BY BETTY FREEMAN
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Painter Claire Acord is a woman of many passions. As we chatted over coffee at Kathleen Jo Ryan & Friends Gallery in Coupeville, she kept revealing additional interests beyond creating the exquisite watercolors that adorn the gallery walls.
Acord is one of the newer artists in Ryan’s year-old gallery, but she is not new to her art form.
Educated at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and the California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland, Acord has been painting since she was six.
“I quit for a while when I had young children,” said Acord.
After earning a master’s degree in landscape architecture and as her three children got older, she said she gradually came back to painting.
“Because I work in watercolors, my paintings are not something I can do in a spare half hour,” said Acord.
Her subjects are sailboats and dogs for the most part, and much of her work is done on commission.
“People want paintings of their pets, and some want paintings of their boats,” she said. “Because I’m interested in both, it’s a good fit for me.”
Acord and gallery owner Kathleen Jo Ryan bonded because they both owned border collies. In addition to being a painter, Acord is a skilled Border collie trainer, who keeps a herd of sheep mainly for training these intelligent dogs.
The Acords moved here from Northern California in 2004 to one of the old Zylstra farms between Coupeville and Oak Harbor, and found their eclectic skillsets were in demand here.
Both Acord and her husband John are weavers and John is a skilled restorer of old looms. The Whidbey Weavers Guild welcomed them with open arms.
And Acord’s ability to train border collies and gardening has led to friendships with several local farmers and the growing community of “foodies.”
Acord’s interest in sailboats goes way back too. She met John when he needed an additional crewmember for an ocean sailing trip and she was available on short notice. Both are experienced sailors and were quickly assimilated into the boating community when they moved to Whidbey.
The Acords own three boats – a 20-foot twin keel Vivacity, a skiff tender and a 10-foot classic yawl boat.
Acord’s current project combines her interest in art and sailboats. She’s cooked up a new festival for Coupeville next September, called “The Art of the Boat.”
After attending the Port Townsend and Victoria, BC wooden boat festivals, Acord felt Coupeville could support a similar festival. As the 2012 Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival poster artist, she was inspired to start a boat event here on the Island.
“Even though we don’t have a marina, people can look at boats on trailers at various locations around town, and we’ll have other activities to bring boat-lovers into the community,” she said. “We’re hoping to attract people to Washington’s oldest working waterfront community – Coupeville.”
Right now, Acord and the committee are gathering sponsors and are open to good ideas. They’ve gained the sponsorship of the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce and the support of the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association for the one-day festival on September 14.
The Island County Historical Museum will offer a special boat exhibit, Pacific Northwest Art School will have a juried competition and local merchants will park boats in front of their businesses.
“We’ve got the Shifty Sailors on board too,” said Acord.
An event to kick start interest in the festival will be a May 4 presentation from 3 to 5 p.m. at Kathleen Jo Ryan & Friends Gallery by local author Lawrence Cheek, who wrote “The Year of The Boat” (© 2008 Sasquatch Books) about his experiences building his own craft.
Currently, The Art of the Boat festival committee is looking for entertainers, artists, poets and writers to enrich the festival with creative work that contributes to the “everything boat” theme, said Acord.
“We’re Island people and we all have some relationship with water and boats, whether it’s a daily commute by ferry or owning our own,” said Acord.
The Art of the Boat committee welcomes all inquiries. Learn more at coupevilleartoftheboat.blogspot.com, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or inquire at Kathleen Jo Ryan & Friends Gallery on the corner of 9th and Center in Coupeville, open from 12 to 5 p.m. Saturdays
(Pictured at top, “Fast and Faster” by Claire Acord,)
Betty Freeman is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who lives in Clinton with her husband Dan, a sculptor.