River and Rock

Maupin artist captures the art of detail along the Deschutes

By Drew Myron

A self-taught artist, Sue Knapp has turned her dining room table into an art studio.

Sue Knapp doesn’t have to travel far for artistic inspiration. From her home on Fish Camp Road in Maupin, she walks down the street to stand at the rim of a canyon where she gazes at the wild and scenic Deschutes River.

Every day, Sue is equal parts artist and scientist, collecting details for paintings that will reveal how time and geology have shaped this place she calls home.

“The geology here is amazing,” she says. “If you really look at the rocks you see the layers, and the different environmental changes. I want to capture the erosion process. The things I pay attention to, most people don’t. Most people don’t like rocks. I do. I want to capture a sense of place in a detailed way.”

Sue recently won first place in the Maupin Daze Commemorative Poster Contest for “Maupin on the Deschutes,” a lively watercolor detailing the many facets of this timber-town-turned-recreation destination.

Sue spent nearly her entire career in salmon recovery working as a natural resource biologist. She worked for the state of Oregon and for many years
spent time on the rivers of the Pacific Northwest: Umatilla, Willamette, John Day, Snake and Columbia. As policy adviser in the Oregon Governor’s Natural Resources Office in Salem, she managed a series of restoration efforts that were “satisfying but grueling,” she says.

Focused on many high profile policy projects—including the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement—Sue faced numerous challenges.

“It was a men’s club,” she says. “My whole career was like that. You have to believe in yourself. You don’t give up. You get beat up, but you gain that self confidence you need to keep going. If it’s your passion, stick with it. Some things take decades to change. You have to persevere.”

Once retired, Sue was eager to live on the east side of the Pacific Northwest— where the sun shines and sage grows— and took a two-year tour of potential towns, from Walla Walla to Goldendale, to the Tri-Cities and Bend.

Sue Knapp
“Maupin is a jewel in the desert,” Sue says. A former fish biologist, she is thrilled to live in a place with a “fish-centric way of life.”

In 2001, single and not knowing a soul, Sue moved to Maupin.

“It’s a jewel in the desert,” she says. As a former fish biologist, she says she was thrilled to find a town with “a fish-centric way of life.”

Settled into a new home and pace, and with her grown children, Lindsay and Chester, living several hours away, Sue quickly immersed herself in community life. She joined the city of Maupin Budget Committee, and is in her second term on the Maupin City Council. She is on the White River Health District Board of Directors and the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District.

“I’ve always been committed to public service,” Sue explains. “When you work for the state, you’re serving the people, and I wanted to continue that.”

Retirement offered the pleasure of a slower pace and an opportunity to return to art.

“I’ve always been an artist at heart,” she says.

Though she always doodled, Sue ultimately pursued science over art. Still, in the lab and in the field, she was always an observant scientist crafting detailed drawings of her work.

Landscape painting
Sue draws inspiration from the river, vision from hikes and details from photos, then heads to her art table to work out composition and color.

In Maupin, she became captivated by the grandeur of the landscape. The Lower Deschutes River Canyon quickly became “a magnetic attraction,” she says. What began as simple pen-and-ink drawings matured into dozens of full and lively watercolor pieces.

Her fascination with the landscape comes through in a style that blends realism with slight abstraction. In her work she reveals the forces of uplifting, overlaying and erosion, with river and rock the central focus of nearly every painting.

Sue’s paintings sell for $200 to $350. They are often on display at the Maupin Market, The Dalles Art Center and in private homes around town, thanks to the support of new friends.

With no formal training, Sue credits her newfound art emphasis to a group of local women artists with whom she’s found support.

“I’m still learning,” she says. “They encouraged me, and I just took off. I experiment and collect ideas and look at other paintings. It’s a gift and sometimes it just flows.”

Landscape painting
Sue creates watercolor landscapes that blend detailed realism with colorful abstraction, as shown in this piece, “Mutton Mountains.”

Sue draws heavily from her hikes along the Deschutes River, and has recently been exploring the view from drone cameras. She often creates rough
sketches in the field or snaps photos that she takes back to her dining room table-turned-art studio. There, she determines the color palette and with an exacting eye, fills in the intricacies.

“I want people to see the details and say, ‘I never noticed that,’” she says.