Outdoor moments in Northeast Oregon’s Grande Ronde Valley are stunning and spacious and have long offered extraordinary scenery that takes your breath away.
But once you step inside David Manuel’s art studio at Hot Lake Springs, it’s clear that it’s the little things that keep the past alive.
Manuel is an artist who owns a love affair with Oregon’s past – and that passion is reflected in his latest sculpture of the ‘William Price Hunt Expedition.’
Hunt led a group of rugged explorers through this part of Oregon in 1812. They were on assignment for John Astor and they were determined to bring an American presence to the British-dominated trading region based at the mouth of the Columbia River.
“I want to make sure everything that I do tells a story – it’s so important that way – that’s what keeps me interested.”
For Manuel, the journey’s truth is etched by short strokes with a sharp blade across soft clay.
“I spend a lot of time on each buffalo hair on this coat. I don’t like the sharp edges because you can cut your hand on some bronzes with sharp edges. So I create the hairs to overlap and it’ll really shine that way too.”
You may have seen Manuel’s work before – at Portland’s Chapman Square - where “The Promised Land” shines as a monumental bronze statue.
Now, Manuel's new gallery and studio provide a glimpse to his genius as one of America’s finest artists.
“I love history and that’s what keeps me going! That is why it’s so hard to go home at night too because I get so involved in these pieces.”
But Manuel doesn’t have to go far when he goes home. That’s because he works where he and his family have lived for nearly a decade: Hot Lake Springs.
It is a 60,000 square foot hospital turned hotel that rose above the Grande Ronde Valley floor more than a century ago.
In fact, at one time Hot Lake was center of a ‘good health movement’ that drew people from across the country.
They came by train seeking cures for what ailed them in the mineral hot springs that bubbled up from deep in the earth.
But the place hit hard times - capped by a devastating fire in 1934.
By turn of the last century, the building was ready to fall: holes in ceilings reached to where there should have been a roof, all but two of the 350 windows were broken out and floors were falling down.
The locals thought it was only a matter of time:
“Everybody thought it was dead,” said John Lamoreau, a former Union County Commissioner. “There was no hope, no chance and some people were skeptical because so many had tried to restore it before and failed. To me, the Manuel family looked like the best hope.”
It wasn’t just a mess, it was dangerous and bulldozers waited in the wings to tear it all down.
It was against this dramatic backdrop that the Manuel family bought Hot Lake Springs in 2003.
Despite a personal cost that would rise to more than $10 million, the Manuel family was ‘all in’ for the enterprise.
David’s wife, Lee Manuel, explained that they risked everything on restoring Hot Lake Springs because ‘holding on to Oregon history’ was something they could not let go.
“It was as though this ol’ lady, this ol’ building, this history rose from the ground and spoke to us," said Lee. "And then it took on a life of its own. We were drawn into that.”
Today – the transformation is nothing short of magnificent!
The successful Hot Lake Springs Bed and Breakfast boasts 22 stunning rooms, a restaurant and the new Restore Spa is sure to please anyone interested in rest and relaxation.
Plus, there’s David’s gallery and the bronze foundry where you can watch artisans transform his work into lasting bronze art.
David’s unique and impressive collection of American Indian artifacts and US Military memorabilia date to the war of 1812 in a sprawling museum that requires two full floors to hold it all.
Still – for many it is the promise of relaxation in the mineral hot springs while enjoying the “Valley of Peace.” It is the perfect cap to the day's adventure and makes the journey so worth your time.
Lamoreau observed that it is also a place to soak up one of the most remarkable Oregon pioneering stories of the 21st century.
“Not only do we in Union County give thanks to Dave and Lee, but I think the whole state needs to give thanks for what they did here. They brought this place back to life.”