Thursday, September 29, 2011


Get ready to hit the road for Open Studios 2011

Don't forget, the Open Studios Art Tour starts this weekend! A whopping 295 local artists—painters, collagists, ceramacists, sculptors, printmakers, photographers, jewelery-makers, fabric artists, you name it—will open the mystic portals to their work spaces to YOU, the art-loving public, over the next three weekends.

North County artists step up to the plate first this year. 139 studios will be open from north of the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor through downtown and the Westside all the way to Davenport. While you're out there, don't miss Doug Ross (312 Poplar Ave, SC), one of my favorite OS artists. His clean, colorful silk screen prints often depict seals and other marine life, but don't you just love this fanciful little hummingbird?

Sure, there's a staggering number of artists to see, but remember, this is not an endurance test. Nobody is expected to visit EVERY studio; you just have to pace yourself. And the best way to do this is to visit one of the OS Preview Exhibits in advance, to get a feel for the actual art pieces, up close and personal.

As usual, the Art League is now hosting a show featuring one work by every single participating artist. New this year is a companion exhibit at the R. Blitzer Gallery, on the Westside, featuring work by North County artists from Davenport, Bonny Doon, San Lorenzo Valley, and Scotts Valley. Both exhibits will be up through the last day of OS, October 16. (A public reception will be held for the Blitzer show on Friday, October 7, 5-9 pm.)

Many local favorites are participating in OS again this year. That's ceramic sculptor Peggy Snider's Preview Exhibition piece at the Art League on the left. I'm pretty sure the title is "Being My Muse," but I might have gotten it wrong, what with 6.2 gazillion people crammed into the exhibit space at last Sunday's opening reception. Anyway, I just love that inquisitive little face! (Peggy shows this weekend at 680 Meder Street, SC.)

There are plenty of newcomers to the event this year, as well. I was very intrigued by the little woven piece by fabric artist Doug Masury at the Art League. It's a small, square, framed piece with tight rows of hand-dyed yarn in an abstract, archaeological/landscape design. (Doug is open this weekend at 128 Mason Strert, SC.) I forgot to take note of the title, but if you're headed down there, check it out.

And speaking of fabric art, Susan Else (126 Escalona Drive) is back this year with her beautifully crafted fabric sculptures of whimsical figures in unexpected landscapes. This piece is called "On the Rocks," and yes, it's ALL stuffed and quilted fabric—even that perfectly rendered abalone shell in the foreground!

Open Studios is a free event, but potential art tourists are strongly advised (by me!) to pick up the official OS Calendar and Artist Guide. ($20 online or at outlets countywide.) Not only does the Calendar provide addresses and maps to help you locate even the most remote studios, it also features thumbnail images of the work of every single participating artist, in a useful 16-month calendar format.

The OS Art Tour continues next weekend, October 8 & 9, with South County artists opening their studios from south of the Yacht Harbor through Live Oak, Soquel, Aptos, and down to Watsonville. The following weekend, October 15 & 16, is Encore Weekend, when both North and South County artists can opt for opening their studios. (Check the OS Calendar for information on which artists will be open Encore Weekend.) So plot your course, grab an art buddy and hit the road!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Acclaimed Corralitos mystery writer Laurie R. King has shepherded her husband-and-wife detective team through some dark, sobering themes in her last couple of books—religious fanaticism, moral corruption, even human sacrifice. Her latest novel, Pirate King, takes another tack entirely. For this eleventh outing in her popular mystery series, King places her intrepid heroine, Mary Russell, and her equally redoubtable husband, Sherlock Holmes, smack in the middle of a witty, lighthearted romp of an adventure involving the early days of the silent film industry, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and, of course, pirates.

