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Slice of local life -- Caroline Mead: Surrounded by beauty, inside and out

Caroline Mead, gallery manager at Columbia Art Gallery, loves being part of a community art center.

“There’s always something fun happening down here, whether it’s an exhibit or a production or a presentation,” she said. “I love being part of an organization that provides that.”

Mead has been gallery manager for a little over two years, but has had an interest in museum work and art center work for many years, she said. Her resume reflects that interest.

Originally from Wisconsin, she majored in art history at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, while completing internships at art centers and museums in the Southwest. She lived a summer in Taos, N.M. (near Santa Fe), working at a museum, and then came back to Colorado for another two years at an art center.

After six years in Colorado, she and a group of friends decided to move to Oregon. That brought her to Portland. And a year later, when the Columbia Art Gallery position opened, she applied. Having friends in the area, she had spent a couple of weekends in Hood River by that time.

“Hood River is a wonderful little community,” she said.

While Columbia Center for the Arts — of which Columbia Art Gallery is a part — has been in its current location seven years, the gallery has been in the community for 30 years.

“We’re growing in a lot of ways,” said Mead. New staff has been added and new shows and events are already planned into next year. One such event is a “Great Art of the Wild West” show, where artists go out and create work in the various wilderness areas of the Gorge to be displayed later at the gallery, she said. Another is the yearly Recycled Art Show.

Mead’s job includes changing gallery shows and working with artists, but it also involves answering a lot of questions — like where the mountain is when it’s cloudy, or for directions. Her days are spent interacting with gallery visitors, meeting with artists and looking at work. Half of the gallery is devoted to selling artwork, and the other half to shows. The art gallery represents 94 artists, all from the Gorge.

That’s something unique about the Columbia Art Gallery — all artists who sell at the gallery must live within 50 miles of it. Artwork changes often because the artists are constantly rotating new pieces in.

The art gallery is also the only nonprofit gallery in Hood River, so it takes less commission than standing galleries, said Mead.

“We have very reasonable prices,” she said. “It’s a community art center and gallery.”

The featured show changes monthly, but those artists are not necessarily local. What’s more, the show usually includes more than one artist.

Because shows change frequently, people are able to see new artwork all the time, Mead said. Although lots of tourists come through to see shows, so do locals.

Right now, a glass show is on display until Sept. 1, with 34 artists participating, some who are internationally recognized, she said. All month, glass artists have been coming into the gallery on weekends to do demos. Mead, who said she did not have much experience in glass art before the gallery’s exhibit, finds the process fascinating.

The next show scheduled is “The Pacific Northwest Plein Air Show.” Nine artists from around the country will spend Aug. 30 through Sept. 3 painting at various Gorge-area locales. Afterwards, artwork is displayed at the gallery. “This is the ninth year we’ve done it, and the work is so beautiful,” Mead said. “The artists have such a ball.”

Because the artists are scheduled to spend a day downtown, the community will be able to see them in action. (Writers have a similar Plein Air program, and their work will also be display.)

“That’s something really great about what I do,” said Mead. “I’m surrounded by beautiful art that is changing all the time.”

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The Columbia Art Gallery, at 215 Cascade Ave. in downtown Hood River, is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sept. 30; fall/winter hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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