Tuesday, October 12, 2010


In case you've forgotten how much creative energy is percolating around in our county, taking yourself off on the Open Studios Art Tour is a great way to fall in love with Santa Cruz all over again. Since Art Boy and I had last weekend "off" (he'll be open again for "Encore" next weekend), we spent Saturday and Sunday visiting other artists on the tour. Some are veterans we've been fans of forever, others are brand new discoveries (at least to us) that I can't wait to tell you about.

We got a jump on the weekend Friday night with a preview party at the home of dynamic mother-daughter duo Beth and Allison Mae Gripenstraw. Long beloved around town for her fun, festive bird and animal-print ceramic table settings, and her more recent series of whimsical watercolor paintings, Beth has now joined Allison in a new venture, Cold Heart Company. Heart-shaped hair clips, ceramic cocktail rings and resin tile bracelets in brightly painted patterns are the specialty of the online shop, along with an eclectic mix of lidded pots, trays, and paintings; red hearts, black ravens, peacocks, and poppies are among the recurring themes. Charming miniature ceramic tea sets (complete with itsy-bitsy sugar spoons) were also part of the OS display, as well as a selection of Allison's extreme stiletto high heels with a kick—hidden paintings under the instep (hearts, Dia de los Muertos, even the Frankenstein monster and his Bride). If you've ever been to Beth's house, you can imagine how spectacular it looked. "Alice in Wonderland" was the theme of the night, and if you know why a raven is like a writing desk, please do let her know ASAP!

Under blue and sunny weekend skies, we joined the crowd at the rambling Victorian homestead of pastel artist Mary Offerman and oil painter Lance Sims. The rustic setting (chickens, fruit trees, vegetable gardens) hidden in the heart of the Seabright area, is a delight, and the rural theme continues in Mary's warm, evocative pastel landscapes and still-lifes with fruit. My favorites are the rural villages in vibrant colors nestled like jewels in the green French countryside (where Lance and Mary have taught many painting and pastel workshops). And yes, they will be open for Encore weekend.

Across the street from Mary and Lance, we found printmaker Melissa West. Her medium is linoleum block prints in both open and limited editions, and her subjects include a fanciful series on martyred saints, like her winsome piece in the Art League show, "St. Christina the Astonishing." She also has a far more eerie series (in stark black-and-white with touches of blood red) based on that most spooky and suggestive literary genre, children's fairy tales. Her work comes in a variety of sizes, including some sweet little 1 1/2" x 3" original linos of cats and owls. Drop by next weekend and take a look.

It's always fun to visit the workshop/home of fabric sculptor Susan Else. Her house on Escalona Drive is absolutely amok with her lively quilted 3-D figures, caught in the act of scurrying about: they dance in the corners, lounge over the fireplace, even climb ladders in her various wall pieces. Her piece de resistance is a five-foot tall rotating Ferris Wheel (created in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Boardwalk), with her figures—parents, children, gawkers, necking lovers, camera-toting tourists— occupying every seat. And don't miss the giant fabric chessboard in her workroom. All the pawns on one side are babies; all the other pawns are stretching, preening cats. I was so taken with all those quilted kitties, I didn't even notice what kind of creatures the larger pieces are, so if you go check it out on Encore weekend, please do let me know!

And how is it that I've lived in Santa Cruz since dinosaurs roamed the earth, and never before crossed paths with Peggy Snider? Her hand-crafted ceramic sculptures are poetic, inspiring, wry and wonderful, from large, shamanistic totems (with mysterious faces, animal heads, moons, stars, haphazard stairways and intriguing doors) to elegant female figures cloaked by the sun, or by ocean waves, or dancing on the earth, to her smallest, most poignant little creatures. Wandering through Peggy's hilltop garden aerie at the end of Meder Street, you'll find work that celebrates community, the human spirit, and the rhythms of nature and the cosmos. The wise-woman faces with their clear, steady gaze that decorate so many of her pieces suggest the wisdom and healing of time.

