Geneva Anderson digs into art

Proud Mary! Mary Fassbinder’s National Park Project has its reveal at Petaluma Arts Center— artist talk Thursday, January 31

Petaluma artist Mary Fassbinder at the opening of “National Parks Plein Air Project by Mary Fassbinder,” at Petaluma Arts Center.  She visited all 60 U.S. National Parks, painted a plein air landscape at each one and then built exquisite frames for each work.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

“It’s been the road trip of my life,” said Mary Fassbinder at Saturday’s opening of her “National Parks Plein Air Project” exhibit at the Petaluma Arts Center (PAC).   Fassbinder’s epic 72,000 mile, 3.5 year journey to every U.S. national park is captured in 60 vibrant plein air paintings, one for each park.

“Inspiration is the thread that runs through the entire project,” said Fassbinder at Saturday’s crowd-packed opening reception at PAC. “Set a goal and follow through.  Don’t let anything get in the way.  You have to own your goal, that’s what keeps that thread of inspiration alive.”

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN #29,” May 2016, oil, 10 x 13inches. Photo: Mary Fassbinder

The Petaluma artist is well-known for her light-infused expressionistic landscapes, which capture Sonoma County’s rustic beauty.  She’s also a renowned picture framer.  She created all the frames for the 60 paintings at PAC.  The paintings sales and frame commissions helped finance this large-scale project, which she broke into 12 separate excursions.  Just last summer, Fassbinder turned the framing business over to her daughter, Nicole Carpenter, so she could devote her full attention to painting and finishing the parks project.

“Lake Clark National Park, AK #48,” August 2017, oil on panel, 13 x 10 inches. Photo: Mary Fassbinder

“I’m happy to be home but happiest on the road and shockingly very comfortable with just myself,” said Fassbinder, who turned 59 at Yosemite, her 59th national park.  Actually, Fassbinder made the epic journeys with Charlie, her beloved used VW Westphalia, that she picked up in Ohio at the beginning of her journey.  Charlie appears in several photos on display at PAC.  “She had some rust but she took me up into Canada where she got strip searched at the border.  I miss her.  I had to sell her so I could get to Alaska, where I painted at each of those eight epic parks.”

Normally, Fassbinder created a single painting at each park.  Upon entering the park, she would ask the park ranger where the best spot was and “make a beeline” there.  Sometimes, she spent the night, and, on several occasions, she hit two parks in a single day, never varying her method.

“I am out there in nature, slopping that paint around, trying to get what I can get, when I can get it.”  Mary Fassbinder

“Yosemite National Park, CA #59,” May 2018, oil, 27 x 9 inches. Photo: Mary Fassbinder

In May, 2018, she lingered in Yosemite National Park,  #59, where she created five oil paintings.  Her portrait of Yosemite Falls, captures its majestic 2,425 foot vertical drop.  The 27-inch-long composition stands out for its long narrow shape; most of the other paintings in the park series tend to be more or less proportional rectangles. Painted from the trailhead, looking through towering pines at Yosemite Falls, Fassbinder captures a group of tourists, mere dabs of bright colors so expertly applied we sense them looking up and taking in the magical booming rush of water.  While she loves all the paintings in the parks series, this one is special— “It’s my heart and soul.”

At the time, Fassbinder thought Yosemite, the 59th park, was her last park.  With a surge of energy, she applied her wonderful sense of color and texture to her jeans jacket and hand-embroidered it with a Half Dome scene.  To her surprise, when she returned home to Petaluma, she learned that Gateway Arch, in St. Louis. MO, had become the 60th national park in February, 2018, necessitating yet another road trip.  “To me, that was St. Louis trying to get federal funding to get their city park re-built,” said Fassbinder.  Off she went in June 2018 to capture Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri.

Fassbinder hand-embroidered her jeans jacket with a Half Dome scene.  At the time, she thought Yosemite, #59, was her last park.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Later last fall, while visiting Yosemite, Fassbinder showed her National Parks project portfolio to the manager of the renowned Ansel Adams Gallery.  She was offered an exhibition.  Details/dates to follow.  “This is such a critical time for our national parks,” said Fassbinder.  “It takes an act of Congress to establish a national park; it takes the power of the people to protect and preserve.”

Upcoming Events:

Thursday, January 31, 7-9 pm:  An Evening with Mary Fassbinder and Davis Perkins, conversation in the gallery, Petaluma Arts Center (Click here to pre-register; $12 non-members, $10 members)


Also at Petaluma Arts Center:  Davis Perkins landscapes exhibit:  California landscape painter Davis Perkins is also at PAC with an exhibit featuring his landscape paintings from around the world.  Perkins has had an adventurous career as smokejumper, firefighter, and paramedic.  He spent several of his winters attending art school and received a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Oregon.  His paintings are in the permanent collections of the Alaskan State Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Air & Space Museum and one hangs in the Pentagon with the United States Air Force Art Collection. In 2015 he was selected as a Signature Member of the Oil Painters of America.

Details: “The National Parks Plein Air Project by Mary Fassbinder” and “Landscape Paintings by Davis Perkins” are at Petaluma Arts Center through March 23, 2019.  Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma in the train depot between East D and East Washington Streets.  Hours: Tues-Sat, 11 am to 5 pm.  Closed Sunday, Monday and holidays.  $5 General admission, $4 senior, student, teacher, military.  PAC Members free.

For detailed information about Mary Fassbinder’s National Parks Painting Project and a chronological list of parks painted, visit Fassbinder’s website:

Fassbinder’s gallery and painting studio is located at 900 B Western Avenue, Petaluma 94952.  (707) 765-1939  By appt. only.

