Meet Debbie and Don Engblom of Stanwood

He is a photographer, craftsman of miniatures, painter, and will soon begin restoring a wooden Poulsbo-style dory. She is artist weaving fabrics on her loom and knitting frogs with personalities and other creatures. In Debbie’s first art fair at the Rexville Grange in November, she sold out. Don has been sharing his expert photography with Stewards on Slack (recently snowy owls). A few of his photos are posted here, along with pictures of Debbie’s woven work.

Don is a storyteller with a lifetime of photos from his time on the water. Later this spring we hope to schedule an in-person slide show featuring Don’s observations of climate change in the arctic, including helping clean up the Valdez oil spill, plus the day on Quadra Island in British Columbia when he was recruited (commanded?) to hop in and help paddle an ocean-going Indian Canoe because they were one paddler short.

Love of the outdoors, a sense of adventure, and commercial fishing brought them together. Debbie started as a bookkeeper for a cannery in the remote village of Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island in SE Alaska. Don’s first fishing memories go back to age 8 on his father’s boat. Ellyn Thoreen, SWS Class of 2020, introduced them to each other after she and Debbie decided to seek work on a fishing boat in Alaska. Ellyn and Debbie were and still are fast friends.

Here’s the way Ellyn describes it. “One of my best accomplishments in this life was being in situations that allowed me to introduce Debbie and Donnie to each other. Debbie and I became “besties” in 7th grade in Stanwood while learning the fine art of making chocolate covered cream puffs in Home-Ec. Laughter, friendship, and ever-growing desires to share adventures have kept us close after all these 54 years! In 1975, Debbie invited me to join her for two weeks in a small Haida fishing village in SE Alaska where she was working at a fish camp. That experience led to many life paths that brought us more fully into the salmon fisheries. After being marooned in Pelican Alaska, anxious for a fishing job, my sister and I flipped a coin to see who would take a job opening on the “Mystery Maid” and who would work on the “Elk.” I thought I won that flip and spent two seasons fishing with Donnie (he was the skiff man) on his brother’s boat. In the fall after the Alaska SE run, we seined in Puget Sound for salmon. I invited Debbie out as a guest for an opening where she first met Donnie. That fall a group of our fishing friends rented an orange home together in Fremont we called the Pumpkin House. Donnie, in his large orange truck with black lab ‘Murph’ were frequent visitors. I don’t recall exactly when their friendship became their life’s love but I can honestly say it has been one of the most special, creative, curious, and adventurous marriages I have known.” 

Don spent his life on the water from the Aleutians in Alaska to Seattle, first in commercial fishing and then spent 36 years running tugboats between Seattle and the arctic. His navigation skills are legendary. “In my early twenties, I ran a king crab boat, the ROSIE G, from Dutch Harbor across the Bering Sea to Cape Flattery and then Seattle. Once we were well offshore we had no Loran to monitor our position and had to dead reckon our way across for seven days and somehow found Cape Flattery.”

Debbie’s summertime background in commercial fishing led to her work for the North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners Association and she was an officer in the Women’s Fisheries Network in Seattle. Later she got her Master’s degree, became a CPA, and worked for companies large and small.

Since retirement and SWS training in 2020, their volunteer time has been outdoors: beach cleanups on both islands, bluff monitoring, bull kelp monitoring by kayak, water temperature/salinity monitoring from their motorboat, and photography for SWS use. They appreciate the way SWS fosters relationships and a sense of community. They especially love the field trips which particularly opened their eyes to all Whidbey (the “other”) Island has to offer. They chose to signup for SWS because they could do it together and it is related to water.

And now, their creative juices are flowing. At home they just finished moving their art supplies into the cleared-out upstairs of their garage where they have space to spread out – it is now a “studio.” Don does watercolor paintings and china painting on mugs; he is sorting through his 1000+ collection of matchbox cars giving some away to children they know, and is building a village from the miniature buildings, boats and bridges he’s been making. Debbie has two looms going and is working on newly commissioned work.

As soon as Don’s slide show gets arranged, we will let you know.

In the meantime, please enjoy these photos.


Debbie’s Woven Art, Loom and Knitted Creatures

Don’s Miniatures – a work in progress: built to HO Scale; each is about 4″ to 5″ tall. The red buildings and docks, when placed along a shoreline (yet to make) will be a salmon cannery. (HO is a model railroad scale using a 1:87 scale or 3.5 mm to 1 foot.)

Don’s Paintings on Mugs: His brother’s boat, the Mystery Maid. The village scene is Skykomish and the mug is on display in the Whistling Post Tavern there. Usually, when Don paints and fires a mug in his kiln, it is a unique painting of a friend’s boat and he gives the mug to the boat’s owner.

Don’s Paintings and Drawings

Don’s Photography

Photos from Debbie and Don’s past …

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