Indian Summer eastern washington country rural farm ranch painting steve henderson

Beauty, Hope, and Joy — The Paintings of Steve Henderson

Indian Summer eastern washington country rural farm ranch beauty painting steve henderson

Indian Summer, original oil painting by Dayton, WA, artist Steve Henderson. “I find much beauty in the patterns of fields cut through by country roads,” Henderson says of why he paints local, Eastern Washington landscapes.

It’s easy to point out what’s wrong with the world. We all do this, although only a few are paid well to impose their opinions on others.

It is far more difficult to see and identify beauty, truth, goodness, joy, peace, and love, and even more challenging to impart these elements in two dimensional form on canvas. But for oil painter Steve Henderson of Dayton, this is what he does every day.

moon rising southwest tucson arizona desert beauty indian woman blanket steve henderson painting art

Moon Rising, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. “The Southwest — its canyons are so deep, so profound, its land is so ancient and yet so quiet and peaceful.”

“I paint in what is called the ‘representational’ style — the world around us that we all see,” Henderson says. “But oftentimes it takes an artist to help us ‘really see’ it. And while items I paint are easily identifiable — that’s a tree; that’s Santa Claus; that’s the Grand Canyon —  each one of these subjects is interpreted by the artist to convey its deeper levels behind the lighting, the shadows, the turn of a face, the brush strokes that make up the form.

“The canvas becomes a stage upon which the artist presents the character actors — color, texture, form, design, value. On that stage, I choose to invite beauty, reminiscence, nostalgia, feelings of serenity, peace, tranquility — those emotions.”

A Tale of Beauty

Henderson’s scope of subject matter reads a bit like the opening lines to Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities: He paints the Pacific Northwest forests; he paints the Southwest canyons. He paints the ocean; he paints the desert. He paints very young children; he paints adult women. What he does not paint is ugliness, despair, angst, fear or hatred: not because those elements don’t exist, but because they do, in too much quantity. It is far too easy, Henderson believes, to spark an emotional response by negativism, and it becomes a cheap, easy way to achieve a reaction.

Although Henderson has always wanted to be an artist — drawing his first three-masted sailboat at the age of five and attracting teachers’ attention throughout his schooldays because of his rendering skill — he almost quit, simply because what he was taught in his university art studies was so opposite to what he believes is commonsense, truth, beauty, and common good.

tea for two party santa claus little girl christmas eve wood stove fire steve henderson art holidays

Tea for Two, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. “Children can teach us so much — they remind us to look at the world with fresh eyes,” Henderson says, adding that there is great beauty in innocence.

“At the end of four years, I was more confused than ever,” he recalls. “One moment, the professors instructed us not to listen to a thing they said, but to simply follow our muse; another moment they insisted that we essentially copy the latest post-modernist fads emanating from New York City. I found myself painting gritty purple abstract cityscapes, which my professors assured me was expressing what was deep inside me.”

Seeking Beauty, Truth, and Skill

For awhile, Henderson walked away from fine art into the illustration and graphic design industry that his professors declared would destroy him as an artist. Instead, his time in the publishing field further honed his skills as Henderson worked in a wide variety of media, creating everything from cartoon drawings to medical illustrations.

Time, life, and raising a family instilled in Henderson the confidence he needed to eschew the teachings of his fallible professors, and he resumed studying art his own way: one by one, he amassed a library of artists through the ages, and spent uncounted hours poring over their work, analyzing thousands of paintings and the varying techniques and styles of their painters. In the studio, he practiced. He knew what he wanted to achieve — skill, mastery, and the ability to convey beauty and truth — and he also knew that simply relying upon “the Muse,” or the “soul of an artist” was insufficient to do so.

sea breeze oregon coast ocean beach sand steve henderson coastal art painting

Sea Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. “I find the ocean to be a central place for clear thoughts and meditation.”

“We all acknowledge that the piano player requires years of intense practice — his performance is proof of his obvious skill, or lack of it,” Henderson says.

“But in visual arts — both two and three dimensional — we glibly refer to anything as ‘art,’ and anyone as an ‘artist.’ I believe an artist should learn, train, and study as seriously as any orchestral musician.”

The World Needs Art, and Beauty

This learning, he adds, never ends, and there is no pinnacle ledge at which the artist arrives, shouts out Hallelujah, and quits learning, seeing, and experimenting. An artist’s education continues for as long as the artist is breathing, and the beauty that the artist (skillfully) paints gives life and hope to the world in which the artist lives.

“The world needs art.

“It sounds trite, but I believe it deeply.

