Best of both worlds: San Juan Island's 23rd Annual Artists’ Studio Tour

After a winter of cloistered creativity, San Juan’s artists open their doors to welcome spring visitors - Contributed photo
After a winter of cloistered creativity, San Juan’s artists open their doors to welcome spring visitors
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Anna Marlis Burgard

Special to the Journal

The works of San Juan’s resident artists offer views on the island experience through multi-medium interpretations of local vistas: the California poppies growing wild along the road to Jackson Beach are immortalized in BJ Dollahite’s impressionistic landscapes, while the rhythms of the shoreline are captured in the plein air paintings of her husband, Matt Dollahite.Spaulding

Mary Gey McCulloch’s canvases present the light and colors of inland farms with a Provençal flair, driftwood and bull kelp is gathered by Yvonne Buijs-Mancuso to cast molds for her distinctive jewelry and Penelope Torkington pieces cloth dragonflies and other iconic island elements into colorful quilts.

These and 34 other artists will open their studio doors and gardens to visitors during the 2-day San Juan Island Annual Artists’ Studio Tour on May 31 and June 1. The group’s collective oeuvre represents numerous manifestations of inspiration including glassworks, jewelry, painting, photography, pottery, printmaking, quilting, and sculpture.

(Studios will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday; the tour is free of charge. For information and tour map, visit,

DolhiteThe pieces are sold year-round at trade shows, online and through galleries, but the tour offers an opportunity to speak with artists one-on-one and learn about the genesis and processes of their creations where they’re formed.

This  connection to the makers adds layers of interest to the works once ensconced in the homes and offices of their patrons; the responsive interaction provides a boost to these often solitary creators—as well as vital, direct feedback from their market.

Given their allure and beauty, all of the San Juan islands are home to artists; the Islands Museum of Art under construction in Friday Harbor is a testament to this.

Yvonne Buijis-MancusoAnd, as Ms. Buijs-Mancuso sees it, “San Juan offers artists the best of both worlds: the conveniences and resources of a town, and the inspiration and privacy of the country. It presents urban diversions when desired, but also a critical freedom from distractions when needed for the creative work.”

A 22-year veteran of San Juan’s scene, she describes the island’s professional arts community as diverse, original, eccentric, adaptive and engaged. This combination of traits—combined with the island’s natural assets—is the foundation for the variety of works the community produces.

Whether San Juan is home for a week of vacation or as a primary residence, the works of this talented and committed community capture the presence of its rolling hills, farms and beaches to enjoy year ‘round.M Doallahite

This year’s raffle offers visitors the chance to win a two-night stay at the McCulloch Guesthouse Garden Cottage by the Sea and a $50 gift certificate for dinner at Vinny's Ristorante. Entry forms will be available at all participating studios.

— Editor’s note: Anna Marlis Burgard is the author and principal photographer for Islands of America: A River, Lake and Sea Odyssey (


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