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Originally published Sunday, June 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Arts community thrives in Edmonds

In the years Larry Jeffers owned Semantics, a gems, minerals and fossils gallery in Pioneer Square, he had hundreds of people in his gallery...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Upcoming events

Edmonds Arts Festival

Friday-Sunday, Frances Anderson Center, 700 Main St., and adjacent field and plaza (425-771-6412 or www.edmondsartsfestival.com).

Edmonds Third Thursday Art Walk

June 19, 5-8 p.m. every third Thursday of the month (www.edmondswa.com).

Summer Concerts in the Park

3-4 p.m. Sundays, July 6-Aug. 24, Edmonds City Park, Third Avenue and Pine Streets (425-771-0228, 425-771-0230 or www.ci.edmonds.wa.us/artscommission).

A Taste of Edmonds

Aug. 8-10, Civic Center Playfield, 310 Sixth Avenue N. (www.edmondswa.com).

In the years Larry Jeffers owned Semantics, a gems, minerals and fossils gallery in Pioneer Square, he had hundreds of people in his gallery each day.

Jeffers called Pioneer Square "a magic place in those years" when he began his art career in 1975, doing metal sculpture in the basement of Grand Central Arcade. His gallery was near the Underground Tour and Occidental Park.

But he closed up shop there in 1994.

"I would average three people a day panhandling me for money," he said. "There were gunshots from a club downtown, and I had to walk the employees to their cars. I would occasionally have to close the door on account of breaking bottles. I had to escort people out on a weekly basis that were drunk. I had to call 911 once a week, for serious trouble. I called when a police officer was shot once. Other than that, it was wonderful. We had a beautiful gallery."

Three years ago, Jeffers and his wife, Sandy, reopened Semantics gallery in Edmonds. At first, they thought Jeffers would be the sole artist in the building, a remodeled 1939 doctor's office on Fourth Avenue, near Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door travel center.

But then artists began coming in. More and more of them.

"A lot of them needed places to display their work," Jeffers said. "And as a result of that, we've gone full tilt into another gallery." Currently, it displays the work of about 90 artists, including Jeffers, who fabricates movable sculptures and boxes that incorporate gems and minerals.

And Semantics is just one gallery of about seven in town — a convergence that has earned Edmonds a reputation as a "Northwest Carmel," according to Denise Cole, owner of nearby Cole Gallery and Artists' Supplies.

Cole, a former Edmonds Art Festival poster artist, founded her gallery in 2006 and has a strong showing of figurative, still life and landscape artists with "a thread of impressionism connecting the art," she said. She wanted to create, she says, "a national-class gallery to show Northwest artists."

"People are connecting with the artists; we've now become a destination point for collectors from Seattle, Bellevue as well as north and south," Cole said.

Joan Archer, owner of Aria Studio Gallery, says that foot traffic in Edmonds increases dramatically during the monthly Third Thursday Art Walk. "I'd say I get at least 100 people," she says. "A lot of people know each other. Edmonds is so low-key that everybody has a wonderful time — and some people buy art."

About three dozen businesses participate, and because the art walk is so successful, other businesses are carrying art on a permanent basis, says Manya Schilperoort, owner of the gallery Manya Vee Selects.

"We have now 18 places where you can buy an original piece of art on any given day of the week," said Schilperoort.

Community involvement is customary in Edmonds, the type of town where the Floretum Garden Club helps the parks department plant corner gardens. It's the kind of town with a nostalgic candy shop called Nama's, named after the mother of owner Pat McKee. A town where two miles of walkable beachfront draws thousands of people from landlocked cities to rest, walk a dog, read and soak up sun and get sand in their shoes.

"We truly have a downtown, an old downtown," says Edmonds mayor Gary Haakenson, just starting his third term in office and the longest-serving mayor in Snohomish County history. "Some cities are spending millions and millions of dollars trying to create a downtown. We've had that for 100 years or more."

Now, he says, the trick is to maintain charm and balance land-use changes that might be required by growth.

The city is in the planning phases of creating a formal "arts corridor" that will link the downtown arts community and the nearby Edmonds Performing Arts Center, with a lighted walkway along Fourth Avenue.

"The whole town supports art," said Jeffers. "I don't know the number of people in town, but they have a phenomenal amount of organized art venues and types of events."

Granted, the foot traffic has not approached Jeffers' former location in Pioneer Square, but he has no regrets about leaving Seattle.

"Absolutely none," Jeffers said.

"Edmonds is as magic as Pioneer Square was in 1975. It's like going back 50 years. There's no parking meters, people walk their pets, there are no tall buildings, you don't see drunk people staggering down the street and everybody has a great attitude. They don't seem quite so rushed; they're not in the fast lane."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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