Thursday, October 6, 2011


It was all about narrative when Art Boy and I headed out to tour some Open Studios last Sunday. Maybe it's the writer in me, but I like artwork that tells some sort of story, and draws the viewer into some intriguing alternate world.

That's certainly true of Anna Oneglia, prolific painter, printmaker, and draughtswoman. Her live/work space in the Tannery was our first stop; we got there just a few minutes after 11, to avoid the inevitable crowd, later.

Anna has been traveling a lot in India over the last couple of years, and her new work (like "Ganesha On a Bike," left) reflects not only her interest in Indian culture, but how smitten she is with the bicycle. Ask her why, and she'll praise the bicycle as the most democratic and ecological mode of transportation.Yet, the bike is more and more often seen as the symbol of poverty in India; anyone with any pretensions at all to upward mobility invests in a scooter. Anna thinks this is a shame. In her world, the Hindu gods reject snobbery and celebrate the fun and functionality of the lowly bike.

Anna's bold, colorful paintings in acrylics and oils line the hallway leading to her studio. Inside surfaces are covered with stacks of irresistible small studies done in vibrant colors on sheets of brown paper. But if you ever get a chance, page through her wonderful sketchbooks, a compulsive recording of everything—people, plants, animals, clothing food—encountered on her travels to places like France, Hawaii and India, over the years. Prepare to be charmed!

While at the Tannery, we checked out the brand new studio spaces, adjacent to the live/work apartments. (The building isn't technically finished yet, but designated OS artists were let in Friday to set up for the weekend show.)

Some painters and mixed media artists were ensconced between the empty spaces soon to house a dance studio and a cafe. Over in the Clay wing, I liked Carol Eddy's fanciful, hand-built amphora vases with their graphic sgraffito surfaces. But I have to admit, my favorite thing that I saw was a history of the Tannery and other local industries running along the corridors between studios, from a great blown-up map of Santa Cruz, ca 1877, through log and limestone exhibits and on to the rebirth of the Tannery as an Arts Center.

Back across the highway, we stopped in to see what was new with fiber sculptor Susan Else. This year, several of her pieces are being exhibited at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky, but there's still plenty to see in her home/work space on Escalona Drive—like this amazing chess set, titled "Your Move." The largest pieces are about 8 inches tall; the "pawns" about 4 inches tall, and, yes, the pieces are separate from the board so in theory you could play a game with them, if you could stop being dazzled long enough to pay attention.

Susan says she didn't know how she was going to interpret the Bishop pieces, not being particularly inspired by traditional bishop figures. But when she found out the French name for this chess piece is fou, fool or jester, everything fell into place; on her board, her kings and queens are flanked by a tumbler, a juggler, and a clown. I especially love the mime in the black bowler hat and striped fabric on the blue side.

She also has a new piece on display. With my typical crackerjack reporter's instincts, I've already forgotten the clever title, but in the work, a lone figure is struggling heroically to row a huge, listing rowboat weighted down with family members and all the implied metaphorical baggage that suggests. Now that's a great story!

Of course, no Open Studios weekend would be complete without a visit to Beth Gripenstraw. A longtime ceramicist of distinctively fun tableware, a jewelerymaker, and an accomplished watercolor painter, Beth doesn't just open her studio/home: she creates entire interactive environments that transport visitors into her alternative reality. And, boy, is it a fun place to be!

Last year, she and her daughter, Allison, collaborated on a multi-media extravaganza inspired by the whimsy of Alice in Wonderland. This year, Beth decided to conduct visitors on an African safari—complete with a tent set up outside next to a jeep, an incredibly detailed "Dr. Livingston's Study" set up in her sunroom inside, and a "Botswana Trading Company" room devoted to her wares. Along the way, the walls were decked with large watercolors depicting Beth and her dog, Benny, on (imaginary) safari in the wilds of Africa.

As if all this wasn't enough, she decorated her grounds with life-sized wildlife—papier maché cheetahs, towering giraffes, and this herd of zebras, who generously allowed Beth and me to join them around the old watering hole.

Beth is a one-woman explosion of creative energy. And talk about narrative! She invents a new scenario every year, and the lucky public gets to come along for the ride. But she only does OS for one weekend, so mark your calendars now to go see her next year. Who knows where she'll take us next?

We had a bunch of other artists to visit, but an unfortunate tire malfunction on the ArtBoyMobile put the kibosh on our plans before we got to the Westside to see Glenn Carter, Peggy Snider, and a few others. It's too bad, since this was our only chance to see other artists; we'll be home here in Live Oak hosting Art Boy's own Open Studios the next two weekends. Oh, well, wait'll next year...

In the meantime, Open Studios runs for the next two weekends, so plot your course, rotate your tires, and go!

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