Grant awarded to local artist


March 30, 2023

One of Cathlamet artist Tom Robert's paddleboards on display and for sale at a surf shop in Seaside. Courtesy photo.

It's become home, but Cathlamet was only supposed to be a last stop on Tom Robert's pikeminnow fishing tour.

"I was traveling all around the northwest in my RV," Roberts said. "I wasn't catching many fish, so I thought, one more stop and then I'm going to stop this fishing."

He'd been in Cathlamet only once before, about 25 years earlier, returning from adventures on his oceangoing sailboat. The town and it's people made an impression even then, but this time he warmed to the community even more as he found like-minded people who were willing to take him under their wing and show him how to actually catch pikeminnow.

He no longer resides in his RV and has settled into a home not too far from the Elochoman Slough Marina.

The Portland native spent his career working for Japanese tire corporations before he retired. Needing to stay busy, and with a recent condition that keeps him out of boats these days, he's found another outlet in art.

His sister, who lives in Hawaii, sent him a Japanese gyotaku process fish print, which Roberts described as an old system of printing fish.

"You take the fish itself after you catch it," he said, "you put some ink on it and press rice paper to it and it makes a print."

He was living on the Oregon coast at the time, salmon and steelhead fishing, and thought it was something he could try.

He got hooked after he sold some of his work in a local gallery.

"I thought, I am an artist," Roberts said.

He took a class in the process at the Portland Art Museum, and sold his work in Made in Oregon stores until they instituted a policy on prices.

One of his prints is in the Spar Tavern, he said, but these days he's more focused on making retro paddle boards, to which he's added his own take on Northwest Native art, and which are strictly for display.

"I don't know why I started doing this," Roberts said. "It just seemed to be a unique thing that would appeal to the type of person that I want to sell this board to. I want someone to buy this board as a piece of art. And sit down with their glass of wine or beer and look at the board and love it."

Portland native Tom Roberts moved to Cathlamet seven years ago. He was just awarded a $4,850 Washington State Arts Commission grant. Courtesy photo.

"It's been fun making them," he added. "It takes awhile. There is a surf shop in Seaside I've been doing business with for years. There is a market for them."

While he did take some art classes in high school and clearly appreciates art, having collected during his travels for years, this is all relatively new, and he hopes to make the most of it.

"This art is a career, even now," Roberts said. "I'm pretty lucky to be making money at this. People like what I'm doing. This is something you can enjoy doing for the rest of my life."

Roberts is certain that there are artists with a lot more talent, but they don't know how to market themselves. He is willing to do so, which is why he recently applied for a grant and was awarded $4,850 from the Washington State Arts Commission. He will use some of the funds to create a more permanent space on his property that will allow him to continue his art work at home.


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