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Joseph, Oregon, is known as the Little Switzerland of America. Photo: Holley Mcfee, courtesy of Travel Oregon

Wanderings: Joseph, Oregon

Known as the Little Switzerland of America, this tiny town in northeast Oregon has inspired artists for many years

Written by JoAnna Haugen  
June | July 2017


With a population of less than 2,000 people, it would be easy to pass right through Joseph, Oregon, without giving it a second glance. But travelers who take the time to stop will find this small town at the base of the Wallowa Mountains an artistic haven set against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty.

Visitors will likely spend most of their time on Joseph’s Main Street, which was thoughtfully upgraded in 2002. At the time, the city’s mayor buried power lines blocking the mountain views and added cobblestone sidewalks. Seven bronze sculptures representing Western themes were also unveiled along the thoroughfare. Since then, additional sculptures have been added, and visitors today can take a self-guided art walk that includes larger-than-life bronze works of cowboys, horses, motorcycles and regional wildlife, several of which were created by local artists and cast at local foundries.

Bronze is the medium of choice in Joseph, and visitors can learn all about the process at Valley Bronze, one of the area’s three foundries. An hour-long tour explains the detailed process of how an art piece is turned into a bronze sculpture. Back on Main Street, stop by the Valley Bronze Joseph Gallery, the foundry’s showroom, for a renewed appreciation of the work on display, created by artists from across the United States.

Though bronze is the predominant medium in town, there are a number of galleries and shops featuring other types of work. Established nearly 30 years ago, Aspen Grove Gallery serves as the studio and showroom for artists and owners Mark Kortnik and Carol McLaughlin Kortnik, the longest represented resident artists on Main Street. Their pieces consist of paintings, prints and sculptures, and works by a number of other regional artists specializing in handblown glass, photography and basketry are also represented.

With beautiful sculptures, paintings, photography and more, Phinney Gallery of Fine Art is a must-stop destination for collectors visiting Joseph. There, find the whimsical work of Nano Lopez and the representational landscapes of Mitch Baird, among the many. At Edge of the Wilderness Gallery & Studio visitors will find an extensive collection of sculptures and paintings by award-winning artist Terri Malec, whose great-great-uncle, W.W. Denslow, illustrated the Wizard of Oz books.

Tucked in an old brick bank building with 16-foot ceilings, Stewart Jones Designs is a jewelry studio and gallery where visitors can browse and purchase work by designer Jones, who won the De Beers Diamonds International Design Award, as well as works by other artists. At Lamb Trading Company, the rich art and culture inspired by the Nez Perce thrives, and visitors can shop for artistic silver jewelry, beaded art, basketry, pottery, leather goods and more. For something a bit softer, stop by The Sheep Shed, a yarn shop and gallery selling products made by local artisans.

Also on Main Street is the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture, a lovely log building that embraces all things artistic. In addition to regular exhibitions, including a permanent exhibit about the Nez Perce installed this June, the center hosts artist lectures, brown-bag lunches, open-mic performances and receptions. If the creative muse strikes while in town, check out the center’s classes, which include drawing, ceramics, painting, multimedia and more. And, of course, the Josephy Center also has a gallery and shop.

Historically, Joseph was a logging town and is not necessarily known for its architecture. The Wallowa County Museum, however, is housed in the historic First Bank of Joseph. Built in 1888, the museum is the oldest building in Joseph and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Additionally, it’s worth traveling up the road 7 miles to Enterprise, Oregon, for a peek at the Wallowa County Courthouse, which was added to the register in 2000. Built in 1909 and 1910 using locally quarried stone, the building features Queen Anne, Romanesque and Romanesque Revival architecture. Ask nicely, and the staff may be willing to offer a peek into the courtroom.

Travelers passing through Joseph may want to plan their visit so it coincides with one of the town’s art-related events. The Joseph Art Walk — not to be confused with the self-directed Main Street Stroll — is held the first Saturday in June. During the one-day event, galleries open their doors to showcase new work, and artists offer public demonstrations. In September, the Wallowa Valley Festival of Arts moves into town with several days of activities including a film festival, creation competitions, a gallery walk and public showings fringed with live music, raffle drawings and a silent auction.