January 30, 2019 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Degas in Petaluma—Robert Flynn Johnson’s impeccable collection of Degas drawings are at the Petaluma Arts Center, opening festivities Saturday evening

Degas’ portrait of Mlle Dembowska, black crayon on pink paper, 1858-1859, 17.5 x 11.5 inches, is one of the most important works in Robert Flynn Johnson’s collection of Degas drawings, on display at Petaluma Arts Center through July 26, 2105.  Flynn Johnson acquired this work in 1978.  Degas used black crayon, a medium he was not very familiar with (he normally used pencil) and the heavy shadowing emphasizing the young woman’s face and its positioning vis a vis the angle of the chair, upsets the strict conventions of portraiture.  The catalogue entry associated with this drawing cites 1858 correspondence from Auguste De Gas that suggests the young artist was bored with drawing portraits to satisfy familial obligations. Image: Robert Flynn Johnson, Petaluma Art Center

Degas’ portrait of Mlle Dembowska, black crayon on pink paper, 1858-1859, 17.5 x 11.5 inches, is one of the most important works in Robert Flynn Johnson’s collection of Degas drawings, on display at Petaluma Arts Center through July 26, 2105. Flynn Johnson acquired this work in 1978. Degas used black crayon, a medium he was not very familiar with (he normally used pencil). The heavy shadowing, emphasizing the young woman’s face, and the head’s positioning vis a vis the angle of the chair, upsets strict conventions of portraiture. The catalogue entry associated with this drawing cites 1858 correspondence from Auguste De Gas that suggests the young artist was bored with drawing portraits to satisfy familial obligations. Image: Robert Flynn Johnson, Petaluma Art Center

 “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle or shorthand…“Degas in Petaluma”…. is Petaluma Art Center’s (PAC) biggest coup to date.  Featuring 100+ works on paper, the exhibition includes 40 drawings, prints, pastels, and photographs by Degas from his early days of making studies of works at the Louvre to late in his career.  Also included in the show are works on paper by artists in his circle, including Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. One of the reasons I’m so excited about this exhibit is that gives me another chance to meet the collector, Robert Flynn Johnson, and hear him hold court on his favorite subject, his art and his thought processes about art and collecting.  I met him 20 years back when he was the curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He was one of their most interesting and knowledgeable curators then, always giving us the juiciest tidbits, enlivening the small victories and defeats in the artist’s daily struggle and reveling in the connections between artists. His own eclectic collecting habits were revealed to us with his marvelous photography show, “Anonymous: 19th and 20th Century Photographs and Quilts by Unknown Artists from the Collection of Robert Flynn Johnson,” at PAC in August 2011. (Click here to read ARThound’s review of that show.)  And late last year, Joe McDonald’s Ice House Gallery featured some of Flynn Johnson’s even more eclectic works in “Catch and Release: Works from the Robert Flynn Johnson Collection.”  It was there that we all had a chance to preview the chic and wonderfully informative catalog for Flynn Johnson’s Degas collection that Joe had shot the images for.  Flynn Johnson’s writing in this catalog represents decades of scholarly research and rumination and reveals Degas as a fascinating young man, oddly rebellious and immensely talented.  As Flynn Johnson explores the fine details and artistic choices in these artworks, they come to life.  He wrote the wonderful wall captions for the show too, so prepare to be wowed on all fronts.

You won’t want to miss the opening party or his two talks at PAC—

Edgar Degas'

Edgar Degas’ “Study for Plough Horse,” ca. 1860-61, graphite drawing, is part of the Petaluma Art Center’s summer show, “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle.” Forty drawings, prints, pastels, and photographs by Degas and over 100 works on paper from the private collection of Robert Flynn Johnson, through July 26, 2015. Photo: courtesy Robert Flynn Johnson

Saturday, June 20—Opening Reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres (5-8PM) (click here to buy $10 tickets if you are not a member of PAC; free to members)

Thursday, July 2, 2015—Chasing Degas:  My Four Decades Collecting this Artist and his Circle – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM).  $15 General, $10 PAC members.

Thursday, July 16, 2015—Public/ Private: Collecting for the Community while Collecting Personally, a Balancing Act  – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM).  $15 General, $10 PAC members.

Details:  “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle runs through July 26, 2015.  The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma’s historic former train depot.  Hours 11-5 PM Thursday through Monday, open until 8PM Saturdays.  Admission for this special exhibit: $10 General.  PAC members, FREE.  Tickets may be purchased in advance, here.

Collector Robert Flynn Johnson. San Francisco artist Josephine Coniglio’s portrait “Robert Flynn Johnson, the Picture Inspector,” oil on panel, 24 x 20 inches.  Photo: © Josephine Coniglio

Collector Robert Flynn Johnson. San Francisco artist Josephine Coniglio’s portrait “Robert Flynn Johnson, the Picture Inspector,” oil on panel, 24 x 20 inches. Photo: © Josephine Coniglio

June 20, 2015 Posted by | Art, Petaluma Arts Council | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Saturday—For ART’S SAKE a benefit for Petaluma Arts Center at rustic Beaumont Farms


Live music of Sonoma Driftwood, dancing, art and artists at work, petanque, pickle ball, horseshoes, line dancing lessons and a superb silent auction are among the fun activities planned at upcoming event, FOR ART’S SAKE, a benefit for Petaluma Arts Center, Saturday, June 28th, 2014 from 12 to 4.

The rustic Beaumont Farms (5580 Red Hill Road, Petaluma) will open its gates for an exclusive afternoon of art,music and games, or, if you prefer, to sit back and relax in a chair by the pond, watch the clouds float over olive trees and Petaluma hills beyond and listen to ranch residents – horses, donkeys, chickens and alpaca. Sumptuous barbeque, wine and other beverages will be available for purchase. Lunch served by Rasta Dwight’s Barbeque.

Silent auction items include A Week at the Arts Community of Bisbee, AZ; Riding Lessons; Reserve Tasting Room VIP Barrel Tasting and Light Bites for 10-14 at Roche Winery; Dinner and Jazz at the Bailey’s; A Sunset Segway Tour of Schollenberger Park; A Weekend in Tahoe; A Week at the Arts Community of Bisbee, AZ; Riding Lessons; Classes at PAC; 4 Rounds of Golf at Sonoma and Napa’s best courses; and so much more.

FOR ART’S SAKE sponsors and supporters include, Denis & Bridget Twomey of Beaumont Farms, McNear’s Restaurant & the Mystic Theatre, Kari Ontko Design, Teresa Barrett, Janet & Dan McBeen, Crown Trophy, Out West Garage and Riley Street Art Supply.

