When Clatsop Community College’s art faculty opens an exhibit on campus Thursday honoring the late Royal Nebeker, they will do so in the Royal Nebeker Art Gallery.
The college’s board voted unanimously Tuesday to name the campus gallery inside the art center after Nebeker, a teacher for more than 30 years in the art program and among the most celebrated artists from Astoria.
“We feel like it’s important to us, it’s important to so many people in the community to have Royal’s name on the gallery,” said Kristin Shauck, head of the art program, to the board Tuesday before the vote.
Shauck spoke on behalf of the audience gathered in support Tuesday, including art faculty, local artists and Nebeker’s wife Sarah, daughter Hannah and son Israel.
Letters supporting the name change have poured into the college from former colleagues, students and friends. Nebeker is credited with helping build not only the college’s lauded arts program, but also the arts community on the North Coast as a whole.
“We believe that this is a fitting honor for a former long-term faculty member who has had such an immeasurable impact at the college and in the community,” said a letter by the college’s art faculty, recommending the name change to interim college President Gerald Hamilton.
Originally from San Francisco, Nebeker moved to Astoria in the mid-1970s after earning a Master’s of Fine Arts from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. His wife Sarah Nebeker said after the meeting the move was on a whim, as her husband had originally wanted to live in a more urban setting.
“But when he saw the landscape, it reminded him of Norway and he loved it; and the fact that there was such a strong Scandinavian community, him being of Norwegian descent and speaking the language,” she said. “He was charmed by it.”
After a two-year stint teaching drawing in Oslo, Norway, Royal Nebeker returned to Astoria in 1978 and joined the college as a full-time faculty member for the next quarter century, directing the program from 1998 to 2004. He stayed on as an adjunct faculty member until shortly before his death.
Royal Nebeker is credited with turning out students who went on to some of the best art schools in the country, while also bringing many global artists to Astoria.
Sarah Nebeker said her husband saw the potential of Astoria to develop into an artist’s enclave. Meanwhile, his work, much of it created in his iconic “Big Red” net shed on the Astoria waterfront, has been exhibited around the world. In 2006, then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed Nebeker to the Oregon Arts Commission, a state body fostering art.
“I think it will help to inspire future faculty, future students to say ‘Who’s this person,’ and to learn about him and what he did,” Sarah Nebeker said of the Royal Nebeker Art Gallery. “He did so much. He was tireless in his efforts, and he was a man with great vision, and we need more people like that.”
As part of the exhibit opening Thursday, Israel Nebeker, a frontman for indie folk band Blind Pilot, said he will play “Joik No. 3,” a song from Blind Pilot’s upcoming fourth studio album. Joik is a type of song traditional to the Sami people of northern Scandinavia. The song will also be performed on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
The Royal Nebeker Art Gallery is housed in the college’s art center, established in 1979. Dave Phillips, the college’s former vice president of instruction and student services, said the art department’s director at the time, Roy Garrison, who died Sunday, helped push for the idea at the college, which used a combination of local and state funding to build the structure.
In her letter of support for the Royal Nebeker Art Gallery, retired math instructor Gerry Swenson mentioned another proposal to name the college’s 3D art studio after Garrison.
Swenson said Garrison was the first full-time art instructor at the college and was instrumental in hiring Stanley Wanlass, the second full-time instructor at the college and a world-famous bronze sculptor. When Wanlass left the college in the late 1970s, Swenson said, he likely influenced the selection of his replacement, Nebeker.
“Having made such important contributions to the Art Department of the College, he is more than deserving of having the 3D studio named after him,” Swenson said of Garrison.
Clatsop Community College’s art faculty exhibit, honoring the late Royal Nebeker, opens 6 p.m. Thursday at the Royal Nebeker Art Gallery, 1799 Lexington Ave. in Astoria. The exhibit continues through Jan. 14.