Shanna Trumbly was lying on the sand with her eyes closed, the water lapping at her legs. She could hear her girlfriends splashing and laughing in the “sweet little lake” in southern Oregon where they had been coming every summer as teenagers. The soft patter of footsteps in the sand caught her attention and she opened her eyes, expecting to see one of the girls. The footsteps, however, belonged to a tiny fawn. The fawn tottered right up to Trumbly. She looked out at the water where her friends had gone silent as they watched the scene unfold: The young deer pushed its little snout into her face, gently circling it with its black nose, and then tottered away.
“The deer has always been my animal,” Trumbly explains, remembering the scene at the shore. “It was such a magical experience.”
These kinds of magical experiences with nature were what inspired Trumbly’s poster for the 44th annual Oregon Country Fair. Blushing deer, foxes and giraffes with long lashes, proud pigs, crowned corvids, heart-shaped beets and a smattering of other forest critters and vegetation are central to her work: acrylic painting. If you live in Eugene, you’ve probably seen her art, whether it’s canvases hanging at Sweet Cheeks Winery or prints in her booth at the Saturday Market. If those haven’t penetrated your field of vision, just look for the 2013 OCF poster, by now hanging in every shop window and tacked to every bulletin board within a 50-mile radius.
The poster is pure Trumbly, featuring the iconic OCF peach, juicy and blazing orange topped with a teal dragonfly. Above the floating fruit is her sinuous, golden custom lettering announcing the event, framed by a slew of whimsical flora and fauna: An accordion-wielding turtle plays next to a tiger lily, a mustachioed frog sits on a red-capped mushroom and a peach-juggling hare proudly displays his finest Fair attire (purple stockings on his feet and ears). The piece took six weeks to complete, but, like all her work, it’s steeped in a lifetime of stories lovingly woven with nature and nostalgia.
Trumbly sits in her Eugene kitchen, hands wrapped around a mug filled with murky mate tea, telling a story about carrier pigeons — recurring characters in her paintings. She has the appearance of a bohemian Amy Poehler accompanied by a tinkling laugh. Trumbly has only been painting for five and a half years, she explains, eyeing her wooden easel standing in a sunny corner. She grew up with a creative family — her mother worked in stained glass, and her father dabbled in leatherwork; Trumbly focused on her hyper-detailed color pencil drawings.
“I’ve always had the encouragement 100 percent from my family when I was little,” she says. “They would never even have dreamt of trying to make me do something different than this.” And so, before she traded her pencils for paintbrushes, she was busy studying at the Art Institute of Seattle, starting her own business at 19 (clay beads which led to leather headdresses and other goods that she would sell at OCF) and raising her now 12-year-old son Asher. Talk of her family leads her back to the pigeons.
“When I was little, we used to raise carrier pigeons,” she says. She, her brother and sister, and her father trained them by incrementally taking them longer distances from home, starting with across the street, and having them fly back. “There weren’t cell phones at the time,” she explains. “My dad was an avid hunter and fisherman. So he would go over to the coast and he would take the pigeons with him, and he would write little notes and put them around their legs, and they would fly back to the cage. My brother and sister and I would get these little notes.”
A pigeon appears in the painting “Home” (featured on cover), which she describes as her personal totem piece. “Every bit of that painting has a story in it,” she says. There’s the blushing deer, front and center. Above, a hummingbird with a twig in its beak represents her grandmother’s spirit animal. “She is a water witch,” Trumbly says. “She’s the one all the farmers came to to find wells for their property.” She describes how her grandmother would hold a willow branch to the ground as she traversed a property, and when she felt a certain sensation, would direct the farmers where to dig. The chanterelles and morels represent family trips foraging in the woods. The bare branches of a tulip tree — a tree that grew in the front yard of her childhood home and began to perish the same day her mother passed — frame the deer’s face. The stories go on and on.
“I would say love is the main theme in a lot of them,” she says of her work, describing her paintings as “little valentines.” The poster for the OCF is no different. Trumbly, who has been attending the Fair since she was 17 when she worked at the Create-a-Potato booth, was nervous about painting this particular love letter. (She rarely does commission work.) “It’s such an honor to get to do this project,” she says, pausing. “It’s a little intimidating at first. What am I going to do? What am I going to come up with to represent the Fair?” She decided to focus on what often is overshadowed by the dazzling kaleidoscope of costume, music, food and arts that is the Fair — and what remains the other 362 days of year: the native wildlife.
“I wanted to bring to light the critters and creatures and flowers, flora and fauna that are out there — that are native to the OCF site,” she says. “Everybody realizes it’s a beautiful setting, but I think that everything kind of scatters. There’s so much eye candy everywhere with the booths. There’s just so much going on that those are things we just don’t think about as much.” You can see this in the poster’s frame of tiger lilies, oxalis, trillium and wild iris. As for the juggling rabbit, mustachioed frog, crowned snail and other characters? You’ll just have to visit Trumbly at her OCF booth and ask her to tell you a story.
Trumbly will be signing posters at the OCF, booth 818, July 12-14. Her work can also be seen currently at Morning Glory Café, Davis Restaurant and year-round at Sweet Cheeks Winery.