Tickets, $30 per person, are available from Petaluma Arts Center (online purchase) or at the Center, 230 Lakeville St., call 707-762-5600. Guests are asked to leave their dogs at home and to be respectful of the benefit and not bring food and drinks to the premises.


June 24, 2014 Posted by | Art | , , | Leave a comment

Get your warp on! Draping expert and pattern designer Sandy Ericson and 4 weaving artists give live demos in the galleries today (February 16) at the Petaluma Arts Center

Sandra Ericson, founder of the Center for Pattern Design, and artist Candace Crockett at the Petaluma Arts Center.  Ericson wears a bias-cut coat she designed using the draping techniques of 1930’s pattern designer Madeleine Vionnet.  Crockett wears a jacket designed by Ericson in discharged silk velvet.  Behind them is a bias-cut swing coat designed by Ericson created from Crockett’s hand-loomed wool.   Photo: Geneva Anderson

Sandra Ericson, founder of the Center for Pattern Design, and artist Candace Crockett at the Petaluma Arts Center. Ericson wears a bias-cut coat she designed using the draping techniques of 1930’s pattern designer Madeleine Vionnet. Crockett wears a jacket designed by Ericson in discharged silk velvet. Behind them is a bias-cut swing coat designed by Ericson created from Crockett’s hand-loomed wool. Photo: Geneva Anderson

If you haven’t stopped by the Petaluma Arts Center yet to see their exciting new exhibit, 4 Weavers: Contemporary Expressions of an Ancient Craft, Saturday afternoon (Feb. 16, 2013), from 2 to 4 p.m., is a good time to visit.  Internationally recognized Bay Area fiber Artists/weavers Barbara Shapiro, Suki Russack, Ulla de Larios and Candace Crockett, whose work is featured in the exhibit, will be giving live weaving demonstrations on looms in the galleries.  Sandra Erickson, founder of St. Helena’s the Center for Pattern Design (CPFD), who designed several pieces of clothing in the exhibit, will be demonstrating some fascinating draping principles.  What’s made very clear in this captivating show, expertly curated by Kathleen Hanna, is that weaving, considered a craft by some, is a practice with sophisticated principles of form and color that are every bit as evolved as those employed in painting and sculpting.  The exhibition, which runs through March 10, 2013,  features over 40 multi-dimensional woven artworks, ranging from sculptural textiles to woven baskets to clothing and costumes.

“From pre-history to the industrial revolution, all textiles have been handwoven,” said Hanna. “Today, the hand loom is a tool for creating fabulous three dimensional sculptures as well as elegant textiles for clothing design.  This project presented the opportunity to show extraordinary contemporary work and the chance to dispel some of the common myths about hand weaving that probably began in the early 20th century.   Beyond the fine and intricate weaving you’ll see here, these artists are  not afraid to cut into, sew, and manipulate what they’ve woven and that gives them tremendous creative freedom.”

The four featured artists, all currently living and working in the Bay Area, have been part of the same weaving community for the past 30 years.  All of them have either studied or worked with Candace Crockett, legendary for her creative and inspirational studio courses at San Francisco State University’s Art Department, where she has taught since 1974.  An important theme in Crockett’s work is the innovative use of historical and ethnic techniques and imagery.  She has been studying Kuba patterns for decades and revisioning them into patterns that have deep associations for her.  The Kuba are part of the African country that has been called Zaire, the Congo, and the Republic of Congo and their patterned images, which have a spontaneous and improvisational quality, incorporate simple geometrical shapes in a variety of repeats.  Their textiles are embroidered with raffia on a woven raffia ground.  Crockett works extensively with dyeing, repetition, and dimensional surfaces that absorb and reflect light.  “I build my patterns by manipulating the fabric, cutting up images, and by layering the repeats through printed and painted dye, and by adding and subtracting color.  The complexity that comes from color, weave structure, and pattern changing from band to band, builds a whole that reminds me of light playing on a landscape at different times of the day.” (from the artist’s statement) 

Barbara Shapiro, “Siver Moon,” hand-woven tussah silk, Indigo dyed ikat shibori,  discharge and pigment, 2005.

Barbara Shapiro, “Siver Moon,” hand-woven tussah silk, Indigo dyed ikat shibori, discharge and pigment, 2005.

While Crockett has influenced each of the artists in the show, over the years, each has pursued her own unique path of artistic development, from Barbara Shapiro’s passionate exploration of indigo and its place in her meditative weavings to Ulla de Larios’ three-dimensional textile sculptures to Suki Russack’s voluptuous warp ikat women and her flowing dance costumes.  And while each of these women might be associated with a certain technique or series of work, the exibition shows that  they’ve built their reputations through bold experimentation and by welcoming the cross-polinization of other art forms.  Of course, because weaving is so time intensive and requires a significant investment of effort up front, it requires a special persistence and a certain kind of zen attitude.  Barbara Shapiro likens this to “being OK with failing and then seeing that you haven’t failed but moved in a new direction.”

“I like to tell people what any particular work of mine takes whatever time I’ve put into it, plus 30 years of experience,” say Shapiro.  “and that’s hard won experience.”        

One of the works that struck me strongly was  Shapiro’s “Silver moon,” a small and quiet woven silk tussah landscape whose fibers seemed to hold a trove of memories.  At no more than 15 x 15 inches, it is so masterfully woven that its delicate indigo sprigs seem in protective harmony with the silvery sphere.  It feels timeless, Asian and alive.  Shapiro, a weaver, dyer, and basket maker who works with and teaches indigo dyeing, has done a number of these moonscapes, each seemingly etched in history and each a subtle exploration of indigo.   She is teaching “Greener Indigo,” an all day seminar on February 23, which will explore non-toxic indigo dyeing procedures and resist techniques.  Resist dyeing involves clamping fabric/fiber/paper or using some method that will inhibit it from taking dye and then submerging it a dye vat.    This is just one of several informative seminars associated with this thoughtful exhibition. 

In the video below, Shapiro chats at the exhibition’s opening about the various techniques she employed to create “Silver Moon”  which has a particularly intriguing texture and color.


