PENINSULA SPOTLIGHT: How artists see our ‘Back Country’

PORT ANGELES — The back country beckons us, with its deep mystery, its untrammeled beauty — and a glint of danger.

An art museum, on the other hand, may not be as tantalizing.

You may worry: What if I don’t “get” the art? What if it’s boring? How do these paintings relate to my life, anyway?

If such thoughts have crossed your mind, then Jake Seniuk believes he has just the ticket.

It’s a free ticket to the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, where “The Back Country” now lives.

This is a new exhibition, a show as varied as the wilderness. Its name, though inspired by poet Gary Snyder’s 1971 book The Back Country, means myriad things, Seniuk says.

Fifty-two artists responded to his call for images of the back country, and Seniuk, director and curator at the fine arts center, selected 32 works ranging from aerial photography to elaborate matchstick sculpture.

An opening reception, with many of the artists on hand, is set for 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the center, 1203 E. Lauridsen Blvd. As always, admission is free and everyone is invited to come in and explore the art space, which is funded by the city of Port Angeles and by donations from local individuals and businesses.

“‘The Back Country’ is particularly poignant at this moment in time,” Seniuk believes. With the Elwha River dams to be removed this fall in a giant National Park Service restoration project, our attention is turning toward the link between wilderness and city.

This show “sets out to explore hinterlands — physical, mental, spiritual and political,” he added.

Artists from near and far, entranced by the back-country idea, have projected ideas both light and dark onto their canvases.

Aviator and photographer David Woodcock of Sequim contributed a dreamlike vision of the Olympic Mountains, while Michael Paul Miller of Port Angeles’ entry is “Migration,” a view of three men in a balloon basket suspended above the scorched Earth.

Erik Sandgren, a painter from Aberdeen, has added a large tableau titled “Journey.” In it, totemic spirits, thick clouds and a white sea come together, with a canoe gliding across them all.

Then there are “Feets,” performance artist Christian Swenson’s looping slide show, and “Hand Basket,” a kind of forest of matchsticks by Karen Hackenberg of Port Townsend. Interpreters Jean-Marie Clarke of Staufen, Germany, Bob Kaune, Peter Malarkey and Anna Wiancko Chasman of Port Angeles, Counsel Langley and Helga Winter of Port Townsend, Pablo McLoud of Carlsborg and Harry von Stark of Quilcene have also contributed to the show.

“The Back Country” stays up at the arts center through Oct. 9, and gallery hours are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. To learn more about the center, visit or phone 360-457-3532.

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