Above: Artist Nancy Lindburg stands in front of one of the largest oil paintings — piquantly named “Mr. Pythagoras’ Quilt” — in her show titled “Resolutions.” It runs from May 3 to 27 at the Karin Clarke Gallery. The opening reception is on May 5. (Photo by Randi Bjornstad)
By Randi Bjornstad
Gallery owner Karin Clarke laughed as she explained how she landed a show of longtime Salem artist Nancy Lindburg’s work.
“I went up and bugged her,” Clarke said.
It wasn’t too hard a sell, Lindburg admitted, even though it means trundling a dozen and a half paintings ranging from very small to very large up and down Interstate 5 for a 24-day show.
“I know Karin’s mom, and I knew her dad, for many years, and I loved their work,” Lindburg said.
As director of the Salem Art Association from 1973 to 1978, Lindburg staged a show of paintings by Clarke’s parents —Margaret Coe and the late Mark Clarke — “and we stayed in touch after that.”
As for the role of arts in her own life, “It’s hard to know where to start,” she said. “It’s been part of me forever, both visual art and music.”
As a child in Fargo, N.D., she and her family “were nestled among three colleges and a really active arts community,” Lindburg said. “We had good arts in the schools, and lots of music.”
In addition, her mother was an accomplished pianist, and her father, a dentist by training, played saxophone and clarinet to help put himself through college.
When her turn came, Lindburg traveled to Oakland, Calif., where she attended Mills College, at one point singing in a choir conducted by the legendary, 20th-century French composer Darius Milhaud. She majored in studio art and art history and earned a minor in music.
“After that, I went to Michigan, to the Cranbook Acaademy of Art in Bloomfield Hills,” she said. “The educational philosophy there was to have practicing artists working alongside their students.”
She finished her master’s of fine arts at Cranbrook, married her architect husband, William Lindburg in 1957 and had the first of her three children while still in Michigan, after which the family relocated to Bismarck, N.D., to be closer to her family.
“While we lived there, I taught art and art history at the junior college, and I taught painting at night,” Lindburg recalled. “In the winter of ’61, we had a lot of very cold weather. Bill walked to work, and one day he said, wouldn’t it be wonderful to go back to the West Coast, where he had grown up.”
They looked at communities from Spokane to Corvallis, and he chose to continue his architectural pursuits in Salem, where she quickly became involved in the art scene — including volunteering with the Salem Art Association and being on its board of directors — while raising their children.
“Eventually the association decided we needed a director, and we hired one, and when he moved on in 1973, I said, ‘I think I could do this job,’ and they hired me,” she said. “It was a marvelous time — besides our regular arts activities, we had pottery classes for students at the School for the Blind, film classes at the School for the Deaf, and we worked with prisoners at the penitentiary so they could earn their GEDs and even get college credit for classes.”
That offered just one more proof of the importance of the arts in ordinary life, Lindburg said. “The people at the prison would tell us that during the hours of the art classes, they felt they were free.”
Later, she took on other arts activities, including working as artist service coordinator for the Oregon Arts Commission and helping spearhead the placement and support of public art projects around the state.
“Much of the public art on the University of Oregon campus came through the ‘Percent for Art’ program,” she said, a law passed state Legislature in 1977, requiring a 1 percent budget allocation for public art in state building construction projects with budgets more than $100,000.
Then there’s her own art, which Lindburg believes derives much of its sense of color, texture and scale from her North Dakota upbringing.
“My sense of that place — the atmosphere and the endless space — has never left me,” she said. “I have a corollary response to the ocean, with that vast horizontal line at the horizon.”
Beyond that, she loves the fundamentals of painting, starting with drawings and then building on them without preconceived ideas of how they will end up.
“I go to the canvas with no thought of what I want to do,” Lindburg said. “It’s like composing music, where you start with a few tones and add (musical) color, line and values of darkness and light.”
Sometimes that approach means that she sets aside a painting for a year or more before coming back to “make changes and see where it evolves.”
That’s partly why Lindburg titled this exhibit, “Resolutions.”
“At my age, things that once seemed out of whack resolve themselves and become what they want to be, the same way much music moves from dissonance to harmony.”
At the same time, a look at her paintings often reveals purposeful little bits of unpainted canvas showing through, sometimes with hints of the original drawings, “so you can see a little of what is behind the piece of art,” she said. “The creative process can be messy and hard — it can take a long time — but in the end it has the elegance of involving the hand, eye, art and spirit.”
Although Lindburg is much more a household name in Salem and Portland than in Eugene, Clarke relishes the idea of introducing her work to Eugene.
“My parents had always told me about Nancy (Lindburg), and my mom and I visited her studio a year or two ago, and I knew immediately I wanted to have her exhibit here,” Clarke said.
“I went around pointing out all the things that I especially liked, and then I left it up to her to bring what she wanted,” she said. “And she brought more than I expected, in a whole range of sizes and representing the wide variety of what she has done.”
When: May 3-27; artist’s reception from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on May 5 during the downtown Eugene First Friday ArtWalk
Where: Karin Clarke Gallery, 760 Willamette St.
Regular gallery hours: Noon to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
Information: 541-684-7963, karinclarkegallery.com