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The Arts Scene: A sense of place, artistically rendered

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The idea that a sense of place can be interpreted visually through artwork is explored in the newest exhibit at the Larson Gallery. Not only the sense of place, but how we have brought our own culture and blended it with the environment that we now call home, is a concept that can be interpreted many ways.

Working with Rodrigo F. Rentería-Valencia, a Central Washington University assistant professor of anthropology, the resulting exhibit is a blend of three artists and his work with his cultural study of the Yakima Valley.

The recently created Center for Washington Cultural Traditions is a statewide effort to survey, study and support folk and traditional arts and other cultural traditions. As part of this effort in 2018, Central Washington University conducted the Cultural Traditions Survey project in the Yakima Valley. The purpose was to document the work and life stories of local creators whose artistry represented in broad terms the multicultural reality of the Valley.

Building on this study, the exhibit “Sense of Place” aims to showcase the artwork of creators like Christie Tirado, Elizabeth Montes de Oca and Amanda Ontiveros that explore the local sense of place their artistry evokes.

Says Rentería-Valencia: “The Yakima Valley is home to a variety of people. As a space, the Valley shares common qualities and features, and as a constellation of places the Valley represents a kaleidoscope of distinctive cultural and individual experiences.

“In this exhibit, we aim to showcase different ways by which three artists have appropriated, made sense of and represented this Valley. Using media such as ink, clay and paint, their artistic gazes have played with symbols and metaphors to render visible their experiences. Following their journey, we will find that places can be both working landscapes, such as hops or aesthetic experiences like the Cowiche Canyon.

“Shifting scales, we will explore how the Loteria game can create common cultural space for people; or a monarch butterfly, as a symbol, can speak of migration across places or even conditions — death representing, of course, the ultimate migration across time and space.”

Artist Christie Tirado says her pieces “capture the human essence within the Mexican agricultural worker community in Yakima. The Yakima Valley hop industry is supported by the hard labor and work pride of these dedicated people. The purpose of my prints is to socially empower a community that has not historically been portrayed at the forefront of the hop industry.”

Born and raised in the agricultural valleys of Yakima, artist Amanda Ontiveros’ first crib “was an apple bin.” Her gaze has therefore been informed by the colors and textures of life in this Valley. She says her artistic expression, however, was initially punctuated by tragedy and family loss. Art, in the different periods it appeared in Amanda’s youth, was a way to express what words could not.

Elizabeth Montes de Oca’s exploration of art follows a journey of hard work devoted to raising her family. She explains that for over two decades, she put her interest in painting on hold to make ends meet. As the years went by, however, she felt “the impulse to represent the colors and sense of place of landscapes her family considered home — the orchards where they used to sell food to farm workers, and the trails where they wandered in Cowiche Canyon.”

You can explore this idea of the sense of place at the Larson Gallery, 1015 S. 16th Ave. on the Yakima Valley College campus, through Oct. 19.

• David Lynx is executive director of the Larson Gallery at Yakima Valley College. Learn more at

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