At the Bend Visitor Center, we not only let people draw on the walls—we encourage it!
Once a year, Visit Bend chooses a local artist to create unique chalk drawings on the cement pillars in the Visitor Center lobby. The artist also has his or her framed work displayed and sold in the Visitor Center for the duration of his or her show. It’s part of the Pillars of Art program, which was created to introduce tourists to Bend’s unique arts and culture scene, and to support emerging local artists.
The newest Pillars of Art creator is Sweet Pea Cole. She’s a graduate of the University of Wyoming, and has lived in Bend for almost two decades. For her 2017-2018 Pillars of Art installment, she created an array of colorful, whimsical illustrations of people, birds, pets, bicycles, and other scenes sure to put a smile on your face.
You can see Sweet Pea’s work at the Bend Visitor Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can also check her out at www.sweetpeacole.com
We caught up with Sweet Pea recently and asked a few questions about her art, her life, and everything in between. Here’s what she shared with us:
Visit Bend: Where did you grow up, and how did you end up in Bend?
Sweet Pea: I grew up in Laramie, Wyoming. After mousing around the Pacific Northwest (Missoula, Montana; Seattle, Washington; Corvallis, Oregon) my husband and I landed in Bend in 1999. We were looking to return to big mountains and escape the rain of the west side of the Cascades. We thought that meant returning to the Rockies, but friends kept encouraging us to consider Bend. Upon arrival, we found sun and mountains and wonderful people, but were stunned by the lack of culture. Even to this girl from Wyoming, Bend seemed like a cultural desert. It’s been wonderful to see that aspect change.
Visit Bend: Tell us about your artistic training.
Sweet Pea: I’m self-taught, and I’ve been drawing and painting and creating my whole life. As I kid, I was always making things. I’d get an idea and I’d work at it until I found a way to make it a reality. I’m intensely DIY (do it yourself), but I also love reaching out to other artists for ideas and inspiration.
Visit Bend: How would you describe your artistic style?
Sweet Pea: My work is characterized by hand drawn lines, slightly shaken and smooth. There is an intended quirk to my work—a celebration of the slightly flawed reality that exists everywhere and for everyone.
Visit Bend: What’s your favorite medium?
Sweet Pea: Currently, my work is dominated by printmaking—specifically screen printing. But my favorite medium is whatever it takes to create the idea that is in my mind. That may be fabric or paper or wood.
Visit Bend: Who are your artistic influences?
Sweet Pea: Wes Anderson. Patti Smith. My contemporaries in the handmade/maker made realm. Street artists. It is an ever expanding list….
Visit Bend: What do you like best about living in Bend, and how does it influence your artistic style?
Sweet Pea: I love my community; the kind, energetic, creative, adventurous souls who I am lucky to call friends. Their generous spirits are at the core of so many of my ideas. Of course, I love the mountains… they are more requirement for my mental health than an influence on my work.
Visit Bend: What do you enjoy doing in Bend when you’re not creating art?
Sweet Pea: Skiing is my all-time favorite thing to do, ever. When I can’t do that, friends are visited, bikes are ridden, hikes are taken, camps are set up, etc. Also, a considerable amount of coffee is consumed.
Visit Bend: What’s your impression of the Bend art scene, and how do you think the Pillars of Art program fits with that?
Sweet Pea: As I mentioned before, the art scene in Bend has come a long way in the time I have enjoyed living here, though I think it is still in its infancy. I truly believe the work Visit Bend is doing to promote cultural appreciation and tourism is so important. Programs like Pillars of Art, Tin Pan Alley, and Tenth Month are vital for artists living in Bend because they draw attention to the city’s creative side.
There are many artists here, but it’s very challenging to sell art in Bend. In the past, you’ve had to take it somewhere else. People don’t come to Bend for the art. They come for mountains and rivers and all the outdoor activities. But by bringing awareness to Bend’s art scene, Visit Bend has positioned it as another great thing for tourists to see and do. They can come here to mountain bike, but also spend an evening checking out galleries or admiring the Pillars of Art at the Bend Visitor Center.
One great thing about Pillars of Art is that it doesn’t dictate what the art is going to be. Visitors get to walk in and see real artwork, rather than a crafted commercial piece.