley knew that converting a room of her house into an art gallery, built to accommodate visitor traffic, would require her and her husband to navigate some challenges of practicality.
“We needed a new floor,” Riley said. “The old one was white carpeting, which is not good for groups of people, even if you limit their numbers to appointment only. We switched to solid hardwood, and installed track lighting.”
As with any gallery, Riley has worked to ensure her art is shown in the literal best light.
“When someone looks at a piece of art, you don’t want them to see the frame,” Riley said. “Nothing should distract the viewer from the art itself.”
Fortunately, by making “Art of the Wild” a private gallery, Riley was able to skip the permitting process that would have been required if she was open to the public for regular business hours, but the expense of establishing the gallery was nonetheless significant enough that she preferred not to add up the numbers.
“Let’s just say that, as an investment, it was definitely worth it,” Riley said, “especially if it can contribute to conservation.”
For more information about Art of the Wild, visit artofthewild.com.
To learn more about the sculptor Rosetta, visit rosettasculpture.com.
Riley’s gallery is not open for drop-in customers. Instead, RSVP to receive the address for Art of the Wild’s open house at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8, email Riley at email@example.com.