While strolling down the walkway along the Port of Ilwaco, you’ll see a variety of charming little ma-and-pa shops, favorite restaurants, like Salt, are situated beside popular art galleries filled with breath-taking works of art. Colorful window displays compete with the warn down old sailboats and squawking seagulls for your attention. The smell of the sea fills the air, and you suddenly feel like you’re home.
Ilwaco is full of charismatic individuals. Gifted artists, writers, and musicians have found their place among the generations of fishing families and other locals. One of the most well-known Ilwaco residents is Don Nisbett who has a gallery smack dab in the middle of Port of Ilwaco. Don is much more than an artist; he’s a man with a mission. Walk into his gallery, and you’ll likely find him preaching the gospel of art like an evangelist. While lively 80s pop music plays in the background, he shares his strong opinions with his loyal patrons and anyone who will listen
Don has a signature style that speaks to people. His paintings are colorful, casual, and fun. He mostly uses watercolor on canvas, but occasionally does acrylics, and sometimes even paints on glass or wood. He says his mission is, “To stir the souls of men.” He wants his art to resonate with people and inspire them. He believes that art, music, and literature are all pieces of the soul. The art that speaks to you helps make up your personality, and he hopes his art will be part of it.
One of the things that annoy Don the most is the idea of a “starving artist.” When he was a young boy, a talented artist from the Oregonian Newspaper told his parents they might as well break his hands because artists are always starving. So, Don grew up believing that art could only be a hobby. He found little time for his art and spent 20 years of his life selling and servicing in the paper industry. To build report with his clients Don would sometimes give them one of his paintings, and that’s how it all started.
In 1997 Don gave one of his trout paintings to a man named Ed who was a maintenance supervisor at one of the factories he serviced. Sometime later, when Don returned to the plant, he heard Ed yell out, “Nisbett, follow me.” Don thought he was in trouble and followed Ed down into the bowels of the factory down to his little office. There on the wall was his painting. It was framed and proudly displayed above Ed’s desk. “Do you ever sell your art,” Ed asked?
Don was a little nervous to respond. He knew that the gift policy prohibited gifts worth over $25, but he had to be honest. He nodded tentatively. Ed then asked how much he sold them for. As sweat dripped down his brow, Don admitted that he sold them for between $60 and $100 and silently prayed that he wasn’t about to be reported to management. That’s when Ed pointed up at the picture and said, “Don’t ever do that again.” Don looked confused and waited for an explanation.
Ed pulled out a calculator and asked Don about how many paintings he creates in a week. Then he multiplied that number by $100. He then multiplied that number by the number of years Don had until he turned 50. Ed turned the calculator around and it displayed an astounding amount, about a half million dollars! Don’s eyes got big when he realized that he didn’t have to be a starving artist. Perhaps, just perhaps, he could thrive as an artist. Two years later Don went all in and opened his first gallery in Battleground, Washington.
In February of 2005, Don moved with his wife to the town of Ilwaco and opened his gallery at the Port. He loves advising up-and-coming artists. He tells them, “There is no such thing as fine art, just as there are no classes of people. There is only art. Fine art is anything that speaks to you. Royalty and celebrities try to claim that they know what the best art is, but if you do what you love and follow your passion you will never starve, and people will buy it.”
Don displays a sign in his shop that is believed to be a quote from Queen Elizabeth. It reads, “Beware of artists, they mix with all classes of society and are therefore the most dangerous.” Throughout time the rich and powerful have often tried to control access to art because it evokes emotion and can send powerful messages. To Don, art represents freedom, and he intends to let freedom ring.