Trails End: A Great Beginning for Local Artists

by Robin Milligan

Talking with Tim Nielsen in the Trails End Gallery made me feel like I wanted to move to Chewelah. It’s beautiful here, of course, the landscape being so picturesque. We had never met before and he was very welcoming and offered a wealth of local knowledge too. There is something almost magical about the passion he has for the community, art, and bringing even more life to the area, that is simply inspiring.

“Chewelah has all the components to be a great town,” Tim said. “We’ve got recreation, mountains, a ski resort, a golf course, and great restaurants too. What I really like about this town is that the people here are energized and community oriented. People are really trying to do things to have a positive impact on the town. I think that if you want to have good things in your community, you need to support them and be part of their success.”

From his description, Chewelah is a community with more collaboration than competition. “The restaurant next door to the pub is aware of the impact they make on their neighbor’s business and, instead of competing, they chose to find what is missing in the community and attempt to fill those needs,” Tim said.

Time passed quickly while Tim spoke passionately about his love of the town and the artists he has had the pleasure of working with. By noon, people were steadily trickling through the gallery. As people came in, he answered all their questions and spoke to each person with care. When they asked him about local places to eat, I watched as he eloquently described all of his favorite places within a block or two of the gallery. He’s actively promoting his neighbors and creating community from his gallery every day, every time someone walks in.

Tim Nielsen, owner, Trails End Gallery. Photo by Robin Milligan.

Tim Nielsen, owner, Trails End Gallery. Photo by Robin Milligan.

When I asked Tim what it is like doing business in Chewelah, he told me that the town is realizing that it is more than just a farming and logging town – It is also a booming adventure and art hub. “I think the town is finding balance,” Tim noted. “By natural progression, you can’t overlook tourism as an economic component.”

Tim then told me about an article from October of 2023 in Forbes, “The Economic Impact of Local Arts and Culture Businesses,” where the author, Timothy J. McClimon, wrote about how small towns that support the arts are more economically viable than those that don’t. I read the article and it’s fascinating. From the article: “Whether it’s the nonprofit arts and culture industry or the larger commercial arts and entertainment sector, many Americans owe their livelihood and quality of life to a vibrant and sustainable group of individuals, businesses and organizations that make up our Nation’s cultural economy.”

Tim is a big fan of the current mayor of Chewelah, Greg McCunn. McCunn and his wife Jana, own the Mountain Market. Tim says that they have been visionaries, converting the former school building into boutiques, a gallery, and a bistro. He said that he agrees with the mayor who, he said, believes that it is inevitable that the town is going to change.

“We want to have a hand in how that happens,” Tim explained. “The focus on the arts and culture in this town isn’t recent. My wife and I would visit from Portland and attend plays in Chewelah over 20 years ago. We would also come to the Chataqua arts festival in the summer. I think these groups and events established the arts culture in Chewelah and have helped us succeed with the gallery.”

Tim says he is fortunate to have a symbiotic business that helps to support the gallery. “I wanted to be here. I worked very hard to be efficient at my trade. All I was looking for was a space to do my jewelry work, and the best deal on space was more space than I needed. This is how Trails End came to be.”

Tim does jewelry design, creation, and repair by appointment. The gallery has a continuous display of his beautifully hand-crafted custom sterling silver jewelry.

Tim was also a sculpture major in college, taking courses in all the types of art making he could. He has taken bronze casting, jewelry making, metalworking, three years of life drawing, watercolor painting, professional diamond setting, and is continuing to learn and grow his practice, taking all the classes he can. Tim uses lots of different carving tools to make wax molds for his silverwork, using a variety of different techniques to make incredibly intricate and beautiful pieces.

We talked about how terrifying group critiques can be, and how art making is more about practice than perfection. “I think I was on my 28th painting in watercolor class before I made one that I felt was sublime,” Tim remembers.

“Art is a highly subjective experience,” Tim stated. What one person likes is going to be different from what another likes. But everything in the Trails End Gallery has one thing in common: Tim likes it. Along with being artists themselves, Tim and his wife, Nondis Taylor, are both art collectors. “Art buying is a passionate purchase,” Tim said. “When you buy art, it becomes a time stamp. When you buy a piece of art, you’re buying a narrative, not just of the artist, but of that moment in time. I always remember where I was at that moment.”

When it comes to selling art, Nielsen told me, “I don’t sell the art, the space sells the art.” However, I think he is overly modest about his part of the process.

Tim does a beautiful job curating the art that comes into the gallery. Specializing in local and regional art, he brought with him a few artists from Portland as well. The gallery is hung with great care. Mixing textures, colors, mediums, and the feelings that are stirred up from each piece with intension and an intuitive eye. Contrast and juxtaposition play key roles in how the gallery is organized. He has taken lengths to make sure each piece shines and the space glows with warmth, light, and whimsy. There is every medium highlighted here. As I browsed through the prints, I even found original block prints from an artist who, I was told, learned the technique in Gonzaga’s art department. I haven’t encountered a gallery in the region that felt more professional, upscale, and welcoming.

Tim posts weekly to the gallery’s Facebook page. He makes sure to have eye-catching posters and post cards for each show, which are used around town, online, and in advertisements. When you buy a piece of art from the featured show, you might also receive a poster signed by the artist, a special, extra keepsake.

When he started the First Thursday Art Walk in Chewelah, it was just Trails End Gallery. Since then, it has become a favorite, local event. Taking care of creating the ads and getting sponsored by local businesses, he also makes digital maps that include other art locations. He says, “I just have fun with it,” and sends it to everyone participating so they can send them out as well. “Everyone helps each other.”

The mission of Trails End Gallery is to attract quality artists and their art from around the region, and I believe he succeeds quite brilliantly.

While encouraging artists to be respectful of other gallery’s feelings about competition, he himself encourages the artists he works with to branch out and show in other places. He wants the artists to be successful, experience life, and continue to make great work. Tim doesn’t want artists to make what they think will sell. He wants them to create what is genuinely theirs to create, “an incredible expression of their craft.”

Tim has a passion for art. He is always looking for new art to show and artists to support and promote. He nurtures their artistic experience by being a knowledgeable advocate for their art. He loves every piece in the gallery, and it shows when he talks about them. He also makes sure to pay the artists before he pays himself, because he wants the artists to know that he puts them first. He also uses all entry fees for the juried, Chewelah Winterfest for the Arts show for artist awards.

The gallery is currently holding 5-6 unique gallery shows per year, each running for 6-8 weeks. Each show opens on the first Thursday of the month, with an accompanying artist lecture on the evening before (Wednesday). Lectures are free to the public and run from 6:30-8 p.m. at a local brewery, Quartzite Brewing.

I encourage anyone who has an interest in the arts to attend the Winterfest closing show, First Thursday, April 4th and check out what the local art scene in Chewelah has to offer.

Robin Milligan is an artist and entrepreneur living in Spokane, Wa. She curates art shows, runs an IT company, and teaches ceramics and painting from her home studio. When not working, Robin spends her time with her three children exploring nature, rockhounding, making art, and swimming.