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Intimate art club right at home in Amboy

To call the Amboy Art Club “off the beaten path” might make sense to plenty of people, but not to its members.

For the artists, creators and doers who live near Amboy, the basement of the North Clark Historical Museum — just off the main road that’s just off the other main road — the path to their monthly meetup, usually attended by around 10 regulars, is perfectly beaten.

It’s cozy and intimate. It’s not the kind of group you’d find in a big city bursting with artists. That’s how they like it.

“I have a whole tribe of artist friends in Portland. Not so much out here, so whatever you can find out here is appreciated,” said Denise Cousineau, an oil painter who attended the meetup on Saturday to get some feedback on her most recent landscape.

A resident of rural Cowlitz County, Cousineau is inspired by her peaceful surroundings. But isolation is not the artist’s friend, and sometimes you need to bounce some ideas off of other people who get it.

“You meet people and then you make arrangements to get outside and paint, or in the studio,” Cousineau added. “It’s fun to encourage each other’s creativity, see what each other is working on.”

The art club started up around two years ago, said Judi Malinowski. She helps run the museum on Saturdays. The weekends were quiet, she said, so she started to wonder whether they might turn the basement into a community space for specialized groups.

“Sometimes nobody comes, so we thought, wouldn’t it be fun to have people come and use it like a community center?” said Malinowski, who spent Saturday afternoon helping prepare the museum for an upcoming exhibit about the Great Depression. “So we have art group. We have book club, we have a writers group. It’s a lot more fun when lots of people are here.”

Even just the term “art club” is broad, encompassing all mediums. The group attracts painters, needleworkers, ceramic artist, writers, poets, jewelry makers and more.

It’s also an all-ages group. The youngest member is 12-year-old Ellen Antonetti, who attends the monthly meetups with her mother, Dawn Swatosh. The mother-daughter duo are both artists, but Ellen is an independent creator in her own right, developing her bright, punchy painting style and learning to craft human-sized animal costumes.

Her style is markedly more youthful — influenced by the internet, her mother suggests. And Ellen is learning from other artists, just like they’re learning from her.

“Sometimes I see their paintings, I’ll think, ‘Wow, that’s super cool, I wish I could do that,’ ” Ellen said. “But that’s not what I do, that’s just me envying. I like my style. My style is cool.”

Swatosh was a lifelong artist up until her 20s, when motherhood took up a big chunk of her time. But watching her daughter come into her own inspired Swatosh to reach for her own canvas again. Now, she aims to paint every day, she said.

“We can relate to each other on an artistic level, instead of just a mom and daughter level,” Swatosh said.

Swatosh acts as the group’s facilitator. The agenda for each meeting is flexible, but she likes to loosely structure the day’s conversation around a guiding question. Questions like, how do you break out of an artistic rut? Who inspires you? Have you ever been discouraged from pursuing your creativity?

Then, they swap work samples.

“If you wanted a critique, or you’re frustrated with something you’re working on, or if you’re not sure if something is a good idea, or you just want to show everyone what you’re doing and get some input, it’s nice to have other artists to talk with that about. I think everybody appreciates art,” Swatosh said. “When you get together with other artists, they sort of understand where you’re coming from.”

“I didn’t know that I wanted that in my life as an artist, or that I needed that. But you really do. You need to be able to express that part of yourself to be a whole person,” Swatosh said.

The group meets on the third Saturday of each month at the North Clark County Historical Museum, at 21416 N.E. 399th St. For more information, call 360-247-5800.


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