“It has always been so, but especially today with our corporate, cubicle world and its emphasis on cold scientific facts, we need something more than ever before that speaks of beauty and something deeper that those cold facts.

“We need something that speaks to the soul, the heart, the inner working of our being.”

Wenaha GallerySteve Henderson is the Pacific Northwest Art Event artist from Monday, November 19 through Saturday, December 15, 2018. He will be at the gallery in person during the Christmas Kickoff Holiday Art Show Friday, November 23, from 2 to 6 p.m., joined by Joseph, OR folk art gourd sculptor Sheryl Parsons. Also at the show will be holiday music, artisan treats, a drawing for 3 holiday gift baskets, and up to 25% off purchases of $250 or more made on November 23 and/or 24.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Why the World Needs Artists

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

For those who keep up on educational buzzwords, trends, and movements, it is understandable if they question why the world could possibly need artists.

After all, STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — is where it’s at. One website,, lays it out bluntly by saying,

“Think about key skills needed in today’s workplace: problem solving, analytical thinking, and the ability to work independently. What do they all have in common? They’re all related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).”

Not much room for artists — and their legendary tendency toward being sensitive, moody, emotional, affective, and temperamental — there.

Statue of David by Michelangelo

Statue of David by Michelangelo

But contrary to limited, traditional thinking, art — and artists — do not operate outside of the realms of reality. Rather, they are firmly entrenched within it, and in the same way that science, and technology, and engineering, and math, seek and pursue (or should seek and pursue) truth, so also do artists.

They just  do it differently.

In the laboratory, scientists study all sorts of facts to find truth: they research air quality, and public policy is based upon their findings; they investigate germs and diseases; they explore nutrition; they even delve in the deep recesses of the human mind, and try to figure out why we behave the way we do, sometimes, unfortunately, for no other reason than to sell us a product.  (Yes, this is a simplistic overview, but so also is the limiting of intellectual human energy to four areas.)

The province of science, we are told, is to study, discover, report, and work with truth, and so high do we esteem the work of the STEM disciplines that we treat what their members say with an almost religious fervor.  If Science so declares, then it must be true.

But not all truths are able to be seen, swished about in a test tube, or neatly graphed, and these truths are the ones that artists delve in.  Honesty, integrity, compassion, beauty, patience, perseverance, determination, loyalty, peace, hope  — these are good things that are also real things, and when humans strive for them, further good things — that are not necessarily items that we can touch, or buy, or park in our driveway — abound.

Ellen Mary Cassatt with a Large Bow in Her Hair by Mary Cassatt

Ellen Mary Cassatt with a Large Bow in Her Hair by Mary Cassatt

Conversely, there are truths on the opposite end of the spectrum — envy, hate, bitterness, despair, cunning, manipulation, horror, pride, fear — that, when we pursue them, draw out the worst in us.

These are the areas, bad and good, that artists research, study, analyze, scrutinize, explore, define and communicate to the world around them. While there is a stereotype that artists are weird  people, self-absorbed and mumbling to themselves in their garret studios (and frankly, we can thank mass media and popular culture for promoting this ), many artists are as level-headed and intelligent as we accord to the STEM crowd.

Artists are the canaries in the mine, warning society when it is on the wrong track, encouraging it when it moves toward something good. They see where we are going before we get there; they identify the good truths that can be and the bad options that entice. Some artists make a point of promoting and elevating good truths so that others can grasp and understand them. Other artists are fascinated by darkness, cynicism, and despair, and their best contribution is to show us how we don’t want to be. (Not all artists, in the same way that not all STEM sorts, use their gifts for good.)

Though we insist upon doing so, we really cannot divide ourselves, as humans, into exclusively black and white, left brain and right brain, scientists and artists, because there is a little bit of both in all of us, and we need both elements. To deny one, at the expense of the other, makes losers of us all.

Life without science, applied and conceptual, would be a dark, dull place, because we humans are creative beings,  always looking to do something a better, faster, more intriguing way.

But life without art would be a cold, barren wasteland — one without color, emotion, form, touch, or, frankly, humanity — because that is what artists do: they open our eyes and our souls to our humanity.

In a society that promotes engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and technicians as the highest forms of helpers to mankind, artists are not valued for the deep and abiding contributions they make, but let us not be deceived: building bridges and developing treatments for cancer are vitally important, but so also is showing us the deep, unseen truths that transcend our five senses.

This is what artists do.

Wenaha GalleryWenaha Gallery supports art and artists by offering original two- and three-dimensional work by Pacific Northwest artists; art edition prints from Greenwich Workshops; and custom framing of treasured art pieces and mementos of our local and regional clientele.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at

Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.