Local artists team up in Linn County guild, gallery

Audrey Caro Gomez

A last name isn’t the only thing Don Ross shares with Bob Ross, the iconic host of public television’s “The Joy of Painting,” which aired from the mid-1980s to the mid-’90s.

They also learned the same “wet-on-wet” painting technique, developed by Bill Alexander.

“I’m Bill Alexander-certified,” proclaimed Don Ross, of Sweet Home. “He trained Bob Ross. That’s how Bob Ross got into the picture.”

The Sweet Home resident became a certified instructor through the Alexander School in 2003.

He is a member of the Linn County Arts Guild and teaches classes at their Gifts & Gallery Store in Lebanon. The shop has been open year-round for about 15 months and is open to artists throughout Linn County, though currently, Ross is the only member from Sweet Home.

Previously, Ross was a salesman and variety store manager, but he took up painting after a couple of companies he worked for “went under.”

“I said, ‘Well, you know, maybe I need to pick up a hobby or something,’” Ross recalled. “I absolutely loved it. It’s so neat, I mean, to pass on what little you know and how much other people can learn.”

Ross has since been active in sharing the technique at local schools and with area residents.

“It’s awesome. I love working with the kids,” Ross said. “I’d really like to get something going here for the kids that come in (to the LCAG gallery).”

Ross teaches his students how to create a painting using the technique he learned at the Alexander School. Most recently, he helped them create a winter scene. Each student’s resulting product will be nearly identical, but for some pieces, he brings optional glitter.

“Basically what I do is a constructive type class,” Ross said. “I’ll show them step by step. I put the paint out on the pallets for them.”

He teaches them how to load the brush and apply paint to the canvas.

Anyone can do it, Ross said.

He tries to keep it simple.

Steve Rice, the guild’s treasurer, agrees.

“That’s what I tell people when they ask about my craft,” said Rice, who does woodworking. ”I tell people all you got to do is start. Just dive in, you’ll find that it’s not that hard.”

Paintings, photography, bowling ball yard art, fiber arts and jewelry are among the other items featured in the shop.

The group is looking for anything that’s locally made and handmade, Rice said.

“That’s our main criteria,” he said. “One of the goals of our guild was to have a store like this and provide an outlet for local artists.”

A recent addition of steampunk seems to attract a lot of people, said Larry Baker, co-president of the guild.

The aesthetics of steampunk are antithetical to that of modern technology.

For example, the design of an iPod is clean and clinical, said Tom Smith, whose steampunk creations have a corner-window display. Steampunk items have more artistic flair.

Smith, who formerly worked at The New Era and who lives in the Bellinger area of rural Lebanon, started creating items for his own use.

“I have an interest in biological science,” Smith said. “I studied a lot of bio science when I was in college.”

He wanted an observation capsule that he could put something from the field in – a bug, for example – and look at through a magnifying glass.

“But I also wanted something that looked really nice and kind of Victorian,” Smith said. “So I made these and when I first started producing them it attracted some interest and I sold one when I just listed it on Etsy to see what would happen and then I thought, ‘Wow, I should do some more of this.’”

He continued to create various objects.

“When I make things I try to use buttons and switches, things people can touch so they’re just fun to use too,” Smith said. “I had a lamp in here that had all kinds of fun stuff, but my kids missed it so much I had to take it back home.”

He does have an MP3 hooked up to the speakers he has on display at the shop. “I’ve got a whole bunch of different songs on the MP3 player so no matter what genre people like, they can come and play some tunes and see how it works,” he said.

He incorporated old radio tubes into the design.

“If you give it just enough voltage, it produces this cool electric pink arc, you know – basically like a plasma dome,” Smith said.