I realized I'd seen one or two of her pieces in the sculpture garden at Sierra Azul down in Watsonville. But meeting Peggy for the first time and her delightful extended "family" of work made me a collector on the spot. Although Art Boy joked, "My wife wants to buy your cheapest piece," it wasn't the insanely reasonable price tag that drew me to my treasure; the little half-figure in a rough, matte white finish with turquoise highlights, unfurling its wings to the heavens, spoke to my heart. There are plenty of treasures left if you go see Peggy on Encore weekend, and don't miss Arin Duggins' beautiful beadwork jewelry on the way in.

Over at the Tannery, Fanne Fernow is showing an eclectic mix of vintage and new work. Long beloved around town for her big, bright, graphic paintings of dogs, houses, lips, even dancing salt-shakers, accompanied by wise and witty snippets of text, Fanne has segued into the far more demanding medium of encaustic. Her new work is all about color and form. Her visual mantras of monochromatic squares perforated with neat, even rows of tiny dots invite the contemplative gaze. In her companion "Monkey Mind" series, the patterns of dots swoop and swirl about through geometric shapes in beautiful, subtly shifting colors, like a hyperactive brain that can't rest. Fanne is showing both styles of work through Encore weekend, along with a recent series of Mary/Madonna icons. (Here's the one Art Boy and I fell in love with last year (above); she blesses our kitchen every day.)

It was after 4 p.m. on Saturday, with less than an hour to go in the event, before we made it over to see Katharina Short on Stanford Avenue. As always, it was a pleasure to stroll through her backyard garden with her detached, hobbit-house studio. Tina opted out of OS last year, busy with the raising of her twin boys, but she's back this year with lots of new work. In addition to her trademark large, winsome acrylic paintings of floating couples, families, gardens, and animals, she has some lovely large decorative pieces based on floral and seed motifs, as well as new, smaller work.

We've loved Tina's work for years, but, well, let's just say that part of the deal when you choose to make a living (and a life) as an artist and a freelance writer is resisting the urge to spend money. On this afternoon, however, when I came round a corner and found a small, sweet little triptych called "Life Boat," the urge became a lot more insistent. It pictures a couple nestled together under the stars in the central panel, a tiny house and decorative tree rooted to the earth on one side, and a little boat on the sea sailing off on life's adventure on the other. Art Boy liked it too, and the price was reasonable for its size, but a Libra and a Virgo do not make snap decisions, so we said our wistful goodbyes and headed out for one last studio.

At about ten minutes to 5, heading back across town from the West Side, Art Boy suggested we stop in to see if Tina still had the painting. It would make perfect karmic sense if she did not, we knew, since we're always advising our OS attendees to claim what they like (or at least put it on layaway) right away; chances are it won't be there if they come back later. Nor were we encouraged to see a little knot of visitors standing appraisingly before the wall where "our" painting still hung. But wait: they were looking at the beautiful bird painting above it! Art Boy obligingly took the bird painting off the wall and carried it over to another wall where the other collectors could get a better look; meanwhile, I stood in front of "Life Boat" the way a passenger might be dispatched to stand in the last parking space in a free lot downtown while the driver hastily maneuvers the car around.

Fortunately, no one challenged me. I divulged our plan to Aaron, Tina's husband, and when the other collectors had gone, Art Boy asked if Tina and Aaron would be interested in trading for an Aschbacher. To our delight, they said yes! To sweeten the deal, he offered to do a commission just for them, in exchange for "Life Boat." So now, they get to decide what they want in their personal Aschbacher, and we have a week (until they bring us the painting during our Encore weekend) to decide where it will live in our house.

Meanwhile, my Peggy Snider piece already has a home—on a square of turquoise tile above my kitchen sink, where it greets me every morning with a speculative rustling of its feathers.


  1. So cool. I was looking on my art book shelves and found "Dodge City Diamond Barn", a little thriller chapbook by Lance A. Sims, which he gave me backintheday. Decided to search Lance's name, see what's happening 3 decades later. And your blog notes his name and the Santa Cruz art scene is still going strong as I remember from 1976-78 era when I lived on Alice Street!

  2. Hi Peat,

    Glad you enjoyed your virtual visit back to Santa Cruz! Yes, the art scene is still thriving, even in these challenging times. Stay tuned for more art (& Open Studios) updates.