In 2008, Toledo Mayor Rod Cross asked plein air artist Michael Gibbons for his vision for the small mill town. As Gibbons’ wife Judy recalls, her husband’s response was “art.”
Fourteen years later, that focus is well on its way to fruition.
On Labor Day weekend, September 3-5, the 28th annual Toledo Art Walk takes place, featuring some old art, some new and a lot of art – more than 25 artists in eight locations. And although Gibbons died in 2020, his tireless efforts to revitalize Toledo and its neglected old buildings, and develop an arts district, seem to be coming to fruition.
While the illness and death of her husband and the advent of COVID closures led to the cancellation of the annual Art Walk in 2020, and only a mini-version of it last year, Judy Gibbons is delighted to bring back the weekend event of Labor Day on a “higher level” this year, with new facilities and live classical music.
And despite Michael’s absence, his influence as a still life painter remains strong in the city, with Judy continuing to promote his legacy.
Guest artist Colleen Caubin of Newport, who studied plein air painting with Gibbons, is showing her work at the Gibbons-founded Yaquina River Art Museum. She is dedicating her exhibit, titled “Heaven in a Wildflower” after William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence,” to her mentor’s memory.
“I miss Michael; he was such an important part of my life as a painter,” Caubin said.
Caubin said she wanted to do a one-woman show to honor Gibbons. “He was basically the first person I met when I moved here,” she said.
“I try to capture my first impression—I just want the raw, beautiful, innocent impression that hits you first,” Caubin said of her simple painting.
Caubin recalled: “I had never had any instruction in plein air painting before I met Michael. Plein air is completely different from studio painting. You have to respond immediately to what’s in front of you.”
“I wanted to paint the sea,” she recalls. “I had been to Newport once to visit my brother, and there was so much here for a sea-scape painter that I had no need to go anywhere else.
“This show is not only to thank Michael and Judy, but also to celebrate how exquisite this area is,” she said. “Michael’s vision with his gallery and museum is to bring recognition to his landscape.”
As Judy wrote in “Michael Gibbons, Painting in Nature,” “he leaves a legacy of paintings to remind us of the beauty and importance of nature.” His pure oil paintings feature “the voice of nature,” she noted.
Judy, who runs the Art Walk this year, likes to call it Revival Art Walk 28 and sees a historical significance in it that goes beyond music and art. “There’s a new focus on the arts in the city of Toledo with its new economic development that looks to rejuvenate Main Street,” she explained. She noted that several historic buildings in the city have been repurposed to focus on the arts, both in the Arts District and on Main Street.
And up the hill in the Arts District that Gibbons founded, art of all kinds is thriving and will be on display this Labor Day weekend.
Ceramics and photography and a musical presentation by the Newport Youth Symphony at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Art murals are also popping up around town, and this year’s Art Walk includes a rerun of the Toledo Library Founders Show on Saturday only. An art talk, a tradition Michael started, is at 1pm daily outside at the Yaquina River Art Museum. And the city’s Art, Oysters & Brews event on Main Street on Sept. 3 and 4 from noon to 5 p.m. brings “Street Art” from surprise artists.
At its heart, Art Walk welcomes the public into artists’ studios. Over the years, visitors have flocked to the Art Walk “to get a glimpse of the artist’s real life—seeing art where it’s being made,” as Michael Gibbons put it. And part of his vision for Toledo was to see the city become an art mecca.
The Art Walk began when Gibbons, then a mentor artist with the Vistas & Vineyards plein art program in Corvallis, opened his Toledo studio in the former Methodist Church during Vistas’ annual fall “artists in place” studio tour, complete with summer of Springhill Cellars and local musicians.
Art Walk Toledo began in 1994 as a casual affair called “Open Studios,” and now has 28 years under its belt, Judy said. In October 1993, Gibbons convinced fellow Toledo artists Ivan Kelly and Doug Haga to join him in opening their studios to the public. The art show at the time in Toledo was a “real novelty,” Judy said.
“Now that Art Toledo’s Main Street is joining the First Weekend in Summer and Art Walk schedule, we’re seeing more interest in the arts in general in Toledo,” Judy said. “Main Street Phantom Galleries are being displayed in windows throughout the year and exterior wall murals are appearing, with more planned to come.”
Maps for self-guided tours are available at participating galleries. Visitors can collect a stamp or signature at each participating gallery, then bring the completed cards to the final stop to be entered into a drawing for prizes from participating artists.
The Toledo Art Walk celebrates its 28th year on Labor Day weekend, Saturday through Monday, September 3-5, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Entry is free.