Whidbey News-Times


Art gifts are made right on Whidbey

December 11, 2012 · Updated 3:08 PM

Mary Ellen O’Connor and daughter Linnane Armstrong will participate in Made Right on Whidbey Dec. 15 and 16. Pictured are O’Connor’s hand-painted silk scarves and on the wall are Armstrong’s prints. / M. Denis Hill photo

Metalsmithing, silk painting, glass sandblasting, papermaking, oil and watercolor painting, ceramics, pastels, drawing, woodblock and linocut printing: If this sounds like a complete list of talents displayed at a good-sized arts and crafts fair, you’re in for a surprise. These are just some of the skills of artist Mary Ellen O’Connor and her daughter, Linnane Armstrong.

O’Connor and Armstrong are two of the 11 local artists who will display and sell their wares at the second annual Made Right On Whidbey show from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15 and 16 in the Coupeville Recreation Hall. Admission is free. Artists will donate a portion of their proceeds to the Coupeville Arts Center, dba Pacific Northwest Art School.

O’Connor was raised in New York. She said that her family was not particularly artistic, but she found herself outgrowing simple coloring books and crayons at an early age. She attended the School for American Craftsmen at Rochester Institute of Technology, where she focused on metalsmithing, an unlikely choice for girls at that time.

Upon earning her bachelor of fine arts degree, O’Connor spent the following years teaching college-level jewelry and metalsmithing, and she took classes in print and papermaking.

When daughter Armstrong was born, O’Connor curtailed participation in art shows that required travel away from home. Instead, she began doing decorative sandblasting, creating artful glass doors, windows and room dividers.

When Armstrong was 5 years old, the family moved to Coupeville, where O’Connor volunteered at Coupeville Elementary, teaching art.

Her studio, six miles south of Coupeville, is part of the Whidbey Art Trail.

Armstrong, a 2000 graduate of Coupeville High School, apparently inherited her mother’s artistic DNA.

“From the time she could hold a pencil, she was drawing,” O’Connor said.

Although art was in her heart, Armstrong thought she wanted to be a doctor. She entered Portland’s Reed College as a biology major, taking an art class each semester to satisfy her creative urges. Before too long, however, her science-oriented curriculum would not allow the luxury of art classes.

“One day Linnane called to tell me that she’d changed her major to fine art. I was so relieved. I knew she was born to be an artist,” O’Connor said.

Following college, Armstrong moved back to Whidbey, where she managed the Coupeville Boys and Girls Club art program. She also taught adult arts and crafts at a paper arts shop in Oak Harbor until it closed in 2007. She’s currently employed as retail manager and framer at Gene’s Art and Frame in Oak Harbor.

Armstrong has been selected as the 2013 Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival poster artist.

“I’m working on it intensively,” she said. “It’s an ambitious, challenging, multicolored wood block design. It will be unveiled in January or February.”

Her art is also on exhibit at Coupeville’s Penn Cove Gallery.

Although she has explored many mediums, Armstrong’s current obsession is with relief printing. She explained that linocut printing, which involves carving a design into rubber, is faster and uses heavier inks for a distinctly graphic look. Woodcut, however, gives the piece more character, and the lighter watercolor pigments allow soft color gradations in the traditional Japanese style.


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