From Armory to Arts Center

fountain pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ Travelogue W/C sketchbook

A sunny day at last and it lured Jan and I out to attempt some on location sketching. Sunny but too cold for on the street sketching, so we sheltered in our respective cars for a cramped, but warmer experience!

I picked this spot at the Olympia Armory in town for its art deco era design and historical impact. It is in the process of transitioning from a military installation to a creative campus owned by the City of Olympia. 

This iconic Art Deco style building was constructed by noted architects Joseph Wohleb of Olympia and Roland Borhek of Tacoma in the late 1930s.  It has been an integral part of the community’s history and  the Army National Guard presence in Olympia. Guard members from the armory deployed to the Pacific Theater during World War II, and the Middle East during Operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, while continuing to serve our state during countless disasters. The Armory has been used not only by the National Guard, but by the community as a venue and gathering place for events such as basketball games, car exhibitions, festivals, inaugural balls, and more.

As the army vehicles leave, the arts community is gearing up with ideas for using the quite generous space. The 41,160 square foot Armory building and adjacent 9,700 square foot outbuilding offer key spaces adaptable to a range of uses, including a 10,000 sf multi-use space, commercial kitchen, industrial loading dock and storage, and ample offices readily convertible to classrooms. 

For now I enjoy passing the building on my way into town. Maybe I’ll even have a space to teach again there! 

Capital Building Grandeur

Like all creatures that seek warmth in the coldest part of winter, urban sketchers seek out interiors of buildings with something inspiring to draw. We are fortunate here in Olympia, even though otherwise a small city, to have the state capital which is open to the public, and actually quite grand and stately.

But (speaking as a sketcher) something happens to the doors of perception when you are suddenly faced with the interior of a cavernous rotunda. The thought – where do I look first? and – what is my perspective/point of view? and lastly, what does my small and insignificant sketchbook page, all blank and flat, want from all these angles and lights and a thousand points of light? It took a while to calm myself down enough to begin to draw a piece of it.

For want of a better idea, I decided that somewhere in the middle was a good place to start, and found a spot on the 4th floor balcony, with as much of the rotunda soaring above me as spread out dizzyingly below. I pealed off the winter coat and hat and gloves I’d worn for the temperature outside, which was in the 30’s,  and settled down to draw. 

fountain pen, marker, watercolor, white gel pen in w/c sketchbook

. . .a series of curved lines meeting up with straight lines and then taking off in another direction and back again until I was quite dizzy, but happy with the effort . In the end I caught some of the “bling” of the Capital moment.

With the little bit of time left before sharing sketches with my friends, I found a quiet inner corridor with a visual story I could tell. The Senate gallery with a bright red protective STOP! sign at the door. Although the sign was related to Covid regulations, it conjured up visions of the January 6 insurrection and aftermath of National Guardsmen sleeping in the hallways in the capital buildings to prevent another breach of security.

That quiet weekday between sessions there was little activity to cause concern for safety, just couriers delivering mail and supplies to whatever government business was going on behind closed doors. I made note to come back again and tackle another bit of grandness, and definitely in the spring to catch the explosion of blossoms on the grounds. Is it too soon to be fantasizing about spring before we’ve even reached the solstice?

Downtown Oly: Spar Cafe

Another cold and damp day, but this time with sun, dazzling sun. That day there was nothing for it but to bundle up and brave the icy wind to sit on the sidewalk, with fingerless gloves and an intrepid spirit! And the blue sky lasted all the way until sunset, which arrived with a ferocious downpour as if to say “don’t get used to it!”

While sketching I couldn’t help but envy the fellow inside, imagining a warm bowl of soup and shelter from the wind. . .as the trucks and cars rumbled and screeched by. I made it through the ink sketch and did the rest of the paint and detail later in the comfort of my warm home. I guess that counts as only partial intrepid spirit.

Here I am, huddled and counting the minutes until I can have lunch with my friend in warmth! But oh how good it felt to have showed up.