Islanders Profile: GGs Reveal Divine Secrets

Rebecca Wells’ 1997 Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood is a novel about fictional characters. This may not be Louisiana or fiction but at least one sisterhood exists here on Guemes Island.

Between the two mannequins is (left to right) Patty Klamser, Janice Veal, Cathy Schoenberg, Camille Seligman, Dawn Ashbach, Sue Roberts and Jackie Wittman.

As each woman arrives the volume increases. By the time the entire group is gathered the enthusiasm is off the charts. Energy radiates from each individual and into the group. It is an extemporaneous experience that happens almost every Tuesday night.

Friendships developed among a charming, quirky group of talented women. The Guemes Girls (GGs) dynamic is real, palpable, and energetic. They embrace life and each other. Individual crises, traumas, successes and failures and, yes, “divine secrets” are shared and become the group’s. They talk, laugh, cry, create, socialize and even travel together. These women, each in diverse fields such as social services, teaching and, of course, artists, coalesce into a sisterhood.

The GGs have hiked, enjoyed the spa and sipped wine together at the Cave B Inn and Winery along the Columbia in Vantage, Washington. Last year the group’s excursion was to Winthrop, WA. Tuscany has been discussed as a future outing.

They almost always are of the same mind set. When there is a difference they work it through and don’t hold a grudge. They are daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, grandmothers, neighbors and friends who love to play together.

Camille, Dawn, Cathy and Jackie at work on She Who Must Be Obeyed (below).

Dawn Ashbach moved to Guemes in 1970. She has been a K-12 school counselor for 20 years. She has “no art background what-so-ever." She announced that she was going to be a grandma, for the first time, this September. The news was received with squeals of delight and punctuated with a toast to the ecstatic grandma to be. “It’s a girl and I’ve already bought several pink outfits,” Dawn declared. Dawn raised two sons on Guemes.

Patty Klamser is a six year Guemes permanent resident. She has hosted Art workshops on Guemes given by Barbara Fugate for eight years. This year says Patty “artists are coming from as far away as St. Louis and Ohio." Patty’s favorite medium is oil and subject is figurative painting. She has been painting for ten years. “Painting takes a lifetime,” muses Patty.

Jackie Wittman is a psychotherapist with a practice in Anacortes. She claims, “I do not have an artistic bone in my body.” She loves to do things that “raise eyebrows artistic and otherwise. I am an instigator”. The GGs collaboration projects are a perfect fit for her.

Janice, Cathy, Jackie, Sue and Camille prepare a mold used to create the birdbath pedestals.

Cast and fired ceramic figures in place, Cathy, Dawn and Patty grout their mosaic pedestals.

Janice Veal is a 42 year Guemes resident. She has been an Artist In Residence at local school districts for 16 years. "I work in all art forms. My favorite medium is watercolors. I love the contrast that watercolors offer. The colors are beautiful and the brushes are beautiful.” She summed up many GG projects by saying “every project usually culminates in some sort of celebration that includes family and friends.”

Cathy Schoenberg, a ten year Guemes resident has been a figurative artist for 40 years whose medium is oils. “Right now I am working in clay, making hand built pots and bowls and carving designs on them”. She has been a Body Care buyer for the Mt Vernon Co-Op since 1985. She gave a handmade birthday card to Sue and that was the impetus for the GG Christmas card collection. The cards proliferated into volumes of sayings, setting, designs and costumes.

Sue Roberts has been a studio artist for almost 29 years. She is a figurative sculptor. She thrives on the playfulness of the group. Bringing art into the Guemes community is a goal she aspires to while having fun. Sue says, “often we would meet and at the beginning of a session we would brainstorm and come up with an ambitious art project."

Camille Seligman is an R.N. in Care management for Group Health where she started as a consulting nurse, 35 years ago. She is a seven year resident of Guemes. She had visited friends, Janice and Glen Veal, often during the preceding forty years, loved the island and decided to move here when “Seattle started to feel too big." Camille says she “thinks in colors but always stayed inside the lines. The GGs have taught me to live with abandonment.” Pottery is a favorite medium for her.

Politics and current events are often discussed but this high spirited and frolicsome group found their niche in art. The favorite of the group is the sculpture entitled She Who Must Be Obeyed (left). It was a hands on project that included plastering, concrete, clay, mosaic, grouting, glazing and painting. The unveiling and erection of the sculpture was a celebration with many other island residents. It is displayed in the yard of Sue’s studio along South Shore Road.

What started out as a fountain turned into individual birdbaths that had a nautical theme and featured seven sirens. Coincidence? Their first project was a set of dinnerware. Each GG created two plates, two salad bowls, and two goblets. “At the completion of that project”, Sue Roberts said, “we decided to have a dinner party and include our husbands and partners because we all like to eat and drink." That set the precedent for future projects and following celebrations.

Community is important to the GGs. Many of the GG artists donated various pieces of art at the Save the Mountain auctions. They were approached by the Save the Mountain steering committee to hostess the bar for a fund raising auction. They arrived in glamorous gowns, wigs, and shiny baubles. They were a hit, playing laughing and smiling throughout the entire evening. Their mood was contagious, and many opened their wallets to buy a glass of wine for a worthy cause. They’ve been approached to do other fundraisers in their Glamorous GG attire.

There is a wearable art fashion show in the GG future. Each will dress as an artist of their choice. Dressing up is a favorite pastime of the GGs, so it should be fun to see.

When I think of the GGs, Benjamin Franklin’s remark comes to mind, “We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

Keep playing, GGs.

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