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July 31, 2014
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Roseburg pastel artist exhibits products of national tour

The waves don’t crash into the Atlantic Coast shore like they do in Oregon.

Roseburg pastel painter Barb Antilla has painted landscapes of both seashores and has noticed the rocks out East are smoother and flatter.

In her latest collection, one painting depicts an inlet somewhere in New England.

“Look at that,” she said, holding up the work. “It’s so different.”

This month, the front window of Gallery Northwest features a sampling of work by Antilla, a colorful retired elementary teacher who takes the beauty of the natural world and tweaks it, just a little.

“My thought is, if a photograph is good, it should stay a photograph,” she said. “I try to paint something that looks like a painting, not a photograph.”

Gallery Northwest is holding a contest in conjunction with the exhibit. Gallery-goers are tasked with guessing the states featured in Antilla’s paintings. The winner receives a free print at the end of August.

The paintings are the product of a cross-continental road trip Antilla took recently with her husband, Rod. The purpose was to finally visit the states and Canadian provinces the well-traveled couple hadn’t yet entered, in part so Rod could cross “Been to all 50 states” off his bucket list.

Rod Antilla hadn’t been to New England. Neither spouse had been to Mississippi or Alabama, or, for some reason, Arkansas.

“Can you believe that?” Barb Antilla said. “Arkansas is beautiful.”

Staying in hotels and eating only at local restaurants, the couple covered 10,000 miles in two months.

Rather than working in the open, Antilla photographed the landscapes she would paint and waited to get home before setting to work. For some pastelists, transporting all that gear is just too much.

Watercolorists and other painters can adjust their way to the perfect color, using bases and the right amount of water. But for a pastelist, getting the right color means having the right pastel, right there on hand.

Antilla herself has over 500 pastel sticks. And that’s just barely getting by, she said.

“A pastelist should never have fewer than 500 colors,” she said.

Pastels are chalk-like sticks of powdered pigment mixed with a binding agent. Because no oils or other liquid are used in them, pastel pigments retain their color better than paint. The form gained popularity during the Renaissance. Masters of it include Degas, Manet, Whistler and Mary Cassatt. It’s said those early pastels are as vivid today as the day they were created.

A pastelist starts with her densest sticks and layers outward, softer and softer as she goes. A glass frame is usually preferred for presentation. Most pastelists are loath to use a dulling fixative on a finished work.

“Pastels are so good at catching the light,” Antilla said.

In Depoe Bay, where the Antillas taught for 30 years, Barb’s classroom was always the artsiest. Past projects would cover the walls, and huge installations would overtake the whole room. One project involved a pink stream populated with life-size wildlife intersecting the classroom.

Originally from Cleveland, Antilla headed for Colorado immediately after high school. There she worked at the posh Broadmoor Hotel. Service at the five-star haunt was so exceptional, Antilla’s entire job involved tending two tables in the dining hall.

“If those two tables would have been empty the whole time, I would have just stood there all summer,” she said.

It turned out that one of the tables did stay empty all summer, as the elderly occupant elected to remain in her room throughout the season. It worked out to an excellent tip, though, Antilla said.

It was in Colorado that Barb met Rod, a serious angler and native Oregonian. They decided to become teachers and chose the University of Oregon for graduate school, bringing them west.

Since retiring and moving from Depoe Bay to Roseburg, Antilla has focused on her art. And since meeting Lora Block, another Gallery Northwest artist, she’s favored pastels.

Block is one of Oregon’s best pastelists. She was taught by Richard McKinley, regarded by many as an American pastel master. Block has been featured in South West Art and American Artists Magazine, and in 1985, founded one of the country’s first state pastel societies.

Did you know the Pastel Society of Oregon was founded in Roseburg?

It was, and every other year, the society holds a juried show. Past shows have been hosted by the Umpqua Valley Arts Center and the gallery at Umpqua Community College. This year’s will hang at the Emerald Art Center in Springfield.

Block is quick to pile praise on her friend and student. She said Antilla is particularly adept at painting something many artists struggle to capture.

“I love the way she handles water,” she said. “It looks — I hate to say this, but it looks real. Her rivers and streams, and her ocean — she does a beautiful ocean. Spectacular.

“I think it’s because you know. When you’re good at something, you just know. She lived at the coast, so she knows the ocean. She knows water.”

• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at gandrews@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Nov 6, 2014 11:34AM Published Aug 20, 2014 06:30PM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.