Fifteen winding country miles northwest of Yakima, Tieton feels isolated and of another time, as much Old West as Northwest.

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The city of Tieton is the kind of place you either find by accident, conjure in a dream or, in Ed Marquand’s case, both.

Fifteen winding country miles northwest of Yakima, Tieton feels isolated and of another time, as much Old West as Northwest, the painted buildings around its modest town square peeling with age.

Even at the height of summer, Tieton is so serene that the only sound is of birds and a hot breeze spilling over the apple and pear orchards that envelop the town.

The noon sky is intensely blue, the dusk light a painterly gold, the barren creases of nearby Mount Clemens starkly brown.

Save for the occasional car rolling down the otherwise empty streets, or a few kids wheeling around on their bicycles, a strange motionlessness prevails, as if the 20th-century fruit-industry boom that once filled the town’s streets with bustle and supported thriving local businesses and festivals stopped in an instant. Today you can’t even get a drink here; the last taverns closed several years ago.

Tieton, pronounced Ty-eh-tun in three syllables, feels like a town waiting for something, anything, to happen.

Enter Marquand, well-connected city slicker, publisher of fine art books, man with a plan to restore some entrepreneurial zeal to a town that seemed done-in.

In this economically weakened corner of the Yakima Valley, Marquand has audaciously put up a sign that reads “Mighty Tieton” on an abandoned apple warehouse he bought three years ago.

With the purchase of that property, and what may have seemed like wishful thinking at that point, Marquand set about turning this working-class town of 1,200, where nearly half the population is Hispanic immigrant families and the median home costs around $100,000, into a haven of artisan and design businesses.

This movable feast of creative commuters would migrate to Tieton and stay for weekends or weeks at a time, living in big-city-style loft condominiums on Marquand’s property or some nearby cottages, selling whatever they produced in the spaces that Marquand and his business partners set up for them. In the process, his efforts would give new life to Tieton, spurring economic development and job growth.

Incredibly, the plan has begun to take hold.

Not only did Seattle architect Philip Christophides, a friend of Marquand’s, design the lofts in an old fruit-shipping warehouse, preserving wood floors burnished by decades of hard labor, converting loading-dock portals into huge retractable picture windows, he and his business-partner wife, the interior-designer Margot Arellano, have purchased one of them.

So have the Seattle painter Fay Jones and her husband, fellow artist Bob Jones, along with Francine Katz and Peter Riches of Lucca Statuary in the city’s Fremont neighborhood. Nature-illustrator Sandra Dean is a resident, and the sound artist Trimpin is a regular visitor. Jewelry artist Lori Talcott, who lives in Ballard, purchased a nearby plot with the cottages on it, and stays there when in town.

Things are starting to happen again in Tieton.

At the center of this confluence of design and commerce, urban flare and small-town simplicity is the mellow but focused Marquand, 55, who rejects the label “impresario or town planner” when describing his role.

“I kind of started this, but lots of people are coming out of the woodwork,” he says, adding modestly, “It’s the idea that’s attractive to them, not me.”

But clearly, were it not for Marquand, Tieton would continue to be a still life of a town, churning out giant crates of apples, pears and nectarines to the masses from the remaining fruit companies — but little else.

What Marquand is doing is ostensibly a development venture. But the Mighty Tieton project is as much about the man as his mission.

MARQUAND HAS that cardinal quality. He’s good at laying the groundwork for things without tooting his own horn. With Tieton, he’s satisfied revealing his philosophy and passion toward life in brick-and-mortar terms.

As he tours the sprawling, repurposed Mighty Tieton warehouse off the town’s main square, Marquand takes pride in contrasting its former use as an apple-storage facility to its new uses as performance hall, arts studios and old-fashioned printing house.

He says allowing artists and arts organizations to make or store their work here supports his goal of generating creative energy at Mighty Tieton.

One of the rooms in the warehouse has been converted into a fully functioning printshop with turn-of-the-century steel letter-presses and drawers full of lead and wood type.

Marquand’s using the space for his own new business, producing exclusive, hand-printed, hand-bound books, a bold-face move in a time of texting and blogging.

A storefront right on the square is now a book-arts studio where Marquand’s staff, including two local women who’ve been trained in bookbinding, use thread, leather covers, hole punchers and century-old presses to make art books for sale to institutions and private clients.

The limited-edition books produced here will be so painstakingly made (it takes about 500 hours to produce a 100-page volume by hand) it probably wouldn’t make financial sense to mass market them anyway. They’ll be publishing’s version of slow food.

In Tieton, Marquand turns his back on modernity’s cookie-cutter tendencies and returns substance to the idea of luxury, opting to publish in “a very handmade, 19th-century way.”

It’s fresh, he says, “because we yearn for handmade things, carefully made, thoughtfully made things. The more time we spend pulling things off the computer, from that flat screen, the more tactile we want to be, and the more specialized we want the other things in our lives to be.”

