Visual art community-building experience has connected artists of all ages and abilities from across the US and beyond.

Serendipity led New Jersey-based printmaker Molly Gaston Johnson to Maryhill Museum of Art last summer, after she was encouraged by her college roommate to apply to participate in the museum’s Exquisite Gorge Project; to Johnson’s surprise, she was selected and soon found herself on a plane to the Northwest for the first time and on a voyage of discovery along the Columbia River.

“It was my first time in the area and driving out through the Gorge. All the dramatic landscape changes you see between Portland to The Dalles were just mind blowing,” says Johnson.  After meeting Maryhill’s Curator of Education Lou Palermo and the other artists involved in the project, Johnson was charmed.

“I felt totally at home in this place I had never been,” she says. “I knew and loved museums similar to Maryhill. It actually reminds me a lot of the Corcoran Museum in Washington, DC, where I had worked. I knew right away that I absolutely wanted to do more with Maryhill.”

Fast forward to March of this year, when Johnson cautiously ventured to Oregon for an opening reception of Exquisite Gorge prints at Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River. She had some trepidation about making the trip, as the first cases of the virus had been reported in Seattle and New York; by the time she flew back to the East Coast on a near-empty plane, Johnson says she felt a mixture of anxiety and inspiration.

“I had just come back off the good feeling of seeing the prints, but at the same time I was literally terrified about getting back home to my kids,” she recalls. Her instinct was to channel that energy into art.

“I tend to deal with my panic through action and one of the first thoughts that came to me was to create something that would help people through this crisis,” she says. “The way I do that is through art.”

Working closely with Lou Palermo at Maryhill and friends at Monmouth Arts in Red Bank, New Jersey, a bicoastal partnership and the Exquisitely Connected Project was born.

Artist Molly Gaston Johnson: Exquisitely Connected to Maryhill! - Maryhill Museum - Columbia Gorge

Artwork by Vali Hawkins-Mitchell, a writer and Expressive Art Therapist in Honolulu, Hawaii who participated in an Exquisitely Connected online workshop

Johnson says the project has been an incredible experience that has exceeded her expectations. One aspect she’s especially proud of is how the project has involved adults.

“Often we think about how things impact children and skip over how things impact adults,” she says. “I wanted this to be an adult opportunity as well. We’ve had participants who are young and those who are in their 80s.”

So far more than 160 submissions have come in, from both the US and internationally, with artists sharing their thoughts and inspiration for each piece. (See the digital mural here.)

To help guide participants in creating art for the project, Johnson has held five Zoom workshops and plans are in the works for more.

“Giving people the space to process their feelings is healthy, beautiful and important,” she says. “The project is a great document of this moment in time.”

Participate in the Exquisitely Connected Project!

There’s still time to contribute to our digital mural! All you need are a few basic art supplies and your creativity. Tell us about what you are feeling now, the hopes you want to express for the future, or create a metaphor for today’s world experience. Let your imagination run wild as we create a web of connectivity. Click here for more info on creating your piece and how to upload it so you can be part of the fun.

Virtual Workshop: Make Yourself Happy Hour!
January 16, 2021 | 5 p.m. (PST)

Join Molly Gaston Johnson for a free, online guided experience taking you through the process of creating a submission for the Exquisitely Connected Project. The workshop is FREE; advance registration required. Register online here.

Image of Molly Johnson courtesy of Friderike Heuer of Oregon ArtsWatch. You can read Friderike’s in-depth 11-part series about the Exquisite Gorge Project here.