A woman driving up to Fishtrap this week noticed the overpass with the stylized metal salmon flying over the freeway in The Dalles. "Why can't they all be like that?" she asked. Some mixture of the practical and the poetic in our freeway overpasses and other necessary public facilities.
Another woman at the same table talked about seeing a huge metal sculpture of a chicken in the sky - only to have it diminish into a satellite dish.
One of the things I've learned in 16 years of Fishtrap gatherings at Wallowa Lake is the depth of our interest in and need for art. We want to see it, taste it, feel it, write it, read, and listen to it - it's as basic as our needs for food, shelter, and procreation. At Fishtrap, people bring stories they've sheltered for decades - or construct new ones out of air and imagination. They laugh, clap, and cry at hearing others' stories. And they revel in the mountains, trees, birds, butterflies, and sounds that nestle Wallowa Lake Methodist Camp.
For many, Fishtrap is a week where another sensitivity takes over - or, more aptly, the sensitivities they need to negotiate everyday lives in work cubicles, supermarkets, and freeway traffic are switched off and deeper, more subtle sensitivities re-emerge.
You don't have to come to Fishtrap to know this about human psyches. Look at the people taking pictures of Joseph Main Street bronzes, at the cameras on tripods and canvases on easels at the wide spot by Creighton Kooch's Clydesdales. Look at your own refrigerator, which is probably decorated with photos and children's crude art work.
Any yet - everything in our culture tells us that it is not art, but fame, money and the things that fame and money buy that are important and make us happy. Big houses, new cars, and traveling itineraries that fill the globe and the calendar are real marks of success - and happiness - aren't they?
Art is an adornment, an extra, what we buy when we are successful. In this community, some people make money by producing art - it's an economic factor. The state of Oregon moved the State Arts Council to the Department of Economic Development. Art in Oregon - art in Wallowa County - is important in so far as it contributes to the economy, to the accumulation of money and fame and the things that money and fame purchase.
Ironically, while business pages of daily papers, infomercials, and thousands of money magazines and books describe the road to happiness through wealth and power, newspaper front pages, popular magazines and TV documentaries are full of stories about the crashes on this road. Fights and squabbles over money, corporate scandals, bitter divorces and scandals involving greed and corruption often push the good news off front pages, and Jane Doe and John G. Public seem to find delight in seeing the rich and famous fall. Books are written and movies made about this. Some of them are good; they become art.
There is a kind of schizophrenia going on in our society, and in our souls. The notion that having more will lead to individual and societal happiness vies with a growing discontentment with the very things that are supposed to give us happiness. Sometimes art displays this schizophrenia; sometimes it is its salve.
Many times Wallowa County is a place where others come to get away from the schizophrenia for a few days. There is a calming in the water, mountains, and canyons. Small shops with owners who work the counter are gentle reminders of an older slower time for many now sentenced to shop in malls and super stores. Dave Jensen's photos explode off gallery walls. Chuck Garret's designs swim on t-shirts, Dave Crawford's strange beasts and humans perch on pedestals, and Steve Arment's doors mark buildings. Because it's a vacation and because the traffic is slower, visitors stop their cars to take a picture of Creighton's Clydesdales set against the mountains, relax over lunch on the deck at Wildflour, and examine the bronze horses on Main Street. At Fishtrap, local writers - and, increasingly, musicians - join fine artists from across the region, forget their laundry and their 401 K accounts for a few days, and dwell in art.
We who live here should be jealous of what others come to find. We should remember that art feeds our souls as well as our bellies.