Last weekend, I had the pleasure of sitting in on Sandy Ericson’s sold-out three-hour class, “Draping the Vionnet Bias Cut Skirt,” in which she demonstrated the basic principles of draping a la 1930’s pattern designer Madeleine Vionnet.  Sandra taught fashion design, pattern design, and textile courses at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) for 31 years.  In 2006, she established the Center for Pattern Design (CFPD) in her hometown of St. Helena, as a way to focus on the actual art of cutting and draping cloth.  At CFPD, Ericson teaches advanced courses in cutting, draping, pattern design and construction and takes these courses on the road.  She is the turn-to resource for a lot of fashion insiders and museum curators and is a respected authority on French designer Madeleine Vionnet who pioneered draping on the bias, the bias cut and ruled haute couture in the 1930’s.  Vionnet designed sensual gowns for Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, and Greta Garbo that did marvelous things for their bodies.  I’ll be posting more about Sandy and her innovative teaching methods later but here is a clip of Sandy explaining what draping is, why it’s so important in clothing design and why draping is sculpting.   If you drop by the Petaluma Arts Center today, don’t miss her refreshingly straight-forward and time-saving approach to designing clothing that really fits.     

Details: “Four Weavers – Pathways in Contemporary Fiber Art,” runs through March 10, 2013.  The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma.  Free parking is available at the center.  Hours:  Thursday-Monday noon to 4 p.m.

February 16, 2013 Posted by | Art, Petaluma Arts Council | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Four Weavers – Pathways in Contemporary Fiber Art,” opens tomorrow at the Petaluma Arts Center—dancers wearing dyed and woven costumes will dance through the galleries from 2-4 p.m.

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4 Weavers: Contemporary Expressions of an Ancient Craft, a new exhibit of sculptural textiles, clothing and costumes will open tomorrow at the Petaluma Arts Center, 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma.  Curated by Kathleen Hanna, the exhibit will showcase the work of contemporary Bay Area artists: Candace Crockett, Ulla de Larios, Suki Russack and Barbara Shapiro, with the participation of Sandra Erickson, founder of St. Helena’s the Center for Pattern Design.  The show runs through March 10, 2013 but PAC’s opening reception, tomorrow, from 2 to 4 p.m., is not to be missed.  You can meet all the artists and talk textiles and construction.  Dancers will be moving through the galleries all afternoon, wearing dyed, printed and woven costumes and contemporary clothing created by the artists.  Stay tuned to ARThound for more coverage.

January 11, 2013 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anonymous but unforgettable: the collections of Robert Flynn Johnson, opening at Petaluma Arts Center Saturday, talk Sunday

When the facts are unknown, the imagination takes over. Robert Flynn Johnson's superb collection of anonymous 19th and 20th century photography is on display at the Petauma Arts Center through September 18, 2011. image courtesy Petaluma Arts Center

If you love compelling photography, drop by the Petaluma Arts Center this weekend for its latest fête – an exquisite and intriguing selection of photographs from unknown photographers from the private collection of Robert Flynn Johnson.  Johnson, recently retired as curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, is a consummate collector of many things and, along with these photographs, 12 of his 19th century quilts are on display.  The exhibition is aptly named “Anonymous: 19th and 20th Century Photographs and Quilts by Unknown Artists from the Collection of Robert Flynn Johnson.”   Flynn bought most of these exquisite photos years ago and for a song, before they became collectible.  He frequented estate sales and flea markets all over the world and acquired some through serendipitous channels in his day job as a curator for the Achenbach Foundation. Several of the photographs will pull their weight along side the photos of the great masters and the collection, in its entirety, has a solid place in the history of photography. 

Robert Flynn Johnson will speak about his collection of anonymous photography and quilts at the Petaluma Arts Center Sunday, August 14, 2011. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The images assembled at the Petaluma Arts Center make the cut for their formal and aesthetic qualities as well as visually exciting bizarreness, and social interest.  The take-away depends entirely upon your taste, but there is something for everyone.  Along with stunning Victorian portraits, whose soft lighting evokes the romanticism of Julia Margaret Cameron, there is a diptych of a bullfight in a stadium somewhere in Spain and the audience is a dizzying sea of Nazi soldiers enmeshed in the spectacle of a slow blood fight.   And if you’re intrigued by bravado bordering on foolhardiness, Johnson’s grouping of photographs of gravity-defying balancing acts from NY rooftops will leave you utterly queasy.

Several of the photographs convey a special emotional or spiritual aura and others are special because their compositions are interrupted by some unforeseen but gripping action, such as a cat racing through just as the photo was snapped, leaving a streak across the foreground. And, if you love dogs, be prepared to be charmed by some stunning old portraits, in particular a Victorian-era portrait evoking pure love between a woman and her dog, both seated on her velvet couch.  All of the works on display are portals to the lyrical, humorous, sad and transcendent aspects of our humanity.  Oddly, not knowing who took these photos or why, doesn’t strip them of any of their poignancy, it seems to enhance our access to deeply-held, even repressed, sentiments.  

The hand-made quilts too are fabulous and the few on display, excellent examples of abstraction, speak to Johnson’s fine collecting eye.  Often velvety with wear and pieced together from family clothing and cherished fabrics, they play well with overall theme of memory-gathering coming through in the photos.

A portrait from the collection of Robert Flynn Johnson on display at the Petaluma Arts Center through September 18, 2011.

Johnson is an informative and engaging speaker.  On Sunday he will be in conversation with prominent vernacular photography collector Robert E. Jackson, who is coming from Seattle for the talk, and San Francisco gallerist and collector, Robert Tat, owner of Robert Tat Gallery.   In 2007, Robert E. Jackson’s collection of anonymous snapshots was the subject of an important exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888–1978: From the Collection of Robert E. Jackson, the first major exhibition, accompanied by a scholarly catalogue, to examine the evolution of snapshot imagery in America.  That show began with the invention of the Kodak camera in 1888 and extended through the 1970s, tracing a rich vocabulary of shared subjects, approaches, and styles.

