Let the games begin! Artists must gather and photograph examples of their work. They must apply, pay an entry fee, and if accepted, pay an even larger fee to participate. Yet everybody agrees that being part of the Open Studios Art Tour is an exciting, oft stressful, enjoyable, and invariably monetizing experience. As one of the many thousands who enjoy this annual pilgrimage to the very heart of art and craft-making in Santa Cruz County, I admit that the chance to step inside the studios and workshops of the many talented participants is at least half the charm.
When Open Studios began three decades ago, it was such a fresh kick to peek inside an artist’s workspace. We got to watch potters at their wheels and jewelry-makers linking together silver and gold pieces. There was the renowned Kitty Wallis sitting at an enormous easel drawing her oversized, brilliantly-hued floral pieces. Watching the hands of a watercolorist like Marie Gabrielle is as mesmerizing as a shamanic ritual. From nothing, suddenly something beautiful appears.
And that has been the point of artmaking since the mythic cave folk drew ochre and charcoal bison. But in those early Open Studio years, those of us curious about the artistic process had to pay to play. Access to those artists and the locations of their studios required a purchased guidebook. But no more. Now we can all go visit—take the tour of studios—simply by getting off our couches and hitting the Open Studios trail.
Here’s how it works: Pick up the Open Studios Art Tour 2017 guide or get the 2017 Open Studios App, free on iTunes, and scope out the participating artists. For three weekends in October, studios will be open to the public from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.: Oct 7-8 North County; Oct 12-15 South County; and Oct 21-22 countywide.
Not much is as inspiring as seeing an artist’s studio, asking them about their process (artists love to talk about their work), seeing how they do what they do, and yes, having a chance to purchase something you like. It’s always tempting to visit the studios of people you know, who make work you already admire. Do it!
But Open Studios is also an invitation to check out the work of someone you don’t know, and to expand your own understanding of a new craft. Open Studios features the work of newcomers and of veteran exhibitors alike. Expect hands-on excitement from Peter Vizzusi, a perennial Open Studios favorite, as he demonstrates classic glass-blowing techniques in his labyrinthine studio. Painter/conceptual artist Hildy Bernstein has been on the circuit for at least 15 years, and admits that each tour motivates her to get new work ready for exhibit (expect some wild surprises from her this season!). Many veterans of the annual event, like printmaker Bridget Henry, painter James Aschbacher, and jewelry maker Ann Wasserman, say they find that the tour can yield robust sales as well as vibrant social interaction. And if you do it right, you can roam the entire length of the county collecting perfect bits of one-of-a-kind eye candy. Printmaker Kit Eastman’s studio in Watsonville can lead you to the La Selva Beach painting shops of Charles Prentiss and Marie Massey. A two-for-one experience awaits at the huge Soquel studio of glass artist Heather Matthews and her photographer husband Tim Matthews. The handmade tiles of Steve Baranowski and ceramic fancies of Beth Sherman reward tour visitors to Davenport. The photography by local legend r.r. jones, one-of-a-kind wearable fiber creations of Mary Hammond, and haunting wildlife etchings by Stephanie Martin can be seen in the heart of Santa Cruz. But you’ll find your favorites among the 302 artists showing their work. Open Studios is an interactive party involving you, the artists, and their work. Literally, something for everyone.