A Floating Art Studio on the Samish River – The Conner Weekly News

By Meg Holgate

It’s low tide on the Samish River. A man stops at his cabin door to watch a bald eagle soar overhead. Opposite, a venerable red barn, once used to store pea crops, leans over tall summer grass. A peacock displays its royal plumage near a steel railing leading to a houseboat moored at the dock. This is the floating studio of Northwest painter and sculptor Todd Horton.

Horton waves from his disused barge by the river in the small town of Edison. The artist chose to live and work in this extraordinarily beautiful farming community in the Skagit Valley. The area is known for its epicurean delights, artisan cheeses, berries, oysters, crab and art galleries.

Upon entering his cabin, one is transported into a world of creativity. Sculptures of owls and foxes greet the eye. They were carved and fire burnished from 2″ x 4″ scrap wood – some have glass heads. The chairs of several now-deceased Northwestern artists – Clayton James, Bill Slater and Ted Jonsson – are arranged near the windows as if to provide posthumous advice to Horton’s musings, while on the kitchen counter a painting by American naturalist Henry David Thoreau is cleverly attached to a metal tripod.

Much like Thoreau in Walden’s day, Horton himself lives a little off the grid.

“My life and my career are one. Here, on this river, there is no real distinction. Horton finds it, “amazing what Thoreau said in the 1840s and how true it is now: encroaching civilization, his ideas.” His voice fades.

Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Emily Dickinson, among other great American writers, thinkers, and poets, influenced how Horton chooses to live.

“This group of people really laid the groundwork for a lot of the things that make American society lovely.” There’s something quite patriotic about Horton’s contemplations as well as his intention to live in a less publicized way.

We climb a few steps to the upper level of his converted houseboat. At the top of the steps is an easel supporting a large painting. It depicts an uninterrupted evening of life on the Samish River. Moonlight is a favorite subject of Horton, perhaps because it is in the evening that he creates so much of his work. His paintings, whether depicting animals or landscapes, often feature areas intentionally blurred by brushstrokes. There is a sense of something fleeting, much like light moving through the Skagit Valley.

Although he does not make art, Horton thinks about art in his community. Along with fellow artist and sculptor Aarron Loveitt, he worked on two events that energized local art and artists. “The Blanchard Mountain Rendezvous,” scheduled for October 15, and “Equinox,” next March, are gatherings where local art gathers over 30 gallons of soup around a large fire, accompanied by beer and cider. Artists, friends, collectors and the community join the conversation, exchange ideas and sell works of art. For each event, themes are chosen and artists whose work reflects these concepts are invited to participate. This year, the Blanchard Mountain Rendezvous will be hosted by Chloe Dye Sherpe of Sedro Woolley. These events give the impression of being taken out of the farmlands on which they take place.

As I descend from Horton’s river studio, I have a question. Is there an idea, something that you are really studying?

“Yes,” he says, “my deeper purpose is to develop and begin my drawings of tides and trees.”

Horton explored making natural marks. Tidal drawings are created from the ebb and flow of tidal river waters and tree drawings are sketched from the movement of trees in the forest. Both series are generated from handcrafted devices. This body of work became a center of interest for him. He asks the natural world “to make designs”.

It’s late afternoon on the Samish River and I leave Horton knowing there’s a lot to be said and a lot to do about a life lived on the banks of a river.

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