ARThound will soon be publishing a full interview with Robert Flynn Johnson but is waiting for permissions to reprint the accompanying photos. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011,  4-7 p.m. opening reception to coincide with Petaluma Downtown Art Walk

Sunday, August 14, 2011, 2-4 p.m., Panel Discussion—Robert Flynn Johnson in conversation with vernacular photography collector Robert E. Jackson and gallery owner and collector Robert Tat.

Details:  The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma, CA  94952. (707) 762-5600.  “Anonymous” ends September 18, 2011.

August 11, 2011 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Use Me” CCA’s furniture design student show opens this Friday with some very sleek works

Every May, the very talented graduating students in the Furniture Program at California College of the Arts , San Francisco, have an exhibition showcasing their talent as they head out to find their way in the world.  Those of us who were lucky enough to attend “Family Tree” at the Petaluma Arts Center in March got a preview of the considerable talent coming out of CCA and its excellent furniture design program.  Works by five graduating students from the program will be on view at Mina Dresden Gallery in San Francisco from May 6 through May 20, 2011.  The featured artists are Janette Banner, Carly Borman, Michele Marti, Lukas Nickerson, and Andrew Perkins.  You may recall Michele Marti’s “Victorian Spread” and “Curious Sofa,” both eclectic re-workings of Victorian pieces, and Andrew Perkins “Alumination,” an elegant round maple table inlaid with striations of aluminum that were on view in Petaluma.  Now, you will have a chance to see even more of their cutting-edge works in a variety of styles, materials and intents.  The show is curated by Donald Fortescu, former chair of CCA’s Furniture Program, who along with  Russell Baldon, Barbara Holmes, and Ashley Eriksmoen  also had works in the “Family Tree” exhibition.  The opening reception is this Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Mina Dresden Gallery in San Francisco and the public is warmly invited.   Almost all of the works are for sale.

Michele Marti's "Curious Sofa" is a gorgeous spoof on Victorian morays as well as furniture design. Two people sitting on this plushly upholstered seat are forced to touch knees, a very un-Victorian thing to do. Photo: courtesy Michele Marti

About CCA’s Furniture Program: CCA’s Furniture Program focuses on the fertile intersection of the disciplines of furniture design, industrial design, sculpture, architecture, and fashion. The program emphasizes making skills (woodworking, metalworking, upholstery, and industrial fabrication), hand and computer-based drawing, and a theoretical investigation of furniture as both object and cultural agent.  Courses are taught in furniture design at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and the curriculum is interdisciplinary.

Students develop a conceptually sophisticated and professional body of work suitable for small-scale production runs or gallery exhibition. Students execute projects both individually and in small groups, often with Architecture, Industrial Design, and Interior Design students, which prepares them to collaborate with designers, manufacturers, and contractors in their professional lives.

In "Alumination," on view at the Petaluma Arts Center in March 2011, CCA student Andrew Perkins painstakingly layered aluminum and maple and then cut and sanded to achieve exquisite patterning in his table. Perkins will participate in CCA's "Use Me" exhibition at the Mina Dresden Gallery opening on May 6, 2011. Photo: Geneva Anderson

ARThound’s coverage of CCA student and faculty artists:

 Please sit…CCA star student Michele Marti talks about rejuvinating Victorian chairs by spreading their legs and getting very naughty… “Family Tree” at Petaluma Arts Center through March 13, 2011

“Family Tree” Petaluma Art Center’s Exceptional Fine Woodworking Show through March 13, 2011

 Details:  “Use Me” is at Mina Dresden Gallery | 312 Valencia Street | San Francisco.

Opening reception: Friday, May 6, 2011, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Closing reception: May 20, 2011, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Gallery hours: Thurs., Fri., & Sat.: 1–7 p.m. (and by appointment (415) 863-8312).  Free.   For more information: Donald Fortescue,

May 3, 2011 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photographer Evvy Eisen’s “Oyster Farm” puts a human face on a front page controversy: Eisen in conversation with historian Dewey Livingston and Kevin and Nancy Lunny of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, Petaluma Arts Center, Sunday

"The Oysterman," is just one of Marin documentary photgrapher Evvy Eisen's 60 silver gelatin prints in "Oyster Farm" at the Petaluma Arts Center through May 15, 2011. Photo by Evvy Eisen.

Acclaimed Point Reyes photographer Evvy Eisen is presenting her latest photographic essay – “Oyster Farm” through May 15 at Petaluma Arts Center.  Eisen, who specializes in environmental portraits, has taken a series of 60 silver gelatin prints focusing the workers at the historic Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which is located on Drakes Estero in the Point Reyes National Seashore in western Marin County.  Eisen will be in conversation this Sunday, April 10, 2011, at 2-4 p.m., with Marin historian Dewey Livingston on the development of agriculture and mariculture in the Point Reyes area and with Kevin and Nancy Lunny, proprietors of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.  The Lunnys will also give a slide presentation entitled “Mariculture 101: How to Grow an Oyster.”  

Currently the center of an intense land use controversy, the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm has been thrust into national news and Eisen’s photographs, which are non-political, have thrown her indirectly into the controversy.  Speaking from her Point Reyes home in late March, Eisen said “Normally I do not take positions. I let my art speak for itself.  In this case, the publicity against the farm has been so biased, that I feel the need to help set the record straight.  I hope my photographs will inspire people to inform themselves about the situation and question what they are hearing.”  

Public confidence in the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm was undermined when claims were made that operation hurt seal populations and environment in the pristine waters of Point Reyes National Seashore.  An investigation by the Interior Department’s Solicitor’s Office has now been proven that National Park Service scientists made grevious errors while assessing the environmental impact of the disputed oyster farm, specifically that they mishandled photographic images showing the activities of, birds, and harbor seals at the upper Drakes Estero.  The photographs referred to are the some 250,000 digital surveliance images taken by hiden cameras installed by the National Park Services of the oyster company.   At issue is whether the 71-year-old oyster farm — the only such facility in the Point Reyes National Seashore — can extend its lease, which runs out next year. The farm, which produces 40 percent of the state’s commercial oysters, is located in a small bay nestled into the green coastal hills of the park, about 50 miles north of San Francisco.  The company has been embroiled in a dispute for years with park officials who want to convert the estuary to official wilderness.  Later this year the park service is expected to release its draft environmental impact statement, which will help determine if the farm can stay.  The Lunnys have mounted a very vocal opposition against the California Coastal Commission and environmentalists who have sought to run them out of business.

