Beyond Kitsap: Escapism through art

Joker’s Peace gets lost on the Gig Harbor Open Studio Tour.

Joker’s Peace gets lost on the Gig Harbor Open Studio Tour.

In our Beyond Kitsap debut earlier this summer, What’s Up traveled north to the wooded pastural reaches along the Quilcene River for the Olympic Music Festival.

The column, as you may recall, was spurred by the hope of finding affordable travel destinations during the depressing summer of $4 gallons of gas. Though those numbers now hover around $3.80, even $3.75 now with fall on the horizon, the quest remains for a place close enough to get away without draining the bank account.

While Kitsap is hailed as “Just Close Enough to Get Away,” (the county’s motto) What’s Up is in search of somewhere just close enough to get away, from here.

It hasn’t been an easy task given gas prices and the fact that almost any way you try to leave the Great Peninsula (other than across Hood Canal) you’ll have to pay a toll.

Thus far, we’ve avoided those.

Last time, we traveled north across Hood Canal, while this time around we set our sights on the Gig Harbor Open Studio Tour — just far enough south to get out of Kitsap without having to pay $4 to cross the Tacoma Narrows.

There are similar studio tours featuring local artists here in North Kitsap and Bainbridge every year, but this self-guided tour through Gig Harbor lent itself well to a little road trip.

So, when we received the press release in the mail, even though the tour isn’t slated until Sept. 20-21, I wanted to take the trip a few weeks early, try out the trail for our readers, and see if I might be able to get away for the afternoon and spontaneously into the world of a Gig Harbor artist.

Art is, after all, one of the purest forms of escapism. And other than the cost of gas, the self-guided tour is free.

So I poured $50 into the trusty AstroVan, picked up some jerky and a Slushee, and headed south, out of Poulsbo.

It’s a road I’ve traveled many times before, on the way to Tacoma or Seattle or SeaTac, but I’ve never ventured too far from the highway. The signs are enticing enough — the “(You got a) Purdy (mouth) Exit,” “Burnt-ham Drive,” and so on — but I’ve always wondered what these places were actually like.

And I was also enamored by this little island on the map — Raft Island — a place I’d never heard of before, but which looked like a great escape, also home to two studios on the Gig Harbor tour.

One studio belongs to Doug Fillbach, creator of Design Tech Art Glass which has become one of the Northwest’s premier glass studios, featured in ‘Stained Glass Magazine,’ ‘Better Homes and Gardens,’ and so on. Fillbach has spent the past 30 years studying and refining his precision stained glass and metal art to a T, and it shows.

The other studio is that of professional watercolorist and “media artist” Kate Larsson.

Trying to find my way to the island, I came across a bit of wisdom for any potential first time Gig Harbor-goers: Don’t try to read the map while driving. Either know where you’re going or bring a co-pilot or a GPS.

It’s awfully hard to save on gas when you’re driving in circles trying to find your way to a road that you’ve never seen before.

After a 15- to 20-minute detour, I finally found my way onto the winding path that led through the rich hills overlooking Henderson Bay and on to the bridge leading to Raft Island.

But at the mouth of the bridge, I was stopped.

“Private Island,” a sign said. “Raft Island residents only. No soliciting.”

Damn. I was that close. Looks like they keep a lock on their world down here.

Fearing legal repercussions of being trapped on the island, trespassing and technically soliciting for interviews, I decided that my great escape would be better had when the Open Studio Tour was actually open. So I headed back to Kitsap. Besides I’d already been lost once that day. And as it turns out, Fillbach wasn’t even home anyway. But you can be sure he will be Sept. 20 and 21 when studios throughout Gig Harbor, Fox Island and the Key Peninsula will be open to the public, offering demos, artwork, conversation and perhaps a little bit of escapism.