King combines the usual scholarship, travelogue, feminism and skullduggery readers have come to expect from her Russell-Holmes mysteries with swashbuckling on the high seas and a healthy dose of absurdist hilarity—along with the ever-deepening affection and camaraderie between Russell and her much older, yet still vigorous spouse. The combination is just about irresistible. Fans can get a taste of this tall tale when King reads from her new novel next Tuesday, September 20, at Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Pirate King
begins with Russell craving nothing more than a few weeks of leisure among the books and bees at the Sussex cottage she and Holmes share. Instead, she is invited by Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard to insinuate herself into the employment of a London motion picture company that appears to be leaving a trail of mayhem in its wake. Maddeningly encouraged by Holmes, and fearing the imminent arrival of Holmes' alarming brother, Mycroft, for an extended visit, she reluctantly takes the assignment. (Read more)

(Laurie King will read from and sign copies of Pirate King Tuesday, September 20, at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 7:30 pm.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


A few days ago, Art Boy and I decided to be the last kids on our block to go see The Help. Now into its second month on local screens, it's had longer legs than any other summer "blockbuster," except for the last Harry Potter movie.

And I can see why. For one thing, it appeals strongly to women, in a movie season traditionally written off for teens and fanboys only. Based on Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel, it depicts a femme-o-centric universe where men scarcely exist at all (onscreen, anyway), and delivers a female-empowering story in which a handful of women stand together to change the status quo in their community—in this case, racial inequality in the deep south, ca. 1960, on the cusp of the Civil Rights movement.

It also has that Mad Men, '60s-era fashion show thing going on, which doesn't hurt. And it provides lots of juicy roles for a variety of actresses—Hollywood's most neglected commodity—of all ages and varieties: starlets Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Jessica Chastain as the young white belles, the divine Viola Davis, sassy Octavia Spencer, and the legendary Cicely Tyson as neighborhood maids, Allison Janney as somebody's mother, even Sissy Spacek as a tippling granny.

It took a long time for this movie to work on me. The fashions seemed too Barbie Doll-perfect, the bitchy Junior League girls too over-the-top brittle, the dialogue too forced and hokey, the emotional situations too scripted and obvious. But I liked the pert Stone as tomboyish protagonist "Skeeter," whose friendship with the black women sets the plot in motion, (although I didn't buy for a second that she couldn't get a date because her hair was too kinky). And I loved Chastain as the sweet, "trampy" outcast. (This year's It Girl, the versatile Chastain changes her persona with each different onscreen hair color: ethereal redheaded mother in The Tree of Life, serious brunette undercover op in The Debt, and her blonde, Monroe-ish waif, here.) And as usual, Davis brought grace and emotional resonance to the proceedings.

(Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, and Viola Davis in The Help.)

Here's what I hated: the way this story reduces the entire complex issue of civil rights—generations of racism, himiliation, murder, and courage in the face of all of the above— down to something that can easily be resoved by putting a few token white snooty bigots in their place. And the comeuppances doled ot to the film's designated villainess, bitchy Hilly (Howard) are both idiotic and pointless. (Seriously, how do two dozen old, broken toilets delivered to her front lawn strike a blow for racial equality?)

But here's the thing: in the ladies' room afterwards, a woman I don't know started telling me a story. When she lived in North Carolina from 1962-66, she told me, all the women had grown up on tobacco plantations and they all smoked—but never in public (as depicted in the film). Otherwise, she thought the setting was pretty accurate. At which point, another woman came out of a stall and chimed in that when she, a Northerner, went to the South for the first time at about this era, she was shocked to find "Whites only" bathrooms.

And that's when I realized how this movie is working on its audiences. Whether or not they've ever actually lived in the South (but especially if they have), women are finding reflections of their own life experiences in this broad canvas of issues filtered through the female perspective—not only race and politics, but motherhood, marriage, social status, work, friendship, injustice and loss. The Help not only speaks to, but validates the experiences of this vast, untapped audience of women. With a steady $137 million racked up at the box office to date, you'd think this would be an audience worth cultivating, if only Hollywood would get a clue.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


When sharks, apes, Barbarians, and (yawn) teens in peril dominate local screens, we know we're stuck in the post-Labor Day movie doldrums. But fear not: the fresh breezes of fall are on the way, bringing with them a batch of eclectic and interesting new films. Here are a select few of the most promising (we hope):

DRIVE Onetime Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling steps out of his perceived comfort zone with a vengeance in this majorly buzzed action thriller, based on the James Sallis novel.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS It would be tough to top Richard Lester's fresh, rollicking two-part production of the early '70s, so why am I so intrigued by this new film version? The cast, for one thing, starting with Christoph Walz as the scheming Cardinal Richelieu.