Eisen spent a year documenting the workers and the farm environment putting a human face on the issue.  She photographs in a classic portrait tradition – using a tripod mounted, medium format camera loaded with black and white film – and creates individual silver gelatin prints in the darkroom.  The exhibit is divided into three sections: portraits, photographs of the working farm and abstractions and still life compositions.  Eisen is also well-known for her Multiply by Six Million, a 15-year project photographing Holocaust survivors in California and France.  The catalyst for this immersive project was a 1992 assignment she got to photograph four Holocaust survivors in conjunction with her son David’s eighth-grade Holocaust project.   The exhibit is available online through the California Exhibition Resources Alliance with portraits from the collection and a clip from a short documentary film she created, which has been shown on the Sundance Channel.

Dewey Livingston is the curator of the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History at Inverness.  He has been researching and writing about Point Reyes for more than twenty-five years.  He has written five books on West Marin history and assisted Eisen with her OYSTER FARM project.  Livingston’s books will be available for sale and he will be signed them at Sunday’s presentation at the Petaluma Arts Center.

Details:  The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma, CA  94952. (707) 789-0537.  OYSTER FARM ends May 15, 2011.

April 9, 2011 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Please sit…CCA star student Michele Marti talks about rejuvinating Victorian chairs by spreading their legs and getting very naughty… “Family Tree” at Petaluma Arts Center through March 13, 2011

Michele Marti's "Curious Sofa" is a gorgeous spoof on Victorian morays as well as furniture design. Two people sitting on this plushly upholstered seat are forced to touch knees, a very un-Victorian thing to do. Photo: courtesy Michele Marti

I was so impressed with the great design in the student component of Family Tree, the woodworking show at the Petaluma Art Center, that I followed-up with Michele Marti whose rebuilt Victorian chairs stand out with their distinctive shapes, sumptuous fabric and sensual vibe.  It is rumored that the prudish Victorians were so uptight that they didn’t even use the word “leg” because it was too risqué, so Marti’s interest in giving these staid chairs a new life and a rebellious new voice was all the more intriguing.   Marti, 25, is from South Florida and is in her final year in the Furniture Program at California College of the Arts (CCA).  Two of her pieces are in the community gallery of the Petaluma Art Center through Sunday, March 13, 2011.

 What inspired you to revisit the Victorian era with these innovative repurposing projects you undertake?

 Michele Marti: I have always loved Victorian as well as Rococo style furniture but haven’t had the opportunity to work with the style until my senior year here at CCA.  My CCA thesis explores sensuality and sexuality in and around furniture.  Since Victorian and Rococo furniture are inherently stylized with masculinity and femininity, they are what inspired me most, and I wanted to really dive into the world of regeneration.  Since I have begun, I have become so attached to the pieces of furniture that I am rejuvenating that every scratch, dent, and drilled hole tells me a story of what these pieces have endured throughout their lives.  Because of this, the chairs become more and more like people and therefore I feel like I have to give them the opportunity to experience a new life of sensuality and sexuality.  Furniture is a cradle for the body and this interaction between the body and furniture is central to my interest and intentions when sculpting ideations for a new work.

The Victorian furniture pieces Michele Marti works with have seen a lot history---she rebuilds them and then painstakingly re-upholsters them and now these chairs sing a different tune. The Curious Sofa is on display at the Petaluma Arts Center through March, 13, 2011. Photo: Michele Marti.

 Tell us more about the two pieces that are in Family Tree at the Petaluma Arts Center.

Michele Marti: All of the pieces that I have made and am making have to do with my personal life in one way or another.  I have been out of a relationship for almost 3 years and, due to that, these works have been realized.  “Victorian Spread” was the first of the series.  By cutting the table and chair straight down the middle, I have exposed the femininity of each and consciously exposed it to the world.  This very well could be psychoanalyzed and be viewed as a way of exposing myself, my sexual frustrations, my vagina and all, to the world.

“The Curious Sofa” is quite a curious sofa.   As the reconstruction of the chairs went along and with some hilarious “how do you… ?” testing, it was soon discovered that this was a serious chair meant for one thing, some serious flirting.   In the end “The Curious Sofa” was tufted with its original greenish gold buttons and reupholstered in a charcoal grey velvet fabric in order to remain gender neutral and sensuous to the touch.  There is this really incredible thing that happens between two people when sitting in this curious sofa and that is the touching that can barely be avoided between their knees.  It’s a kind of uncomfortable,yet unexpected sensuous flirting that occurs and provokes your insides to want more. 

What do enjoy about upholstery and what goes into your decision to select a specific look or fabric? 
Michele Marti:  “The Curious Sofa” was my first major upholstery project and I have fallen in love with the process.  I taught myself how to upholster, with tips here and there from Ashley Eriksmoen (also in Family Tree and a CCC instructor).  I begin by taking very detailed photographs as I deconstruct the pieces before they are rejuvenated and use these for reference when I come up with my new design.  It is a very labor intensive process that I had overlooked for years until I started upholstering myself.  There were times in September of last year where I couldn’t even grab the knob of a door because my hands hurt so much.  Though it is painful in the beginning, it is so satisfying to be able to be with a piece from beginning to end and see it though all of the steps and processes.   

Michele Marti's Victorian Spread has a very naughty idea behind it--she cut a Victorian chair and table right down the middle, exposing the feminity of each, and consciously revealed it to the world. Photo: Geneva Anderson

What are you working on right now? 

Michele Marti: Currently, I am working on a similar piece to “The Curious Sofa” except this one is more gender based.  Man, woman sitting side by side with the arm of the masculine chair around the back of the feminine chair.  It will also be an upholstered piece and can be seen May 7th at our CCA exhibition at the Mina Dresden Gallery San Francisco.  I think it is going to be called “Lovers.”  The feminine chair is turned inward towards the masculine chair which then forces the female sitter to put her leg(s) on the lap or over the knee of the male sitter.  

