The wild landscapes and soaring mountains of the Okanogan stretch from the crest of the North Cascades to the foothills of the Kettle River Range in the eastern part of Washington. Rugged mountains, verdant valleys and high plateaus inspire not only countless visitors but also the work of resident artists, and their rich relationship with the land can be seen through the varied and unexpected lens of one of Okanogan Country’s best-kept secrets — its public art.

Native artist and Colville Tribal council member Smoker (Virgil) Marchand is perhaps the most iconic artist of the region, with massive metal sculptures of warriors on horseback, animals in a naming circle and root diggers along the dusty highway to Grand Coulee. His works speak to his culture, both living and ancestral, as well as the relationship of humans to land, to the animals and salmon, and to the non-native residents as well.

Marchand has announced that he’s putting down the welding torch so there will be no new pieces of his beloved native heritage metal art on the horizon. Okanogan Country has the largest concentration of his work. The majestic “Warrior on Horseback” and accompanying “Teepee” can be admired on the shores of the Columbia River. Journeying up through the heart of the Okanogan to visit “How the Animals Got Their Names”, a collection of local wildlife in Omak Eastside Park. Nearby at the Omak Stampede Grounds, the tribute to the Spirit Horse is represented by a pair of rearing horses in front of the Stampede Museum and Omak visitor center. Homestream Park in Winthrop provides a riverfront interpretive trail with art portraying the salmons’ native habitat, welcoming them home. Many more of Smoker’s magnificent art pieces are spread around the Okanogan, with plenty of pieces waiting to be discovered on your next road trip.

Twisp Ponds Discovery Park is part of a Methow River Collaboration project that showcases a riparian environment rich with wildlife. Discover a quiet, lush refuge to explore the trail, learn about the salmon-rearing ponds and enjoy the variety of local art. A great blue heron, a metallic circle of bumblebees or or the carved tree trunk of “Grandfather Flood” are just some of the pieces you might spot during your exploration.

Venturing down around the southeast corner of the county might lead you down Foster Creek Avenue in Bridgeport. A row of old sycamore trees has been given new life, turned into two dozen carved creatures, ranging from grouse to cougars. Take a cruise down this unique small-town street and enjoy the beauty lining both sides of this wonderful drive.

Another notable figure from the region, Frank Matsura, was a Japanese pioneer photographer who recorded everyday life in the region from 1903-1913. Being one of the only photographers during this time, more than 1,800 of his prints and negatives have been preserved by the Okanogan Historical Society and available for public viewing. As you explore the Historical Main Street Photo Tour, also discover the 9 large murals of Matsura’s on display. Each one a unique snapshot of pioneer-era and community-building events, he was able to capture a glimpse into the history that helped form the area appreciated today.

Advertising

To view more expansive pieces of public art, North County has a wondrous collection of murals. A great first stop is the Camaray Motel, conveniently situated in downtown Oroville. A large bald eagle adorns the western wall, plus just around the corner view the scene of a locomotive roaring through a forest. When you head south into the town of Tonasket many more murals will pop out to greet you. A new favorite is the “Calliope Hummingbird Mural” by Andy Eccleshall painted on the side of Jinnie’s Place — a breathtaking burst of color that can’t be missed. Another favorite in town is the southern wall of the Community Cultural Center, portraying the seasons in “The Beauty of the Okanogan Highlands.”

Spring brings welcome warming but weather can still be unpredictable with the occasional chill, so a cozy art gallery might be just the reprieve from the elements that you need. The Methow Valley is a center of art in this region and hosts two wonderful galleries: The Confluence Gallery in Twisp and The Winthrop Gallery. Each with its own taste and flair, it is highly recommended that you take time to visit both.

Whatever your tastes, Okanogan Country has art to suit and mesmerize you. Each season is full of opportunities to discover, absorb and enjoy all the great recreation the region has to offer.

No matter where you travel in Okanogan Country, stop at every chance you get to sample the flavors, culture, friendliness and authentic hospitality — of Washington’s largest county. Free guides and maps at www.OkanoganCountry.com