But Tieton is his way of celebrating artisans, not just art.

TWO-AND-A-HALF hours away by car, Marquand’s 25-year-old Seattle publishing company, Marquand Books, has a reputation for producing some of the finest art books available, and his work with the University of Washington Press, Seattle Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, private galleries and other institutions help prove it.

“The books we do,” Marquand says, “have to be very high quality but sell at very low quantity.”

Unlike at Tieton, his Seattle staff relies on the latest technology to reproduce art images for books. Even with high-resolution printers that perfectly replicate colors and the best printing-press contractors, that’s no easy task. But the challenge suits a man who is so meticulous in work and life.

In a city where casual dress is the rule, Marquand often dons a blazer and sports a trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. His look is as elegant as his books, but he manages to retain a very Northwest modesty, driving a beat-up ’86 Honda with 152,000 miles on it.

As he flips through a newly printed copy of a collection of Civil Rights-era photographs for a major exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta this summer, what’s most striking is the way the dramatic, often violent black-and-white photos are presented — large, mostly free of text, stark. Marquand’s books strike a chord by letting the images speak for themselves.

Maybe that’s because Marquand, despite a background in photography and graphic design before becoming a publisher, doesn’t think of himself as an artist or designer or maker of things but a showcaser of people who are.

“We think of ourselves as book producers,” he explains. “We’re the ones who are putting all the elements together — editing, typesetting, designing, proofreading, binding. It’s like being a Hollywood producer, really.”

The Southern California native adds with a grin, “My father still doesn’t quite understand.”

IN HIS BOOKSHELF-lined office he and staff designer Jeff Wincapaw look at possible page layouts for an upcoming book depicting a landscape installation outside El Paso, Texas, by the largely unknown artist James Magee.

Like a New Age Stonehenge, Magee’s stone pavilions rise up from the prairie like some mystical temple, a series of rooms full of bizarre, hinged sculptures made of steel and found objects that open like triptychs and windows, portals into the mind of a secret genuis who spent 20 years on the project.

“When the book comes out, it will sort of reveal this guy to the world,” Marquand says, in a rare moment of unguarded excitement.

As Marquand and Wincapaw put it, the book’s cinematic progression of images will give the reader the feeling of stumbling across Magee’s installation in a rural field, getting closer and closer until they’ve come inside and started to tinker with the book-like sculptures.

Marquand recently visited the Texas site and got a tour by the eccentric Magee himself.

“He’s the real thing — a real artist,” Marquand says, gesturing with his hands to drive home his point.

“That’s the fun part of what I do,” he says of visiting artists prior to publishing books on them, “one of the things I like most about my life, really.”

But Marquand isn’t merely living vicariously through his art and design contacts. He’s successful in his own right, having learned at an early age, if not how to make things, how to make things happen. When he was 13, his parents let him travel unchaperoned to Mexico using money he’d earned mowing lawns and babysitting.

“In a way, I was chomping at the bit to see the world and be a grown-up and take responsibility for myself,” Marquand says. Marquand migrated to Seattle from Los Angeles in 1978, just as the city was starting to define itself as a haven for creative types. Not long after arriving, he secured a loan from what was then Seafirst Bank and started Marquand Books.

But it takes more than a charming wanderlust, love of art and drive to spark a cultural renaissance in a whole town. It takes an ability to turn happenstance into life-changing opportunities.

THE TIETON PROJECT sprang from Marquand’s own James Magee experience.

Marquand and his partner, Seattle attorney Michael Longyear, own a weekend cabin about 15 minutes from Tieton, and he often rides his bike across the Mars-like landscape of rolling lava-rock hills near the town.

One day about three years ago, while riding near the town square, Marquand hit a patch of thorny weeds, puncturing the tires on his bike. He pulled into a parking lot by some abandoned warehouses to do repairs and saw a smeared “For sale or lease” notice scrawled in marker on the door of the 28,000-square-foot shipping warehouse, built in the 1940s. Out of curiosity, he went over and peeked inside.

“I walked in and saw those wooden beams and thought, ‘Holy Moly!’ I saw a calendar from 1993, so nobody had been here since ’93. The door was just open, I think, for years.”

With the sale of Longyear’s small condo in Seattle, the couple was able to buy the building and, ultimately, a sizable chunk of a whole town. The larger warehouse holds the art studios, print shop and storage rooms rented out to the University of Washington and the kite-centric Drachen Foundation. An abandoned church behind the book arts building is now a meeting hall.

“I think it’s safe to say nobody owns more in Tieton than we do,” Marquand says.

