If you can see Mt. Baker, you are part of The Experience

Cascade Vibes

Meet the artist with the mountains for a muse


The ability to share our time in the wilderness with other people is a gift. We hike on trails and ski down slopes, taking in the scene together, locking in whatever images our minds are capable of remembering. To hold on to those moments, we may snap a few pictures and share them with a select few on social media, but that’s where the sharing will end.

Then there are the creatives among us.

They take these special places and moments and turn them into lasting memories to be shared by all. Their talent to create let us take those places with us, bringing them into our homes where memories can be relived forever.

Sarah Woolson is one of these local artists. Working under the apt artist moniker Cascade Vibes, Woolson shares her vision of the Cascades in her paintings. From zoomed-out views of Mt. Baker to up-close takes on thistle flowers, she shares the perspectives and colors nature shares with her.

With a love for art from a young age, Woolson meandered through different mediums for most of her life. To pursue her love of art, she went to school at Northern Illinois University for illustration, planning to work in children’s literature. Like many of us, those plans in our younger years morph into something else. That something else for Woolson was a stint in graphic design. When she switched careers to being a mom, she broke out her paintbrushes and started painting.

Woolson is drawn to the mountains for day hikes with her family and overnight backpacking trips when the bustle of life allows. Her favorite trail with her husband and kids in tow is Chain Lakes because it offers such great views for just a little bit of effort. She likes to get up to Skyline Divide and Yellow Aster Butte when the opportunity arises.

These treks into the mountains are what get her Cascade Vibes going. Inspired by the grandeur, she paints in a garage bay when using the smelly oil paints and in her “studio,” a spare office in the house that also doubles as her son’s gaming room. Describing herself as “mostly a mom,” her painting fits in around the rest of her life, doing it when and where she can to meet the demand she has built up over the years.

Her work can be found in the shadows of the Cascades and the mountains themselves. Glacier Ski Shop, The Green Barn, and the Jansen Art Center gift shop all carry her work, ranging from cards and stickers to original artwork. She has also had temporary installments in places like Old Town Café, the Bellingham Food Co-op, and Terramar Brewstillery.

Woolson’s biggest opportunity to date came by putting herself out there at a show at Bellewood Farms. She talked to patrons and had a raffle going for someone to win a piece of her art. After the show, she drew a name and found that it was someone she hadn’t even talked to. The person’s name was Pat Renau, and it turned out to be a stroke of good luck. Renau is the retail manager for the North Cascades Institute, and this happenstance interaction led to him giving Woolson the opportunity to sell some of her art in the North Cascades visitor center near Newhalem.

Woolson is humbled to display her art in the locations that derive her inspiration. She has heard stories of people bringing her art home to remember their time in the Cascades. To show her appreciation to Renau and the Cascades themselves, 40 percent of her sales in these locations are given to the North Cascades Institute.

When exploring Woolson’s work, you will find she bounces between mediums. She paints in oil, acrylic, and watercolor, with each presenting its own benefits and challenges. The oil painting forces her to move slower through a piece of work while the paint dries so she can do her layering. Watercolor allows her to quickly bring a vision to completion, with acrylic landing somewhere in the middle. The different mediums help keep her creative juices flowing and give her pieces a unique look and feel.

At this point, between being a mom, and keeping up with current demand for her work, her plate is full. In the future, she would like to do plein air painting in the mountains. In the meantime, she will continue to work in her shared spaces at home and bring the family to the mountains to get her inspirational boosts.

Her first year selling at the North Cascades visitor center was in 2016, and she has continued to do so ever since. Her art will be back again this year when the visitor center opens on May 19. Thanks to Renau, her work can also be found in the Heather Meadows visitor center.

Woolson’s work can also be seen on Instagram @cascadevibes, her website www.cascadevibes.com, and on her Etsy page www.etsy.com/shop/cascadevibes.    X