John Taylor

It’s August, which means it’s time for our annual art issue.

It probably sounds odd, but when I see August and art in the same sentence I can’t help thinking about a couple of long-passed relatives. My grandfather’s name was August, and I had an uncle named Art.

August Schwardt could build or fix pretty much anything. One of my most prized possessions is a beautiful, hand-carved wooden chess set that he made. I keep it in an old round, wooden tobacco box, which he also made — with a homemade lathe that he rigged up in his shop. When you open the lid to the box, you can still catch a rich whiff of his pipe tobacco.

He was a quiet, thoughtful man who could be comically absent-minded. He once spent months building a boat in his shop, and as he showed it to one of his friends, the friend asked, “How’re you gonna get it out the door, Gus?” Grandpa said nothing for days, but spent hours examining the boat, the shop and his tools. Finally, he tore the boat apart and never spoke of it again.

Math fascinated him, and he loved talking theories and equations with the math teachers at the Kansas school where he worked … as a janitor. Hard times and family moves had forced him to quit school early.

My Uncle Art, on the other hand, was an engineer with a big oil company in Kansas City. He and Aunt Marge would come out West to visit our family every summer, and Art would bore the pants off my father and me as he threw open the hood of his enormous sedan and started holding forth about how fuel really worked in internal combustion engines.

Art was also a Scoutmaster, and he insisted on taking me on tortuous hikes and quizzing me on the knots he’d tried to teach me to tie the summer before. But I never listened and usually forgot everything he said within minutes. Which hole was the bunny supposed to jump through to complete the knot again?

But Uncle Art’s true passion was barbecuing. Seizing control of our patio grill to set off the inescapable family cookout portion of his visit, he often sent flames curling high above the eaves of our house. “There — now THAT’S a fire,” Art would say triumphantly as my father watched in horror and my mother retreated to the kitchen.

Wow — sorry. Guess I kind of wandered off there. But maybe that gets us to the real point anyway. While August is generally one of the best months to be in the Yakima Valley (normally, of course, we’d be in the thick of a packed schedule of festivals, concerts, wine-tastings and other events), this year is clearly different.

It doesn’t mean art and creativity aren’t still thriving, though.

Far from it. Maybe all this isolation and social turmoil is actually forcing us all to think a little more creatively than usual.

Consider local art teachers like East Valley Central Middle School’s Ken Weyrick. As he tells our Glenda Tjarnberg, he’s had to redouble his own professional creativity to teach creative arts to his students. Or think about people who long to be on ocean cruises or exploring exotic places this travel season, but are stuck at home during this global pandemic. Christine Conklin reports that they’ve had to turn up the creativity, too — which for some means taking virtual trips and seeing the sights from their computer screens.

The creative challenges have been just as great for the artists who look forward to annual events like the Downtown Yakima Chalk Art Festival. Molly Allen’s story offers some colorful memories of past festivals and addresses when artists might return to the city’s sidewalks.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that nothing seems to crush creativity for long. Despite our current situation, art adorns most of what you’ll read about in this issue. From the handsome designs of Timberloom that Shannon Mahre describes, to the sweeping beauty and captivating paintings of Robert and Lisa Vickers’ home, which Melissa Labberton tours in this month’s Yakima Abodes feature, the Yakima Valley’s artistry is flourishing.

See? Art’s as vibrant and vital as ever, and it can take you a lot of places. Let’s go see some of them …

- John Taylor