Panning for arts gold

Artists of River Town organizes Oroville’s arts community

It takes a village to raise arts awareness: Artists of River Town members gather in their Oroville gallery. From left: Machelle Conn, Walton Walker, Jean Berg, Bob Thomaston and Cody Lawrence.

It takes a village to raise arts awareness: Artists of River Town members gather in their Oroville gallery. From left: Machelle Conn, Walton Walker, Jean Berg, Bob Thomaston and Cody Lawrence.

Photo By Vic Cantu

Artists of River Town Gallery and Gifts
1435 Meyers St., Oroville, 534-3277

There is an organized artists’ community with 120 active members living and thriving in Oroville. … Oroville? Yes, Oroville.

Too often Chico’s neighbor to the south is thought of by those outside its limits as a town with little or no culture. It’s an unfair overgeneralization, and the Artists of River Town (ART) have been working hard to change that perception. The cooperative—named for the Feather River, which flows through the city—has been showing the public that a wide variety of artists and their works are making a rich contribution to the community of Oroville.

I walked into the downtown ART gallery and was met by a group of five lively seniors, joking and proudly pointing out dozens of creations inside made by their fellow collective members. Nature paintings and various portraits adorned the walls, and tables, stands and glass displays throughout were neatly adorned with wood carvings, sculptures and pottery.

“We want to present an image of Oroville as a desirable place,” explained ART President Machelle Conn. “We do this by giving Oroville artists an opportunity to show, sell and educate the public about their art.”

The members have been decorating the gallery and the Oroville area with their works as a group for six years, and for January, the gallery is filled with one piece per member for the annual All Members Show. Perhaps the most striking work is Mike Williams’ glistening, white-tiled, one-foot-tall replica of the majestic Chichen Itza pyramid of Cancun, Mexico.

The hub of all ART’s activity goes by the full name of The Artists of River Town Gallery and Gifts, and it was placed smack in the middle of downtown Oroville to give their artists the highest possible daily recognition. Each month a different artist or group of artists from the collective get a chance to showcase their work in an exhibition at the gallery.

“The benefits of showing local art is that it attracts tourism, businesses and encourages others to move to Oroville,” Conn explained.

To further the aim of community-building, the collective works with as many public groups and events as it can. In the past year, ART had a presence at Feather Fiesta Days along with the Salmon Festival and Bounty of Oroville celebrations. ART also coordinates art projects with entities such as the Oroville Downtown Business Association, Oroville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Feather River Fish Hatchery. ART member Walton Walker had a 13-foot-tall metal salmon statue installed in front of the Centennial Cultural Center, while fellow metal artist Steve Nielsen is making a stainless-steel eagle with a three-foot wingspan for the city of Oroville that will feature 2,000 feathers, each carefully attached by hand.

“The more groups you have working together, the better,” Conn said. “It increases both participation and awareness of artists and our events.”

The reception for the members’ group show (Friday, Jan. 7, 4-7 p.m.) coincides with the First Friday event in Oroville, when downtown streets are closed off to cars and special sales are held by businesses staying open for extended hours.

ART members are also hoping to make a big splash with the debut of the ART Showdown, on Friday, Jan. 29. Patterned after the hit Food Network reality show Iron Chef (with elements of the show Chopped seemingly thrown in as well), the public event will feature several groups of artists who will be given boxes with the same surprise selection of art-making items. Each will have 45 minutes to create a work of art while being egged on by the audience, with winners being judged over the course of two rounds. Proceeds from the event will be donated to local high school scholarships.

As they continue to branch out and increase the ART profile, the members hope to also increase their resources in order to become one of Butte County’s notable arts organizations.

“Right now we’re only funded with member dues,” Conn said. “Eventually we hope to get public funding for a permanent space that would hold a museum, business offices and house well-known artists-in-residence to teach others.”