In a nod to pre-pandemic life, Portland cafe art exhibits return: ‘When art seems trivial, that’s when it’s most needed’

The coronavirus pandemic has failed to defeat by Catherine Freshley plan to bring original artwork to people in more casual places, like cafes.

She just had to be patient.

The artist and art salesperson returned to Portland just before stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020 to reduce the spread of COVID-19. When the doors closed, the art was left out in the cold.

“There was so much uncertainty and regulations changed frequently,” Freshley said. “Naturally, organizing an art exhibition didn’t really make sense and certainly wasn’t a priority.”

Among the long traditions that came to an abrupt end, Portland restaurants served as gallery surrogates, providing artists with a space to set up their work for sale. Even after businesses first reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic, constant disinfecting of surfaces left walls bare and shelves cleaned.

Now, with the number of cases drastically reduced and masking requirements lifted, everyday joys like the art of cafes are slowly returning to Portland.

Freshley’s show, “Love Letter to the Bay”, with six contemporary landscapes, can be seen on the walls of Capitol Cafe in the Sabin neighborhood of northeast Portland.

The cafe, which offered take-out only, has fully reopened — art and everything — in March.

“As soon as we had [Freshley’s] the art on the wall was like it used to be,” said Capitola Coffee owner Marv Johnson. “Art brings a lot to our everyday life.”

Art is back on the walls of Capitola Coffee in northeast Portland.Tom Leineweber

The first shop event of the pandemic, a reception for Freshley last Thursday brought art lovers, interior designers and neighbors to the company’s small seating area with tables for two spaced out against sea-foam green walls.

The event “felt like the reason we came home, to be part of a community,” said Freshley, who met her husband, Tom Leineweber while attending Lincoln High School in Portland.

The couple — “high school sweethearts,” Freshley said — transferred often during the 12 years Leineweber served as a US Air Force pilot. When he parted ways with the service, they wanted to settle down and buy their first home in Portland.

After they returned, however, the pandemic kept them locked in a Portland apartment for 20 months.

Leineweber, now 35, lost his post-military job due to the pandemic. And Freshley’s sources of income – selling art and teaching painting classes online – seemed like the last choice for many who feared COVID-19 and were trying to limit their spending in times of financial hardship.

But Freshley, now 34, listened when people confirmed what she already knew: art is important and it brings a sense of joy and peace, especially in difficult times.

“When art seems trivial, that’s when it’s most needed,” she said.

Freshley, who first installed a show in a restaurant in Spokane, Wash., in 2011, found that people who come across a work of art by chance, such as when enjoying a dinner or coffee, don’t feel pressured to buy art or explain why. they like it.

They can just react, she says.

She and her spouse moved into their first home in November 2021. The next morning, they discovered their neighborhood cafe, Capitola Coffee.

The company’s bare walls prompted Freshley to talk to Johnson and then create six paintings, inspired by Washington’s Willapa Bay, specifically for the space.

Johnson said art draws people in, connects them to the creative process, and gives them an unexpected brush with artistic beauty. Artists also find physical exhibitions more appealing than seeing their works displayed on a screen, he added.

“Catherine’s paintings of a place from different vantage points and times of day, and presented in many layers of color and texture, leave a lot to examine,” he said.

Fans of Freshley’s work can purchase fine art prints of his paintings at Capitola Coffee. They are $30 for an 8 inch by 10 inch print and $50 for an 11 inch by 14 inch print.

The original 3ft by 4ft acrylic paintings in maple frames cost $2,900 each. Two of the six sold.

“The pandemic isn’t over, but things are getting back to normal, and people want it so badly,” Freshley said. “An art exhibition is a small thing, but it’s a sign of life and normalcy.”

“Love Letter to the Bay”, an exhibition of landscape painting by a Portland artist Catherine Freshly, opened March 1 and will run through April 30 at Capitola Coffee, 1465 NE Prescott St. Suite B in Portland. The café is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays and from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday.

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman

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