(Above: Nick Siegrist’s portrait of an Icelandic pony is one of 16 of his photographs that make up a show called “Search for the Landvættir,” on display in Dr. Don Dexter’s lobby gallery through September.)
By Randi Bjornstad
Admittedly, it’s not what you expect when you head for the dentist, but for the past 20 years, Don Dexter’s dental practice has doubled as a photo gallery that offers area camera enthusiasts a place to show their work.
A new exhibit just went up in the gallery spaces in Building B at 2233 Willamette St. and will be on view during Dexter’s regular business hours through September, except for Monday, July 17, when there also will be a reception for the artists from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
A show called “Search for the Landvættir,” with photographs of Iceland by Nick Siegrist, whose day job is creative director at Pacific Northwest Publishing, occupies the larger lobby space. His artist statement invokes an Icelandic myth.
“In the 10th century, King Harold Bluetooth sent a warlock to infiltrate Iceland in preparation for invasion. Spirit guardians arose from the living earth to defend Iceland. A hill giant, taller than the mountains, defended the southern coast,” Siegrist wrote. “The magic of the land is all around us in a visual language. Photography captures a flattened kernel of that language.”
In the two hallways outside the working dental stations, there are more photographs by Mike DeLuise, who retired in Eugene after a career he describes as “Broadway, Rock ‘n’ Roll and higher education,” cataloguing his transition from the bustle of the East Coast to the landscapes and townscapes of western Oregon.
His foray into photography followed a severe vision loss, and his artist statement said DeLuise “realized he would now have to see things somewhat differently.” So he “packed up and moved to Eugene to smell the roses and be near his two daughters and granddaughter … (taking) his wife, cat and camera” and quickly fell in love with his new community.
He calls his new show, “Oregon, It’s What I See in You.”
Some of Dexter’s longtime patients even schedule their regular dental checkups to make sure they don’t miss a new gallery show.
“This gallery is probably the best-kept secret in town,” Dexter said. “But I encourage people to come in — the lobby gallery is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday — and we also accommodate people who want to see the hallway exhibits during those hours.”
Dexter grew up on the former Klamath reservation in southeastern Oregon — he is an enrolled tribal member — and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Lewis & Clark College before taking his DMD degree at what is now Oregon Health & Science University. He was the first member of his family to attend college and the first in his tribe to become a dentist. He spent several years as a chief dental officer with Indian Health Services before opening his private practice.
But for as long as he can remember, Dexter also has been fascinated by photography. During the two decades that he has been hosting exhibits, he figures he has shown the work of nearly 200 photographers.
“But now I’m trying to make it a more polished effort,” he said. “I have always said that small business is the third place for people to see art, after galleries and coffee shops. It is important to me for people in the community to have access to art, and I have the benefit of having a day job here in my dental office, so I think it’s nice to share that space with people who want to come in and see this work.”
It was just a few years ago that he decided to concentrate on photography as an art form, largely because of his own affinity for the craft.
Last year, Dexter also put together a special one-day show at the Karin Clarke Gallery in downtown Eugene, after he provided dozens of area residents with old-fashioned Holga cameras and asked them each to shoot one roll of film and then return the cameras to him to process the film and print one frame from what they had done.
“I thought about doing it again, and it was a great experience, but it took five months to plan and execute that project, and I just didn’t feel I could do it again, at least this soon,” he said.
By contrast, the quarterly exhibits, which involve shows by eight artists each year, are easily accomplished.
“When I accept a show from someone, it is up to them to decide what they are going to do, and they come in and put it up during an evening. I am here but I don’t look at it until they are finished, so it’s all new to me,” he said.
His patients also have become not only accustomed to the changing works of art, they expect it, Dexter said.
“It always looks so strange when people come in between shows and see bare white walls, and they comment on it,” he said. “But in a way it’s good, because it always makes us appreciate even more when the new shows go up.”
Dr. Dexter’s Gallery
What: A show of photography by Nick Siegrist and Mike DeLuise
When: Through September, with a reception for the photographers from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, July 17
Where: Inside the dental office of Dr. Don Dexter, in Building B at 2233 Willamette St. in Eugene
Regular Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday
Information: 541-485-6644 or drdexter.com