(read more about Michele Marti and Family Tree in ARThound March 4, 2011

Details: The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, at East Washington Street, in central Petaluma,  94952.  Gallery hours: Thursday- Monday, noon to 4 pm.  Phone: (707) 762-5600 or

March 13, 1-4pm, Closing Party & Film Preview:  Come view the new documentary film, Woodsmith/The Life and Times of Arthur Espenet Carpenter and celebrate the closing of Family Tree, the wonderful exhibition of Northern Californian fine wood craft.

March 10, 2011 Posted by | Petaluma Arts Council | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Family Tree” Petaluma Art Center’s Exceptional Fine Woodworking Show through March 13, 2011

Barbara Holmes' site specific installation from re-purposed building lath is the focal point of "Family Tree," the fine woodworking exhibition at the Petaluma Arts Center through March 13, 2011. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In the past two years, the Petaluma Arts Center has delivered several well-curated and immensely popular shows.  “Family Tree,” the center’s latest exhibition which runs through March 13, may be its best yet.  The show explores the lineage of fine woodworking in California from 1945 onward and is one of its most ambitious shows to date, bringing a number of woodworking masterpieces into the small center along with a bevy of artist demonstrations and talks.  If your conception of woodworking runs to bowls, tables and chairs, the show offers plenty of fine examples of these but it will also update you with some of wood’s latest trends. It also makes a compelling case for elevating fine woodworking into museums as a vibrant form of conceptual craft.

“Family Tree” is curated by Kathleen Hanna and presents the works of 25 artists, ranging from pioneers and mid-career artists to new entrants whose work has been influential in the CA contemporary fine woodworking movement.   Along side of this show, in the center’s community gallery, stands the innovative work of several students from the Furniture Program at California College of the Arts  who are rising stars in fine woodworking. 

Kathleen Hanna curator of "Family Tree" at the Petaluma Arts Center through March 13, 2011. Hanna is an independent curator who has worked with several of San Francisco's leading craft museums. Photo: Geneva Anderson

“Since WWII, the focus of the art world has shifted radically from the New York to the West Coast in the area of fine craft and I wanted to point to the history of what has happened here since WWII,” explained Kathleen Hanna, an independent curator specializing in 20th century furniture and decorative objects who has worked for San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and Design and Museum of Craft and Folk Art .  Hanna, a Petaluma resident since 1983, also has a personal connection to fine woodworking through her father, Arthur W. Hanna, a San Francisco boat builder who took up woodworking and furniture design after he came home from WWII.   “This is a very small space, so I wanted to work just with wood and trace the lineage back to a very small group of pioneers in wood and fine craft and show how subsequent makers have expanded the dialogue by painting, manipulating and emphasizing wood’s sculptural aspects as well as show some woodworking tools that are being locally made.”

Early Masters:   Material Worship

Much in line with modernist principals of clean lines, truth to materials and simplicity, early woodworkers revered the wood itself for its own inherent beauty and didn’t paint it or cover up its beautiful grain.  Art Espenet Carpenter’s (1920-2006) “Double Music Stand” is just one of the masterpieces on display from pioneering California wood artists. 

Art Espenet Carpenter's iconic "Double Music Stand," in rosewood, is one the masterpieces of wood art on display in "Family Tree."

Legendary for his sleek and distinctive furniture, Carpenter, who had just returned from military service was so inspired by a Good Design exhibition in 1946 at MOMA in New York that he bought a lathe and took up woodworking.  He then moved to California, where later he exuberantly embraced furniture design.   He taught at San Francisco State and became so popular that over 130 woodworkers apprenticed under him in his Bolinas studio. 

His double music stand, fashioned from rosewood, is finely inlaid with metal and exhibits elegant refined curves that show influence of Alexander Calder, Charles and Ray Eames, and Robert Maillart , a Swiss engineer and bridge builder whose startling and original spans influenced 20th century artists of all kinds.  The form of this music stand so appealed to Carpenter that he worked with it throughout his life, modifying it and creating many examples.  

Carpenter was also a founding member of the influential Baulines Craft Guild, formed in the early 1970’s, which brought skilled artisans together to further their techniques and artistic dialogue.  This led to the formation of Dovetail Gallery on Fillmore Street in San Francisco providing a market for their works.

J.B.Blunk’s “Chair” 1978, 36” x 40” x 40,” was carved from a massive block of redwood with a chainsaw. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Blunk was well-known for his redwood furniture and wood installations which were unprecedented in their size and degree of abstraction. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Sculptor J.B. Blunk (1926-2002) , whose proud and massive carved redwood chair(1978) is also on display, had a strong influence on wood artists in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Using a chainsaw, Blunk created such iconic works as “The Planet” (1969) which graces the entrance of Oakland Museum of California’s Natural Science Gallery (closed for construction until 2012) and is made entirely of one ring of redwood burl thirteen feet in diameter. 

Like many early woodworkers, Blunk took up woodworking after military service.  After serving in the army in Korea, Blunk was discharged to Japan where he met sculptor Isamu Noguchi and delved into Japan’s rich ceramic tradition, apprenticing with legendary potters Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883–1959) and Bizen style master Toyo Keneshige (1896–1967).  After returning to the U.S., Blunk built his own home and studio near in Inverness and remained true to an aesthetic process that sought to release the inherent beauty in the material he worked with.  His legacy continues posthumously with a residency program through his Inverness studio.

Several extraordinary wooden bowls by revered wood artist Bob Stocksdale (1914-2003), a long-time East Bay resident, attest to his influence on many important contemporary wood artists.  Mesmerizing in their elegant simplicity, they encapsulate the bowl’s transition from a previously crude farm-style implement to a beautiful and functional

Bob Stocksdale’s lathe-turned vessels fashioned from exotic timbers, like this 1979 bowl from Ebony, exquisitely showcase each piece of wood’s unique grain and beauty..

aesthetic object.  Stocksdale’s small thin lathe-turned macadamia nut bowl, barely 3  inches in diameter, is a perfect harmony of graceful form and material, as is his larger Magnolia tree bowl.  These bowls were once available in limited supply at Gump’s and reasonably affordable as beautiful utilitarian objects.  Now, they are highly collectible and fetch thousands. 