ANONYMOUS Okay, I get a little peeved at these conspiracy theories that anyone other than the artist historically known as William Shakespeare wrote the canon of plays attributed to him. This film purports to argue in favor of Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford. But the movie stills look lush and expensive, and with Vanessa Redgrave and real-life daughter Joely Richardson on board as Good Queen Bess (in youth and age), I'm there.

THE RUM DIARY Johnny Depp returns to Fear-and-Loathing mode in this adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson novel (begun in 1959, but not published until the late '90s), a lightly fictionalized account of the author's early stint as a reporter for a run-down newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN Worlds collided in 1957 when glamorous Hollywood movie star Marilyn Monroe, and acclaimed British thespian Laurence Olivier made a movie together. A memoir about that film shoot inspires this film, starring the ever-gutsy Michelle Williams. (Read complete article)

(Above: Joely Richardson and Jamie Campbell Bower dance around the question of who wrote Shakespeare's plays in Anonymous.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Hot on the heels of its excellent Big Creek Pottery retrospective exhibit last spring, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History continues its commitment to local art and artisans with its current show, Studio Made: Santa Cruz Woodworkers. The show is already into its second month, but I just caught up with it at First Friday last week, and what exciting work it is. If you just love woodwork, that most soulful medium, or if you're a fan of expert hand crafting in general, you need to run out and see this show, like, now.

10 members of the SC Woodworkers collective are featured in the exhibit. You may have noticed some of their pieces decorating the storefront windows of the cavernous Rittenhouse Building downtown, but there's nothing like seeing this work up close, brightly lit, and in detail, to appreciate all the nuances.

Work ranges from massive cabinetry and media centers in vibrant, contrasting wood grains by Om Anand, to an absolutely amazing collection of teeny tiny vessels of wood, palm nuts, and seed pods by Joshua Salesin. (Turned on antique lathes, Salesin's incredibly intricate and diverse pieces, ranging from fingernail-size to about and inch or two high, may be the most breathtaking objects in the show.)

In between, feast your eyes on the dashing, organic lines of Roger Heitzman's chairs, the glorious unfolding wood burl sculptures of Gary Stevens (above), and the lovely inlay work of Matthew Werner, on a variety of pieces.

I was especially knocked out by this three-legged corner jewelry cabinet by Michael Singer. It's a deceptively simple, even demure piece, until you open the doors and discover the layers upon layers of tiered, swing-out drawers and irresistible cubbyholes within. Functional and gorgeous; I loved it!

Singer's glass-topped Fandance Coffee Table is pretty impressive too, with its sweeping, fan-shaped bamboo base.

I'm also a huge fan of Ronald Cook, whose lovely, hand-crafted replications of antique instruments like dulcimers and rebecs (decorated with his signature tiny carved faces) have been thrilling Santa Cruzans for years. An assortment of these are on view at the MAH show, but so are some completely unexpected delights. Like this hand-carved chess set (look at the character in all those faces!), along with the chessboard, the formidable gaming table on which it sets, a pair of medieval-style trestle stools, and the wooden chandelier that hangs down over the entire ensemble!

And these are just a few highlights of a fascinating and inspiring exhibit. (While you're there, don't miss the companion exhibit, Furniture Design, up on the third floor. I liked the strong, rakishly asymmetrical Black Mamba chairs by Fred Hunnicut, and John Baer's ingenious Jet Cone cocktail table and wine bucket made of found metal objects.)

Also, big kudos to Nina Simon for continuing to open the MAH not only to local artists, but the community as well (especially kids). The interactive play stations she's set up throughout the museum are an interesting way to conquer visitors' fear of art and get them to engage with and enjoy the exhibits.

