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What better way to celebrate a life well lived than to appreciate good art with good friends, good music, along with good food and drink?

Monday’s tribute to the late Donald O’Connor will in fact be a celebration for the local artist, as well as one more big shebang for the 420 Loft Gallery, which will be closing at the end of the year.

O’Connor passed in August and the event is expected to bring together members of the O’Connor family and art patrons from around the Kittitas Valley for a night of poetry and music, surrounded by the light refractive media and cut-glass lamps from two of the valley’s most prolific artists.

The final exhibit at the gallery is a combination of artwork with O’Connor’s holographic vinyl and Julie Prather’s lamps in what building owner Mollie Edson calls her favorite pairing ever.

“This is the sixth or seventh year where we put these two together. They’re pretty spectacular and I’m happy to have them together for one last exhibit,” Edson said. “Both of them pretty much create their art from recycled materials.

“Julie’s lamps are made from glass that people have thrown away. Don’s work is made from old CD’s, that’s what started the whole (holographic vinyl) thing. That’s also why so many of Don’s figures are round is because they’re made from CD’s.”

As his focus shifted in the 1990s, O’Connor once described his new artistic style as ‘‘surreal neoclassic cubist impressionistic abstract representational expressionism.’’

Even the definition seems a little O’Connor-esque and somewhat non-definitive other than he used light refractive media with holographic vinyl as the catalyst.

Prather’s work will shine a light on the shiny stuff in a perfect setting for the tribute to the late Donald O’Connor.

“I’m sure this gathering, where we are surrounded by his artwork, will be a proper tribute,” Gallery One Visual Arts Center executive director Monica Miller said. “It’s fitting. The event will have all the elements that Don loved — his artwork, art lovers and music. He loved to listen to the bands and the local musicians.

“It’s nice that it will be in the space he exhibited at regularly, above the Ellensburg Community Radio that provided a lot of the local music he loved.”

O’Connor was continually in the eye of art patrons and his fellow artists and the Ellensburg Arts Commission has honored him posthumously with the 2021 Arts Treasure Award, which will be presented on Monday.

MUSICAL LINEUP

The night will also include the music of Mark Pickerel, Star Anna and Billy Maguire, and possibly other musical guests throughout the night. Maguire said he’s written a song for the occasion called “Don’s Song.”

“Don danced to his own drummer, but was always supportive of local musicians,” Maguire said. “I actually wrote him a little song about his light refractive media. It’s something I wrote quite awhile ago, but I never had any lyrics to it.

“So, I adapted it to fit what he loved. It’s just something I wanted to do.”

As Pickerel reflected on his memories of O’Connor, his thoughts drifted to his father Tom Pickerel’s art work.

“Don was very down to earth. A lot of artists when they reach his level come off as British rock stars. He was very consistent and very positive and it reflects in his work,” Pickerel said. “He brings a lot of color and personality to his work.

“It reminds me of my dad’s work. It never occurred to me when (my dad) was alive the connection he had to Don and his work. Looking back, Don possessed the same phenomenon. His work was very reflective to who he was as he was as a person.”

Star Anna and Pickerel played The Seasons Performance Hall in Yakima together earlier this year, and could very well join forces on Monday night in the 420 Loft.

The 420 Building was designed by Carl Gould in 1930 as a bank, and the vault still remains in the basement. In 1937 the bank went out of business and the city bought and used for city hall until purchasing and renovating the old Washington School for city hall purposes.

Edson had the building remodeled in 2012, giving the space a modern feel and new lighting. Crews partially knocked out the floor to open it so light could shine into the space from the windows.

“It’s sad he’s gone, but I think it will be a fitting tribute to Don and the 420 Loft space,” 420 Loft Gallery curator Scott Mayberry said. “Don was one of the most shown artists in town.

“Most people that are patrons of the arts enjoyed his work. He showed at the 420 Loft Gallery a lot over the years, so it’s definitely a fitting way to celebrate his life and his art.”

Rob Fraser won the Ellensburg Arts Commission Art Treasure award in 2018. He is an accomplished photographer that did a stint in New York City before moving back to Ellensburg.

“Don was a real recycle type and recycled a lot of plastic for us. He’d peel the coating off of CD’s or use wrappers from champagne bottles. You name it, whatever was shiny, he used,” Fraser said. “I have a really nice piece in my living room. It has three panels.

“It’s amazing what he did and how big it is. When I think of Don, what comes to mind is what a sweet guy he was. He was the kind of person that thought of others a lot and did favors for people.”

Proof of vaccination will be required to participate in the event, Edson said. Patrons will need to bring vaccination cards and masks to make the celebration a safe environment.

“We are asking people that when they are not eating or drinking to wear a mask. We want people to feel comfortable coming and we know Don would appreciate the effort,” Edson said. “His artwork will be on display the whole six hours. If it turns out that it looks busy when they come in, people can always come back when it’s not as crowded.

“I think we’re going to have to start getting used to providing proof of vaccination. We will have greeters at the door checking vaccination cards. Since a lot of people in the artistic community are a little older, we don’t want people not to come because they don’t think it’s going to be safe. So, we’re taking all the precautions.”

Rodney Harwood: award-winning journalist and columnist. Lover of golf and the written word. I can be reached at rharwood@kvnews.com

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