Oregon Art Beat

Pacific Northwest Plein Air Invites Painters To Get Outside

By Emily Fuller (OPB)
May 5, 2017 12:30 a.m.

Every summer, the Pacific Northwest Plein Air event takes place in the Columbia River Gorge. The first "paint out" took place 12 years ago.


The plein air event is an art show and competition with a $1,000 prize offered for first place. Thomas Jefferson Kitts was the first place winner last year. His painting was also purchased by the Maryhill Museum of Art for its collection.

“There is nothing like being in situ on the spot, looking at your subject directly and painting from life. There’s no camera that can capture the full range of values and colors,” said Kitts.


In 2016, the museum began hosting the event, which featured 40 local and regional artists who ventured out into the Gorge to paint on location. The artists produced more than 140 works for the event, which were displayed during a public sale at the Museum.

Located in Goldendale, Washington, on the Columbia River, the museum is nestled in the heart of the natural landscape, which makes it an ideal location for the event.

Anton Pavlenko competes during the 2016 Pacific Northwest Plein Air painting event.

Anton Pavlenko competes during the 2016 Pacific Northwest Plein Air painting event.

Tom Shrider / OPB

“I think that plein air has a kind of Zen to it. It sort of has the best of both worlds. I think there are a lot of artists that will tell you as they’re working, they kind of go into this special place where the world almost doesn’t exist, but I think with plein air, you’re combining not only that kind of aspect of art but also the gorgeousness of the out-of-doors,” said Colleen Schafroth, the museum’s executive director.

Participant Aimee Erickson said painting in the outdoors is a unique experience.

“I kind of see it as the difference between swimming in an indoor pool and swimming in the open ocean,” said Erickson.

This year’s Pacific Northwest Plein Air gathering is scheduled for July 30–Aug. 2. Paintings from the event will be on display at the Maryhill Museum through Aug. 25, 2018.