The sylvan wonders of the San Lorenzo Valley—from the glorious river and its tributaries that carved it to the majestic redwoods that blanket its steep and often treacherous hillsides—have long served as inspiration to regional artists.
In the late 1800s, the dean of California painting, William Keith, took the valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains as subjects for many of his tonalist masterpieces, and he was followed by a host of other fine landscape artists through the turn of the century and beyond, including the likes of Lorenzo “L. P.” Latimer, Lillian Howard, Frank Heath, Lillian Dake Heath, Louise Cunningham and Luther De Joiner.
That tradition of artistic excellence will be brought back to life this coming weekend with the inaugural San Lorenzo Valley Art Tour. Founded by a quartet of San Lorenzo creatives, the tour will be held at various locations on Saturday and Sunday, from 10am-5pm.
Fluorescent pink signage will direct visitors to participating artists.
Think of it as Highway 9 meets Open Studios, with a dash of Henflings or Ristorante Casa Nostra thrown in for kicks. The tour is free and open to everyone, and the weather promises to be delightful for a day-long sojourn from Felton to Ben Lomond to Boulder Creek.
The SLV Art Tour was first conceived by a handful of Valley artists who were experiencing a sense of regional marginalization during the country’s annual Open Studios events held in October of each year.
Three years ago, just before the pandemic, SLV artists Janet Silverglate (assemblage/mixed media) and Eileen Murray (painting) had a conversation about whether SLV artists were not being selected for Open Studios, or simply not applying because of lack of traffic during the event.
“The first year I participated in Open Studios, my tiny studio [on 17th Avenue in Live Oak] had 1200 visitors in four days,” says Murray. “When I moved my studio to my home in Ben Lomond, I had an estimated 325 visitors.”
Other SLV artists were reporting similar experiences. Due to a variety of reasons, many of them simply geographic, Santa Cruz area participants in Open Studios and those along the Highway 1 corridor were drawing much larger numbers than in the county’s more mountainous communities.
In response to a similar situation, Bonny Doon artisans started DoonArt a decade ago. It’s proven to be quite successful, and will be held again this summer. Silverglate and Murray had found their inspiration. They joined forces with another pair of accomplished SLV artists, Michael Singer (photography and woodworking) and Raf Strudley (woodturning), along with DoonArt creator Linda Levy. Once the pandemic appeared to be on the wane, they decided to launch a trial weekend event that featured artists living exclusively in the Valley.
“There are so many talented people here,” says Strudley, “much of it hidden talent—and we want to expose it. The tour organizers just want an opportunity to show what Valley artists have to offer to as many folks who are willing to venture out this way.”
Murray estimates that there are hundreds of artists creating in the San Lorenzo Valley. Should the tour prove successful this weekend, organizers are hoping to promote roughly twice as many artists next year.
“Viable communities offer various opportunities to share their attributes,” notes Strudley. “Art is just one of [them]. The Valley is a great place to live, work and play. The Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center [in Ben Lomond] has been an artistic venue in the community for years. And they are participating in the tour as well.”
Many Santa Cruz County residents never take the time to visit the San Lorenzo Valley. The inaugural Art Tour offers everyone a reason to explore the valley—its shops and restaurants, wineries and tap rooms, parks and hiking trails—while taking in some amazing regional art. Just follow the fluorescent pink signs.
The San Lorenzo Valley Art Tour, featuring 32 artists from the San Lorenzo Valley, takes place Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22, 10am-5pm. Go to slvarttour.org for a map of the artists. A fluorescent pink sign directs visitors.