A Heritage of Trees — The Woodworking of Ron Jackson

Handcrafted, hardwood sleigh by Ron Jackson
Handcrafted, hardwood sleigh by Ron Jackson

Thanks to the forethought and enthusiasm of 19th century settlers, the Walla Walla (Washington) Valley abounds with trees, its crown jewel, Pioneer Park, boasting 11 of the biggest examples of their kind in the state. To this day, valley residents take seriously the witty quote, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The  second best time is now.”

Demi Lune handcrafted hardwood table by Ron Jackson
Demi Lune handcrafted hardwood table by Ron Jackson

“For over 150 years the people of Walla Walla have embarked on a vigorous tree planting agenda,” says Ron Jackson, whose ancestors settled in the Starbuck and Tucannon areas before the state was even a state. In the mid- to late 19th century under the Homestead Act, he explains, settlers planted groves of trees as part of the agreement with the government regarding land acquisition.

But the thing about trees, he adds, is that they don’t live forever.

“The walnut tree, for example, has an average life of around 100 years. And then it needs to be taken out.”

Handcrafted, hardwood silver chest by Ron Jackson
Handcrafted, hardwood silver chest by Ron Jackson

“Taken out” generally means chopped down, and Jackson, as the retired owner of Jackson-Sanders Hardwood (which he ran with partner Gayle Sanders during the 1990s) knows all about this: the company bought lumber from homeowners and tree services and sold it nationally to custom furniture manufacturers, woodworkers, and even Microsoft, which at one time boasted a woodworking club.

Handcrafted, hardwood sushi table by Ron Jackson
Handcrafted, hardwood sushi table by Ron Jackson

For Jackson, a tree’s life doesn’t end when it’s cut down, and beautiful trees deserve to be turned into beautiful, functional art — cabinets, chairs, decorative boxes, even a children’s old-fashioned sleigh. In his “retirement,” this is precisely what Jackson does, operating out of a woodshop the size of a two-car garage, filled with hardwoods salvaged from the area.

“I let the wood dictate to me what it will be,” the lifelong woodworker says. “Maple trees are like Christmas presents — you never know what you’ll find inside until you cut them down. Black walnut is a most beautiful wood — it’s pretty, it’s stable.” Bird’s eye, fiddlebacks, burls, shimmers — the terms cascade off Jackson’s tongue as he describes the patterns found in a tree’s grain.

Slide lid box with Marquetry inlay by Ron Jackson
Slide lid box with Marquetry inlay by Ron Jackson

Over the years, and in between owning various businesses and working diversified jobs, Jackson has custom built three houses, complete with hardwood floors, and in his current home, all but two pieces of furniture or cabinetry came to life under his hands. (The only items he didn’t build were his mother’s dining room table and china cabinet.)

Whether the project is big or small, Jackson is ready for the challenge, and his portfolio includes everything from a recently completed commission of dining room table and six matching chairs to a sushi table, from a sliding lidded box with inlaid (Marquetry) imagery to a serving tray — cut from the bias of a bough — which became in high demand among the area’s wineries.

Serving Tray, similar to the one created for the wineries, by Ron Jackson
Serving Tray, similar to the one created for the wineries, by Ron Jackson

“One time, one of the wineries contacted me about making a serving tray, so I did.,” Jackson remembers “They just loved it — called me back and said, we need a couple more. Called me back again, said they wanted to sell them. Pretty soon other wineries were calling and wanting them, but there was a limit to how many I could supply as there was a limited supply of that particular wood.”

Despite having no website, social media presence, or even, up to a year ago, business cards, Jackson fields requests for his work from friends, family, friends of friends, and total strangers who have encountered his art in someone’s home, at the Farmer’s Market (“Depending on the weather — I don’t fight the wind or the rain or go if it’s too hot”), or local shows and craft fairs. On occasion, he takes commissions, but for the most part, he lets the wood speak to him, and the finished products speak to the viewers.

“I’ve been a woodworker all my life,” Jackson says. “The fascinating thing about working with wood is there’s always something else to learn — you’ll never get there. By the time you develop one skill you’re thinking about the next thing.”

But quite fortunately for Jackson, wood — unlike money — decidedly grows on trees.

Wenaha GalleryRon Jackson is the featured Pacific Northwest Art Event artist from Monday, November 30 through Saturday, December 26, 2015.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.


