Plein Aires exhibit open through mid-April

The Plein Aires members Jeff Benesi, Virginia Newman, and Barbara Oakrock put the finishing touches on their works at the Magnolia Branch of Seattle Public Library.

The Plein Aires members Jeff Benesi, Virginia Newman, and Barbara Oakrock put the finishing touches on their works at the Magnolia Branch of Seattle Public Library.
Laura Marie Rivera

The Plein Aires are a group of hobby artists that have been working and painting together for the last 40 years or so. Their work will be on display at the Magnolia Branch of the Seattle Public Library until mid-April. The exhibit opened last weekend and features 47 paintings from 14 of the individual artists.

Magnolia Library has been offering their group a space to paint throughout the pandemic. “Plein air” is a French term that means “the open air” but the group prefers to be inside during the colder winter months. Once upon a time, that meant getting together to paint in a Queen Anne basement for part of the year. When Covid hit, that was no longer an option, even the group was able to keep meeting on zoom for a while. As restrictions eased, they searched for a place that was roomy enough to allow the group to spread out. And the Magnolia Library’s light-filled community room turned out to be the perfect space. Virginia Newman is a member of the group and fell in love with the space for not only the beautiful light, but because the building itself is steeped in local history.

The landmark building was designed by notable Seattle architect Paul Hayden Kirk and Richard Haag’s landscape architecture aimed to enhance the relationship between the architecture and the building. Andrew Goulding contributed four sketch style works as an homage to those original designers. Goulding was a signage consultant, who designed the signage for the Downtown Branch Library, and said he was inspired by their Northwest style.

Barbara Oakrock has been a member of The Plein Aires for the last five or six years. But her relationship with art and the group goes back much further than that. She, too, was a landscape architect and met several of the other members back when she worked at The Richardson Associates (TRA) in the early 1980s. TRA was an architecture, engineering, and planning partnership that designed some of the most notable buildings and projects in the region, including SEA-TAC (1973), the original Convention Center (1985), and many buildings for University of Washington (1955-1990). In addition, Tacoma’s Union Station was built in 1909 and Seattle’s Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 100th anniversary just last year.

Many of the group’s members are designers and landscape architects with ties to TRA. Oakrock says the group has been painting together for over thirty years and are the “positive example and role model I needed” to get back to painting. Jeff Benesi is a retired landscape architect and says he enjoys getting together to paint so he can leave his daily routine behind.

The group meets twice a month- outdoors in good weather, and inside in bad. And they like to vary the locations. They usually meet in Seattle during the week and head further out on the weekends. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, Skagit Valley, and Ellensburg have been some of their favorite spots. Benesi said that their 2019 trip to Italy was a major highlight, “It’s a trip that I believe we all have fond memories.”

As soon as it warms up, they will head out to some of their regular spots throughout Seattle and the state to paint “en plain air.” The show will be up until April 19 at the Magnolia Library, 2801 34th Ave W. And the public can see more from the group at The Plein Aires on Facebook. The Plein Aires thank the Magnolia Library for their hospitality and the Seattle voters for supporting libraries for all!