(The Santa Cruz Woodworkers show is up at the MAH through Novembr 13.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Oh, the audacity of Laurie King.

In only her second novel, The Beekeeper's Apprentice (1994), she had the nerve to tinker with one of the greatest legends in all of mystery fiction. The beekeeper in question was Sherlock Holmes, a greying, but no less acute and acerbic man in his mid-fifties retired to a country cottage on the Sussex Downs ca. 1915 to raise bees, under the watchful eye of his faithful housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson.

His apprentice-to-be was a 15-year-old orphan from a neighboring cottage who was about to enter Oxford University. This precocious youth was independent, analytical, fiercely intelligent—and female. Her name was Mary Russell. Holmes, along with King's soon-to-be-legion of readers were pleased, if astonished, to recognize an intellect as fine, prickly, and impatient as Holmes' own, and the young woman was glad to rise to the challenge of his tutelage.

Over the course of King's popular mystery series, Russell and Holmes (as they always refer to each other, comrade-style) have become not only best friends and partners in wit and detection, they are plausibly married as well. That Russell embodies the generation of "new" women rising phoenix-like out of the ashes of the war-ravaged Old World adds another subtle layering to the delicate balance of their relationship as they strive for common ground and equal footing.

Many of their adventures have been dark, indeed. But in her new novel, Pirate King, the eleventh outing in the series, King combines the usual scholarship, travelogue, feminism and skullduggery readers have come to expect with swashbuckling on the high seas and a healthy dose of absurdist hilarity. The combination is just about irresistible! Fans can get a sneak preview when Laurie reads from her new novel this Thursday (September 8) at Capitola Book Cafe, 7:30 pm.

(Above: UK paperback cover for The Beekeeper's Apprentice, looking very Erte!.)

Friday, September 2, 2011


Listen: that whooshing sound you hear is Time's Wingéd Chariot, hurtling us into the Santa Cruz Fall arts season.

And, believe it or not, Open Studios is just around the corner. The official catalogue for the Open Studios Art Tour 2011 goes on sale today, and how cool is that green art glass vase by Jim and Connie Grant on the cover? Just the thing to get your juices flowing for another round of OS treasure hunting. This $20 catalogue also functions as a 16-month calender featuring artwork by all 300+ OS artists. You can order online, as we speak, or click here to find a catalogue-selling outlet near you.

Btw, Jim and Connie are South County OS artists whose marvelous one-of-a-kind glassworks combine clean lines and echoes of Deco with organic, Native American shapes and patterns. Check out their Celestial Art Glass website for more examples.

Open Studios starts early this year. North County artists (north of the Yacht Harbor to Davenport) open their doors the weekend of October 1 and 2. South County artists (south of the Yacht Harbor to Watsonville) open up October 8 and 9. Encore Weekend (countywide) is Oct 15 and 16. The catalogue will tell you which artists are participating in the Encore Weekend (in addition to providing a sample of work from each OS artist, and maps to their locations).

Also, last year's Silver Ticket gambit was such a hit, the Cultural Council is doing it again this year. Six individual Silver Tickets are hidden inside OS catalogues at various locations around the county. Each ticket is as good as cash toward the purchase of artwork from any OS artist. There are three tickets valued at $100 each, two tickets at $200 each, and one ticket worth $300. Feeling lucky? Buy a catalogue now and avoid the rush later on.

New this year, in addition to the preview exhibit of all OS artists at the Art League, downtown, there will also be a preview exhibit featuring the work of North County OS artists (from Davenport, Bonny Doon, San Lorenzo Valley, and Scotts Valley) at the R. Blitzer Gallery on the West Side. Both preview shows will be open September 24 through October 16, to allow the public face time with OS artists' work up close and personal.

In the meantime, check out these slideshows of this year's participating OS artists: North County and South County.

Last year, I blogged extensively about my OS adventures. Here's one of my favorite treasures that I found last year, a little ceramic angel by Peggy Snider, who greets me in my kitchen every morning with a poignant rustling of her wings. New treasures are out there, waiting to be found at this year's event. Click here for all the details. And happy hunting!