Van Gogh Lives on — the Art of Jeffrey Hill


Venice Canal, framed original oil by Jeffrey Hill.
Venice Canal, framed original oil by Jeffrey Hill.

Van Gogh and wine — they’re both so delightfully European somehow. What starts in Europe, however, doesn’t necessarily stay in Europe, and the Walla Walla area finds itself with its own version of  both:

Artist Jeffrey Hill — whose high color, swirling creations in paint earned him the nickname of Vineyard Van Gogh — celebrates the area’s ripening winemaking tradition with paintings, murals, and sculpture. If you’ve walked through the area at all, you have no doubt seen one of Hill’s works, whether it is the emblematic wine grape picker installed in the front of Walla Walla Community College’s Center for Enology and Viticulture or a mural at a winery tasting room.

“I got in on the ground floor chronicling the history of this Valley’s  growth in grapes and wineries,” Hill, a fourth generation Walla Wallan, explains. “I found success with my paintings, murals, illustrations, fabrications, and sculptures in connection with the burgeoning Walla Walla wine industry.”

From Child Prodigy to Adult Master

Success indeed. Hill’s paintings, sculptures, and murals bedeck more than fifteen different wineries in the area. After winning the Washington Artist of the Year Award at the 2001 Washington Wine Festival, Hill was approached about installing his artwork at the WWCC Enology Center in 2003. Two large panel paintings in the foyer and six larger panel paintings in the reception hall  tell the “Vine to Wine” story of winemaking in the Walla Walla area.

“I was a child prodigy in art beginning in my elementary school days,” Hill says. “At Prospect Point Elementary I was allowed to leave during the middle of the day and walk to Walla Walla High School to study art with Edwin Moser, Wa Hi’s art teacher.

The Artist, sculpture by Jeffrey Hill.
The Artist, sculpture by Jeffrey Hill.

“It was this experience that first allowed me to try my hands at sculpture and oil painting.”

Subsequent years, and hard work, led to scholarships to study with Dick Rasmussen, the then-head of the art department at Whitman College, eventually resulting in Hill’s 1978 graduation from Whitman with double majors in Fine Art and Art History. Hill then accepted a position with Sotheby’s, an exclusive auction house in London, UK, where he furthered his fine art studies.

Walla Walla does not give up its homegrown talent easily, however, and after a career in Seattle as an appraiser and fine art dealer, Hill found himself back on the family farm, Forgotten Hills, where he and his wife Kathryn planted a three-acre plot of Merlot.

“We had no idea if this would be successful,” Hill remembers, and while they waited, Hill decided to try his hand at painting the vineyards of the area — their landscapes, their workers, their people. What he created resonated quickly and powerfully with area merchants and residents, and winemaking took a back seat to capturing the process, in paint and bronze.

Hill’s paintings are bold, both in brush technique and color, and he captures a landscape, or an interior, with a sweeping sense of movement and energy. Pure pigments of color demand the viewer’s attention and draw him into the action. Even when the subject matter is still, there is movement.

After a recent trip to Europe, Hill chronicled the experience in oil and acrylic, and four of these paintings, which have never yet been shown, are on display at Wenaha Gallery, Dayton, WA, where Hill is the featured Art Event artist from Monday, April 14 through Saturday, May 3. Also featured will be Hill’s new sculpture, The Artist, in its debut to the public.

“I am very proud and excited that Wenaha will offer this piece for the first time,” Hill says.

The Artist is a culmination of Walla Walla and Whitman themes. Here is the consummate painter in the moment of inspiration, depicting a Walla Walla vineyard scene.

“He paints en plein aire, possibly in the vineyard. He is possibly a Whitman College graduate, possibly a native son.”

A sculpture of a native son, by a native son, radiating a European feeling, in a Pacific Northwest setting. How delightfully Walla Walla.


Gallery artist at Wenaha Gallery in Dayton, WA, Jeffrey Hill is the featured Pacific Northwest artists for Art Event, a three-week showcasing of his works, beginning Monday, April 14, at the gallery. Hill’s Art Event runs through Saturday, May 3.

Wenaha Gallery,  located in historic downtown Dayton, Washington,  is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton; phone 509.382.2124; e-mail art@wenaha.com.  

Read more about Art Event, our celebration of Pacific Northwest Artists,  here.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.