Smith Rock log cabin stunner

Slideshow tour: home and studio of artist and physics prof

Editor’s note: The At Home section features a profile of a local home each month. To suggest a home, email athome@bendbulletin.com.

This Terrebonne log cabin is home to a physics professor and an artist, and it’s a place where both draw inspiration for their work.

Bruce and Dawn Emerson fell in love with their log cabin home, sitting on 5 acres with breathtaking views of Mount Jefferson and Smith Rock, which practically sits in their backyard.

“Being out here, the pace of life is different,” said Dawn. “We appreciate things here we never thought we would.”

The humble, 1,700-square-foot Douglas fir log cabin kit home was built in the 1980s, with four bedrooms and two baths.

“We can practically tell the time of day by the way the sun falls on Smith Rock,” said Bruce. “At 7:15 in the morning, the rock will look red as the sun comes up. It changes colors with the shadows.”

Bruce and Dawn Emerson stand in their yard near Smith Rock.

Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin

The Emersons bought the home in 1991, and they haven’t done any major renovations. They find these type of log homes never seem dated, as they’ve been part of the American landscape for generations.

“When we first moved here, a neighbor who has horses started to help me understand horses, which helped with my drawings of the animal,” said Dawn, 59, pointing to one of her framed horse art pastels on the log wall.

Currently Dawn’s art is collected domestically and internationally. Five art galleries in western states represent her work, including the Mockingbird Gallery in downtown Bend.

Bruce is clearly proud of his wife’s artistic talents, and the sole renovation they did in their home was the electrical wiring for lighting her artwork.

Throughout the house, the logs are left completely natural.

One log the couple is particularly fond of is a standing support column between the kitchen and the dining room. This log has a unique artistic pattern up and down the surface courtesy of woodworms long ago.

A log column in the kitchen that has a natural design from worms.

Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin

Realities of cabin life

Bruce said a log cabin home isn’t for everyone, and he warned that it take lots of maintenance to keep up the wood, especially the exterior-facing logs. Every summer they tackle one exterior wall, where they brush, power wash and stain the logs, and repair any cracks in the chinking.

“I think log homes scare people off because of the maintenance involved. You have to take care of everything, and spiders love them,” said Bruce. “We always say we’ll die with our boots and gloves on.”

Still, the couple said they didn’t buy the log cabin blindly. They first owned a single-room log cabin in Montana, where they had no running water, no electricity and a wood stove for heat. That summer cabin, which Bruce said was really a goat barn, on 80 acres, provided many fond memories.

The experience made them willing to buy this log cabin, which had all the modern conveniences, including indoor bathrooms.

“Back then, in the 1970s, we were into the back to the land movement,” said Bruce with a laugh. “We’re familiar with logs; we felled the logs for that cabin. It was also a mile hike out to that cabin from the nearest road.”

Given that background, it’s not hard to imagine how thrilled Bruce and Dawn were when they saw this “modern” version of a cabin in Terrebonne with running water and electricity.

The couple’s two children, Tegan and Skye, also thrived in their new setting, both becoming experienced rock climbers at one of the most famous climbing spots in the country, right within walking distance from their back door.

Off the log cabin living room and down a narrow hall lined with Dawn’s artwork is a simple master bedroom. It’s a room made brighter by the art Dawn has created for its wall.

Up a set of stairs from the living room, a small loft landing provides a family room space that overlooks the room below.

The Emersons' log cabin home has a simple, open layout.

Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin

On the opposite end of this loft are two additional bedrooms.

Bigger log cabin

Even though the log cabin nest is now empty, the couple is busier than ever.

Bruce, 57, who holds a Ph.D. in physics, has been teaching for the past decade at Central Oregon Community College. As an academic, he fuels his passion for science out in the country.

Though he readily admits not being much of a farmer or rancher, he does still manage two hay harvests a year. His biggest country coup was building Dawn an 1,800-square-foot log cabin artist studio a few paces from their home.

The art studio was truly a labor of love from Bruce to Dawn.

Bruce Emerson built this 1,800-square-foot studio for his wife Dawn to use as an artist's studio. Some of the logs were slated to be used in athlete housing for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.

Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin

Dawn had worked for years in the home’s garage in a makeshift studio where her large repertoire of work was rapidly outgrowing the space.

“It took Bruce five-and-a-half years to build it because he works full time at the college, and he worked part time on the studio during all his breaks and summers,” said Dawn, smiling at her husband. “He actually took four months, or one school term, to finish it off last January.”

Bruce tried to use reclaimed or recycled materials whenever possible to build his wife’s studio, which is larger than their home.

Bruce found the logs online and said some were slated to become part of the athlete’s housing in Park City, Utah, for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

The logs never made it to Utah, but by chance they did make it to Terrebonne and the Emersons’ land.

“It was like putting together a giant puzzle,” said Bruce. “We used a 4-ton forklift to stack and sort them. Because these logs sat for 15 years, they were all gray in color. We had to hand sand them. Dawn did a lot of hand sanding and chinking on this studio, too.”

The Emersons are proud they were able to use recycled products from the Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore shop, where they found deals on lights, doors and windows.

When entering the new log cabin-style studio, the first thing you’ll notice is all of the natural light flooding in from those windows.

Dawn Emerson's art studio includes a large open space.

Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin

The ground floor is bright and large with many white, flat surface-working areas for artists to gather and collaborate. Dawn designed the studio layout so she could hold art workshops.

The front of the studio has Dawn’s easel next to a large window that looks out toward Smith Rock.

“I love coming to work in this studio; it’s a pleasure,” said Dawn. “The landscape is inspiring here; it’s always moving and changing.”

On the other side of the expansive art room is her new printing press. Print making is a relatively new art medium for Dawn.

“When the recession hit, my art sales went down, and some galleries that were representing my work also folded,” said Dawn. “So I decided to try a different type of art, and I went to A-6 (Atelier 6000), and Pat Clark there taught me print making. I had to start from the bottom and relearn everything. I share the belief that as an artist, you should always be moving forward and be artistically aware.”

She added: “Sometimes I come in to work at night — it’s awesome. I often set up music in here and dance when I’m doing my art.”

Dawn showed off the custom-made cabinets in the studio and pulled out drawers with built-in pastel trays carrying color-coordinated pastels.

“I’m a little OCD about my colors,” joked Dawn.

Dawn Emerson keeps her pastels organized and sorted by color.

Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin

Dawn, who graduated from Brown University with an English major and art minor, worked in Boston as a graphic artist for a school textbook company.

She was working on some artwork for a science textbook when she asked the physicist, Bruce, to check her art to make sure it was scientifically correct. It was accurate, and soon the scientist and the artist were a couple.

Bruce was a free spirit and took Dawn on the journey of her life, and in some ways helped shape her life as an artist.

“I grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts, went to Brown and had a job in Boston. If I had stayed back East, I doubt I would’ve ever become the artist I am now,” said Dawn, who added that she enjoys not only creating art, but also teaching it. “For me, it’s not just about selling my work. I want to help people play again, and make their art come alive.”

Off the main studio floor is a large storage area with many slots and shelving that hold her extensive art portfolio.

From this area, visitors can ascend the stairs where the Emersons have built a small, light-filled studio apartment for visiting guest artists.

A guest space above the studio.

Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin

The apartment is welcoming and inspirational, with views of Mount Jefferson and Smith Rock.

Simplicity is the heartbeat of the Emersons’ cozy log cabin home, while the studio is the soul.

— Reporter: pnakamura@bendbulletin.com