It’s hard to pinpoint what makes Vashon Island such a nurturing place for artists. It could be the space. The views. The water and air that seem to clear the clutter and feed creativity.
In the past 35 years, what started as a group of potters who mined the island’s clay has grown into a community of more than 100 artists who will open their work spaces over two weekends in December for the annual Vashon Island Visual Artists’ (VIVA) Holiday Studio Tour.
The event — to be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 7 and 8, and again on Dec. 14 and 15 — is an opportunity for city dwellers to make a seasonal crossing to Vashon, travel around the island, meet artists in more than 40 locations and shop for the holidays in a meaningful way.
“You get to have a relationship with your clientele,” said Elaine Summers, a mosaic artist and musician who has lived on Vashon for decades. “In a shop, you don’t get that connection.”
This year’s tour is expected to be the biggest, and VIVA has created an interactive map to help newcomers not only navigate the island, but to find specific mediums. There will be mixed media at Maury Island’s Waterworks, textiles at Willingham Weavery, painters at Schennesen’s studio on the north end and more mixed media at Dockton Pottery and the Westside’s Fletcher Studio Gang.
In the decades since the tour started, the artist community has evolved into VIVA, a nonprofit that supports classes and scholarships for students interested in the visual arts.
Summers estimates that one-third of Vashon Island’s residents are artists. They include Jean Emmons, a watercolor artist whose botanical paintings of flowers and mushrooms have won international competitions.
They also include Summers’ husband, Pete Droge, a folk/rock musician (“If You Don’t Love Me”) who has released five albums and written extensively for television and film. The couple appeared in the Cameron Crowe film “Almost Famous” and still perform together.
Like many artists, Summers and Droge came to Vashon for its affordability and access to the city, but also its beauty.
“One of the things we have here is space,” Summers said. “A lot of people have acerage or beautiful views, and I feel like people who come are looking to have that be part of their creative life and their life.”
It’s not unusual to find people on Vashon painting on the side of the road in all kinds of weather, she said, “and you’re just like, ‘OK,’ because it’s kind of all around.”
VIVA President Brian Fisher’s background is in architecture, “but printmaking has always been a part of my life.”
It became a bigger part once he moved to Vashon.
“I did not move here knowing there was some kind of vortex here that attracts creative people,” he said. “But that has proved to be the truth. There is a willingness to share. People stumble into whole new directions in their art careers because they are doing things here.”
Fisher and Summers are excited to have new people discover the island — and the art that it has inspired.
“It is something to experience the places that people create from,” Fisher said. “Seeing the studios, the world and what the artists make from it.”
Vashon Island Visual Artists’ (VIVA) Holiday Studio Tour, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 7-8 and 14-15; info and map of tour: vivartists.com