Lives in: Clarkston
Artistic genre and medium: Whimsical abstract, acrylic on canvas
Art background: Aside from a four-year stint after high school doing tole painting on wood — a skill she learned from her aunt — Gertje didn’t do anything with art until 2013. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare bone disease, which resulted in the immediate loss of her job and running hobby. After several months of chemotherapy, she bought a canvas and a few paints and started painting — “just to see if I could do it,” she said. Her first painting was a piece she called “Poppies in an Orange Sun.” She and others liked the result and she’s been painting ever since.
Inspiration: You’ll see a lot of brightly colored flowers, cheerful birds and otherwise “happy” material in Gertje’s work. “It’s just what I want to paint,” she said. It’s feel-good art that sometimes comes with uplifting or whimsical phrases. She regularly hears that her work makes people smile — at one art show, she said, a man told her, “You must be the happiest person on earth, just look what comes out of you.”
On the connection between positive surroundings and health: Her work is what’s inside her, but for Gertje, it’s also been a choice. After her diagnosis, she was advised to surround herself with happy things. “It just carried through (into my art) … it’s what I’m drawn to even now,” she said.
Studio space: While she was in Spokane for a stem cell transplant, a month-long procedure meant to lengthen the remission of the myeloma, her fiance, Will Marks, cleaned out and fixed up a spare room in their house. When she got home, she set it up as her studio. “I have a little sign that says ‘This is my happy place’ and it is, it totally is. I feel good working in there,” she said. The procedure was successful and Gertje currently receives maintenance treatment for the disease.
On being a professional artist: Gertje not only loves what she does, she makes a living at it. Around 60 percent of her work is sold through Facebook and much of the rest she sells at art festivals or exhibits. During the summer months, she has hosted painting parties where attendees replicate one of her pieces. She estimates that she now has a piece of artwork in almost every state in the western U.S.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “Birds and Blooms”: An exhibit of paintings by Vicki Gertje
WHEN: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Mondays – Saturdays (until 8 p.m. Wednesdays), 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sundays
WHERE: Blue Lantern Coffee House & Wine Bar, 326 Main St., Lewiston