Joseph isn’t about to win any awards as an urban oasis, but when it comes to artistic spirit, there’s a lot to uncover in this small mountain town. This is the kind of place where artists take the time to talk to visitors, explaining their processes and inspiration. It’s the kind of destination where guests will likely leave not only with a few new works but also a story — if and when they finally force themselves to drive away.


If You Go: Events and Attractions


Joseph Artwalk

The first Saturday in June; 541.432.0203

Josephy Center for Arts and Culture

403 N. Main St; 541.432.0505; josephy.org

Valley Bronze Foundry

307 W. Alder St. 541.432.7551; valleybronze.com

Wallowa County Courthouse 

101 S. River St. in Enterprise, OR; 541.426.4543 

Wallowa County Museum 

110 S. Main St; 541.432.6095

Wallowa Valley Festival of Arts

September; wallowavalleyarts.org/arts-festival

GALLERIES

Aspen Grove Gallery 

602 N. Main St; 541.432.9555; aspengrovegallery.com 

Edge of the Wilderness Gallery 

3 1/2  S. Main St; 541.263.2489

Lamb Trading Company 

203 N. Main St; 541.432.5304; lambtradingco.com

Phinney Gallery of Fine Art 

17 S. Main St; 541.231.2977; phinneygallery.com

The Sheep Shed 

3 S. Main St; 541.432.7000

Stewart Jones Designs 

2 S. Main St; 541.432.5202; stewartjonesdesigns.com

Valley Bronze Joseph Gallery 

18 S. Main St; 541.432.7445; valleybronzegallery.com

LODGING

1910 Historic Enterprise House B&B

508 First S. St. in Enterprise, OR; 541.398.1194; enterprisehousebnb.com

A Cowboy Riverfront Retreat 

810 Russell Lane; 541.432.1775; cowboyriverfrontretreat.com

Belle Pepper’s Bed & Breakfast 

101 S. Mill St; 541.398.2758; bellepeppersbnb.com

Wallowa Lake Lodge 

60060 Wallowa Lake Hwy; 541.432.9821; wallowalakelodge.com

Wallowa Lake Resort

84681 Ponderosa Lane; 541.432.2391; wallowalakeresort.com

DINING

The Embers Brew House 

204 Main St; 541.432.2739; embersbrewhouse.com

Old Town Cafe 

8 S. Main St; 541.432.9898; josephoregon.com/old-town-cafe

Outlaw Restaurant 

108 N. Main St; 541.432.4321; theoutlawrestaurant.com

Red Horse Coffee Traders 

306 N. Main St; 541.398.8331; redhorsecoffeetraders.com

Silver Lake Bistro

19 S. Main St; 541.263.1236; facebook.com/pg/silverlakebistro

Vali’s Alpine Restaurant 

59811 Wallowa Lake Hwy; 541.432.5691; valisrestaurant.com

Salt & Straw Ice Cream 

Three locations; saltandstraw.com

Map: Daphne Gilliam

In addition to Joseph’s artistic attractions, the nearby Wallowa Lake is worth a visit. Photo: Ellen Morris Bishop

Stewart Jones Designs is a jewelry studio and gallery housed in an old bank building.

Bronze is the primary medium in Joseph.

The Josephy Center for the Arts and Culture features a variety of exhibits and shows.

Wallowa Lake Lodge under a star-studded sky. Photo: Ellen Morris Bishop

Try the Hungarian kettle goulash at Vali’s Alpine Restaurant. Photo: Gwen Shoemaker

Live music accompanies fine art at an event put on by the Wallowa Valley Arts Council.

Wallowa Lake has always inspired artists. Photo: Christian Heeb

Belle Pepper’s Bed & Breakfast

Breakfast at the Cowboy River Retreat.

Find art and other local crafts at Steward Jones Designs.

Grab breakfast at the Old Town Cafe on Main Street. Photo: Sumio Koizumi, courtesy of Travel Oregon

Wallowa Lake is popular with photographers. Photo Ellen Morris Bishop

Plan to visit the Valley Bronze Joseph Gallery on Main Street as well as the foundry itself.

A taste of sweetness at Arrowhead Chocolates in Joseph. Photo: Eugenie Frerichs, courtesy of Travel Oregon

Shop for pottery and basketry at Lamb Trading Company.

The Josephy Center for the Arts and Culture is a must-stop for visitors.

Find locally-made items at To Zion. Photo: Sumio Koizumi, courtesy of Travel Oregon