The original warehouse now houses the 14 condos, each 1,400 square feet with 14-foot ceilings and those exposed timber beams. Marquand and Longyear’s residence, Unit 7, is furnished with objects honoring the region’s agricultural heritage, such as doors from a nearby abandoned nursery that wall off a walk-in closet, black greenhouse shade cloths that serve as living room drapes and iron greenhouse brackets that hold bookshelves.

He hopes to develop a cafe or tavern, even a bed-and-breakfast. All this in a city that the supportive, newly elected Mayor Stanley Hall says was “a one-horse town with the horse on his way out.”

“It’s the sort of thing that can happen here because the prices are reasonable, and we’re kind of growing this organically,” Marquand says of what’s developed into a $4 million venture financed through contracts with the buildings’ original owners and partnerships with locals.

“And it’s an opportunity to help the economy of a little orchard town,” he explains. “It’s not Sun Valley. I really see this as a different approach for thinking about how rural towns can be salvaged, encouraged and developed . . . without bulldozing what’s here.”

“This isn’t a big playhouse,” he adds. “These are little businesses.”

Marquand points to friend Scott Hudson’s Seattle-based custom-furniture firm, Henrybuilt, as an example of how to adhere to old-world design and quality standards and make money doing so.

“It’s not impossible to create a business like that” in Seattle, he says. “But it’s so much easier in a place like Tieton.”

Arellano is planning to set up a distillery at one of Marquand’s buildings to produce apple and pear brandy. Fay and Bob Jones are planning to open their own printshop.

Whoever treks here, though, will have to make it more or less on their own.

“I don’t have the bandwidth to be anybody’s life coach,” Marquand says. “It’s not a place to start searching for yourself.”

Plus, he says, “We didn’t want to be viewed as another cult institution that needed to be supported by the community,” siphoning scarce resources from local arts organizations.

Marquand’s business partner at Mighty Tieton and best friend since college, Kerry Quint, also lives in one of the lofts with wife Karen.

He says coming to Tieton is “like stepping into the future.”

The arts in the Northwest, like Tieton, need fresh ideas and environs to weather changing economic times. “This is really a different place, and the people who have bought lofts here, that’s what really pulls them,” Quint says.

That and what he describes as Marquand’s “connective personality,” his knack for bringing all the interesting people with bright ideas he knows together, literally under one roof. The idea isn’t foreign to Marquand; when in Seattle, he and Longyear live at the historic Fisher Studio Building among other local artists, designers and performers.

Marquand’s life was already a virtual arts colony. Tieton is a phyical manifestation of it.

Visit Mighty Tieton at the right time and you could pull open one of the thick, massive doors of the big warehouse’s former cold-storage rooms and spot Trimpin tinkering, Nutty Professor-style, with one of the computerized sound sculptures he now has the space to put on full display.

In the adjacent cold-storage room, an artist in residence might be painting underneath a couple of wooden barn sculptures by Spokane native Matt Sellars that hang precariously from the ceiling.

At the lofts next door, evenings play out in a gauzy sunset light as well-known Seattle figures cross paths in the halls and chat over martinis and homecooked meals in each other’s homes.

“We just throw the doors open,” Marquand says. “It’s like a grown-up dorm.”

He insists the communal atmosphere is necessary to break the feeling of geographic isolation and foster a sense of home.

“I love it here,” says Christophides, who greets Marquand in the hallway of the lofts one afternoon. “It’s the center of the universe,” he says, borrowing the motto of one of Seattle’s artsy-but-gentrified districts, Fremont.

ON A BLAZING hot day this past summer, Marquand scurried around the Mighty Tieton compound helping make final arrangements for a benefit performance by members of Seattle’s Teatro ZinZanni. The main room in the compound had been transformed — with huge murals, a chandelier, trapeze bars and live orchestra — into a cabaret.

In an adjacent room, Trimpin manned his fantastical, self-playing guitar sculpture for attendees.

During rehearsals, the oversize comedienne Christine Deaver, dressed in a ’70s polyester pantsuit, offered her take on the surreality of the affair, which summed up the magic of Mighty Tieton as well.

“Here we are — in a frrruit warehouse,” she says, rolling her r’s with irony. “It doesn’t get any bigger than this!”

Marquand jokes that he still doesn’t know whether stumbling on that first warehouse was “karma, fate or a curse.”

Somehow, it all makes sense.

“When you start peeking behind the the doors, it’s like a Fellini film, with something ridiculous always going on,” Marquand, the producer of his own curious show, the non-artist who lives so artfully, says of Mighty Tieton. “That, for me, is creatively very satisfying.”

Peek behind door No. 13, Marquand’s office, during quieter afternoons and you might spot him rocking in a hammock beneath an antique Chinese doorway that in another post-modern trick with time and space he has imported to an export warehouse.

Chill-out music from his “In the hammock” iPod playlist will be streaming into his head as he dozes, a man at peace at the center of his finely wrought universe.

Tyrone Beason is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.