Manning artist Sandra Pearce wins first place awards in Washington County Plein Air challenge

Manning – This past fall, Sandra Pearce, a painter who lives on and care-takes “at least” 200 acres of land in Manning, Ore. received from the three-day annual Washington County Plein Air challenge two first-place recognition awards, “Best Nocturne” and “Best in Show,” for her entry.

It was her painting Swing Shift, a night painting she created from a space in the Banks Post Office parking lot, that depicts the building and surrounding landscape true to form, especially to those familiar with the building.

“It’s a big honor,” Pearce said. “It’s quite a privilege because there are different categories you can place in, so to get ‘Best in Show’ … I don’t know exactly what to say. Your stomach does a flip, like, really? Are you sure? (laughs) You go, ‘That right there is hard to believe.’”

Separate from her Best Nocturne and Best of Show wins in the Washington County Plein Air challenge, this past fall Pearce also finished third in the statewide Watercolor Society of Oregon contest for her painting Chance of Rain.

Anyone who has spent time admiring the light Oregon receives during sunset will appreciate the inspiration behind Pearce’s award-winning paintings — her entire collection can be viewed online at She also has a Facebook page located at

“Whenever I picked up my mail during twilight at the post office I always felt, with the way the light comes through the oak trees there during that time of day, that at sunset it would make a great painting one day,” Pearce said. “The day finally came and I guess the judges thought it was worth recognizing.”

Plein air is a French term for “painting in open air” rather than in an art studio or anywhere indoors, for that matter, said a press release issued by the Washington County Plein Air event.

Barbara Mason, current-yet-stepping-down president of the board of directors for the Sequoia Arts Gallery — the organization behind the three-day annual Washington County Plein Air challenge — said it was Pearce’s use of light and dark that is what most likely stood out in the mind of the contest’s independent judge.

“You never know what a judge is going to be thinking, so since — especially the ‘Best in Show’ recognition — it stood out from a group of paintings, it must have really been something (to that judge),” Mason said. “I just think she has a wonderful way of looking at light and looking through the darkness (at twilight). What’s really interesting is it’s a tiny painting that you have to get up really close up to in order to see.”

Pearce says she greatly enjoys painting in the open air, and it’s possible Washington County residents may have witnessed her outdoors painting on location at Jackson Bottom or the Fern Hill Wetlands. (She said she’s open to answering questions while she paints and onlookers are welcome — she’s often distinguishable by her floppy, straw hat.

“Do say hello to me,” she said.

When prodded, Pearce named Claude Monet, arguably the most well-known French Impressionist painter — for those not in the know, painting classified as “Impressionism” comes from a 19th-century art movement typically characterized by thin, small, yet visible brush strokes; an emphasis on the accurate depiction of the changing qualities of light to reflect the passage of time; and pieces that focus on everyday subject matter (Monet is famous, for, among many other paintings, his depiction of a bowl of fruit, which has been viewed by people of all ages worldwide) — her main inspiration as an artist.

She also mentioned a few other more modern painters — modern as in the artists worked, or continue to paint, during the 20th and 21st centuries.

“My biggest current influences are some English and Australian watercolor artists,” Pearce said. “For instance, Joseph Zbukvic, who was originally from Croatia, and Herman Pekel, both of whom live in Australia. They are really strong on me right now. There also is an American painter named Edgar Whitney, who also is a watercolor person I admire.”

Pearce said she was born in Essex, England, which isn’t too far northeast of London on the southern-ish end of the island country, and that every Christmas her parents — in England she said one can get these “beautiful pans of dry watercolor paints,” and as you mature in age they get larger in size, like from 12 colors to 100.

“When we came to America just after (President John F.) Kennedy was shot, those things weren’t around so much,” she said. “But I took as much art as I could at school, which was all drawing. I didn’t start adding color — before that, it was mostly pencil or pen — until we were forced to do so in art class.”

Pearce also entered two other paintings into the contest. The Sequoia Art Gallery
Described one of the paintings, Got Jerky?, as a “fun look at (the) Sunset Produce Market with all the signs, including the one that says ‘Vegan.’” The other painting, Indian Summer, portrays a still-water pond in the sun and the shade at Fern Hill Wetlands Water Garden.

The paintings by Pearce and all of those produced by regional artists were on display and for sale in October at the Sequoia Art Gallery on Third Street in Hillsboro. Her 3rd place state winning painting, Chance of Rain, currently is in a traveling show moving across Oregon that will appear at the Brookwood Public Library in Hillsboro from November 1 through December 30.

In fact, the top 20 prize winners from the Watercolor Society of Oregon exhibit all will be at the Brookwood Public Library in Hillsboro during that period, and in January and February 2019, they will also appear at the Albany Public Library — for those who may make it down south this winter — in January and February. And in March, the paintings will make their way for display at the Elsinore Framing and Fine Art Gallery in Salem for the month of March 2019.

For more information on Oregon artists in general and to view the work of others visit the Oregon Society of Artists website at

This article originally stated that Sandra Pearce’s painting Swing Shift was on display with a traveling exhibit; the painting that is on display is Chance of Rain. Additionally, the other 20 paintings on display are from the Watercolor Society of Oregon exhibit, not the Washington County Plein Air challenge. We regret the error. 

Daniel Pearson

Daniel Pearson holds a bachelors in journalism and an MBA in marketing. He’s a10-time, Oregon SPJ award-winning journalist, a two-time winner of an ADDY (advertising) for copywriting, and a one-time award winner for fiction for the NW Coastal Writer’s Series. Email: Twitter: @rosecitywriting