16 May Wanderings: Joseph, Oregon
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
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
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
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
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
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