Painting the Pacific Northwest’s peaks with Ken Jarvela

By Casey Barton
Flapjack staff

Comfortably situated in Korbel, California lives Ken Jarvela, a Humboldt-born resident of 59 years and a respected local artist. After studying and cultivating a sensitivity to natural rhythms, Jarvela has painted hundreds of landscapes which capture the atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest and preserve their limitless majesty.

One might meet this funny and likely paint-dribbled artist at his favorite lookout spot on a nice day, or on rainy days hunkered-down in his trailer. Upon entering his home, it would be hard to miss the flanks of paintings that have accumulated or been set aside for future touch-ups. Walls are covered in sketches, favorite paintings or intricate topographic maps. One piece stands out from the colorful array and holds a special place in his heart. It’s a large chalk pastel of a redwood grove which was beautifully drawn by his grandmother.

“This skill has been dormant in the family for generations,” Jarvela said. “I’m proud to share my work with others.”

Along with an inherited artistic spark, Jarvela’s youthful explorations of the woods in Sunny Brae and hiking trips in the Trinity alps with his cousin gave him the opportunity to observe and appreciate natural landscapes. When he reached the age of 19, Jarvela finally started practicing with his own style and subjects. It was in a Beginning Drawing class at College of the Redwoods, with professor Jerry Smith, where he was actually encouraged to focus and start drawing what he really felt drawn to, mountains.

Jarvela began taking deeper explorations into to the Trinities with close friends and over time spent longer and longer periods in the mountains, documenting what he saw and living wildly. Michael Harris, also a local artist and succeeding in photography, would study composition with him and was one of the brave friends to join him in the wild. When reminiscing on their trips into the Trinities, Harris shared clear memories of the great take-away shots that they would capture and their mild cases of frostbite.

“Our backpacking trips were some of the most memorable moments for me,” he said. “We would go snow camping too and boy it would get cold!”

Harris would also help hike supplies out to different spots where Jarvela would camp until there was little left to eat. Even though it was a rough way to live at first, these periods of seclusion granted Jarvela another sense, an attunement with the landscape that never came as naturally in the city.

“When you go out there you remember you’re apart of something greater,” Jarvela said. “And the days start to seem just as quiet as the night.”

Jarvela’s deep love for the mountains never failed him and really only grew to include other beautiful landscapes, such as Mount Shasta, Crater Lake and Yosemite, to name a few.

“Sure I’ve traveled around,” he said. “But one really only needs to walk ten feet from where they’re standing to see a whole different world.”

Jarvela’s work oftentimes reveals that quality as if one is being transported to the very place he represents in a painting. Some days he even feels like he’s painting kaleidoscope images, with the colors and shadow his subject changing as the day ripens. Another photographer and close friend of Jarvela’s, Michaela Murphy, shared her experience in their friendship and her appreciation for his paintings.

“Ken is known for his atmosphere; there’s a life that his work takes on. I’ve always enjoyed seeing the progression of his paintings– from the first sketching or layer of paint to when he’s completed the work and eventually lets it go,” Murphy said. “Sometimes it can be sad to see them sold but the art really has a life and purpose of it’s own.”

Jarvela’s work has been featured all over Humboldt county. Some of his paintings currently live at the Erickson Fine Art Gallery in Healdsburg, Strawberry Rock Gallery in Trinidad, and a lasting mural above the storefront for Pacific Paradise in Arcata. With the support and awe that he has already, Jarvela plans to continue painting.

“Sure you can paint for yourself, but without others having the chance to recognize the work,” Jarvela says, “there would be no point to it all.”

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