Stocksdale’s love for exotic timbers, his care in selecting just the right piece of wood, and his gifted use of simple tools to explore the inherent beauty of wood grain were trademarks that gained him celebrity status.   Like most artists, he did not arrive at this spontaneously.  He was influenced heavily by James Prestini (1908-1993), an engineer turned artist who started to lathe turn wooden bowls in the 1930’s as art objects—bowls so thin they appeared to have qualities similar to glass or ceramics.  Prestini’s new way of looking at woodturning, with his emphasis on the design and shape of the object, influenced an entire generation, especially young Stocksdale, who first encountered him in Berkeley. 

Berkeley artist Merryll Saylan was one of the early female entrants to wood art and is noted for her polychrome finishes. “Tower, Keep and Besamim Büchse” (2005) are three turned towers she created referencing her husband’s experience on life support.

Second Generation:  Women, Color, Form, Experimentation

Looking back at the sexual politics of the mid-century and the immediate post WWII environment, where woodworking and handicrafts were forms of rehabilitation, and the explosion of power tools that became readily available and affordable, it’s easy to see why woodworking was initially a man’s activity. Berkeley artist Merryll Saylan, was one of the early women in the field, emerging as a leader in the use of color and texture in her lathe turned work.  She is part of the second generation of California artists who really went beyond worshipping wood for its inherent qualities and began to experiment with color, finishes and sculptural embellishment.  This generation of artists introduced a new round of individual expression to woodworking and began to elevate wood to the realm of conceptual craft. 

“Tower, Keep, and Besamim and Büchse”(2005)  are three turned wooden towers forming a powerful installation that incorporates the actual nitroglycerin bottles used by Saylan’s husband when he was on life support.  Aside from its highly personal nature, Besamim and Büchse (Jewish spice box) are a conceptual reinterpretation of Jewish ritual.  The towers have an opaque hard finish that Saylan has created with polychrome “milk paint” which she makes by adding colorants to caseine (processed from the curd of soured milk).  Milk paint is water soluble when wet but it becomes virtually intractable when dry and forms a very stable and attractive protective finish—an apt metaphor for what it must have taken to gain recognition in a predominantly male field.

Griff Oakie, from Santa Rosa, began working with wood in the early 1970’s and initially rebelled against color and the trend for painting wood that emerged in the 1980’s.  In “The Hand of the Maker,” for fun, Oakie put a very expensive bright red lacquer on a bench he’d made, completely covering the beautiful figurative aspect of the wood, and embellished it with a carved wooden hand left unpainted.

Ashley Jameson Eriksmoen’s “Fledge” 2006 is a table set based on the artist’s observations about how various young animals huddle near their parents’ legs. Constructed from various woods, acrylic and milk paints, casters, 36”x45”x14” and 24”x3-“x11.” photo: courtesy Ashley Eriksmoen

Gary Knox Bennett (born 1934)v has attained legendary status in the field of furniture and is well-known for his subversive humor.  In the 1960’s he created lines of roach clips along with his lucrative large-scale furniture and he also started a metal-plating company and has since imbued his wood furniture with decorative metal.  Hanna selected one of his satiny redwood tables for “Family Tree” and encourages viewers to browse through any of the 10 artist statements he prepared for the show.      

Ashley Eriksmoen’s  “Fledge” is a very gestural duo and amongst the most imaginative pieces on display —a solid wood parson’s table and end table set– highly organic in form and suggestive of a bird wing.  “Fledge” is based on Eriksmoen’s observations of various young animals (including humans) as they huddle near their parents’ legs.  “A gosling will find shelter under the mother goose’s wing as it peers at the world, just as dogs lean into their guardian’s shins when feeling shy,” writes Eriksmoen.  “In ‘Fledge,’ the parent table takes a protective stance as the young table leans out, contemplating leaving the nest on a solo flight while still needing the parent.”  Each “feather” of the table is an independent segment, shaped and fitted curve to curve.  The legs have lap joints in the “knees.”  Casters on the hind feet allow these winged creatures to have faster takeoffs and smooth

Russell Baldon’s table “Bad Digital” is a hallucinogenic exploration the possibilities of digital furniture design. Baldon is chairman of the Furniture Department at CCA and encourages his students to embrace technology. Photo: Geneva Anderson

landings, and to be moved easily with one hand.  Eriksmoen, who teaches at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco, has travelled the world studying ancient techniques which she applies in conjunction with state of the art design practices taught at CCA.  The result is a thoroughly refreshing body of contemporary work  imbued with life, movement, whimsy, and stunning craftsmanship.

Highly creative approaches to woodworking are being nurtured in CCA’s Furniture Program and instructors Russell Baldon, Donald Fortescue and Barbara Holmes also figure prominently in “Family Tree.”   Russell Baldon’s “Bad Digital” is a digitally-designed and executed table that resembles a Victor Vasarely painting in 3-D.  Baldon, current chairman of CCA’s Furniture Program, intentionally designs his work so that it straddles the line between furniture and art, science and art, and between function and nonfunction.   

Donald Fortescue's "Pike" (2001) were painstakingly formed by gluing rings of plywood together and turning and hand-shaping it to form a smooth minimalistic tower. In 2001, Fortescue became the first artist to win a design award from SFMOMA. Photo: courtesy Donald Fortescue

Australian born Donald Fortescue, previous chairman of CCA’s Furniture Program, was one of the first artists to receive the Experimental Design Award from SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) in 2001.  “Pike” (2000) are two impeccably made sculptural vessels that comment on the potential of non-rectilinear processes now common in design applications of all types.  Each was made by gluing innumerable rings of birch plywood together, then lathe-turning and painstakingly hand-finishing it into a single smooth layered form.  These layers, like sedimentary strata, stand as a perfect commentary on art’s cycle.  In the long run, almost everything in America that starts out at the pinnacle as a coveted art/design object in galleries or design stores cycles downward until it reaches Target and then ascends in large consumer markets.    

Barbara Holmes, a fine woodworker and CCA instructor from Oakland, has created the site specific “Tacoma” from reclaimed redwood lathe specifically for the Petaluma Arts Center.   This lyrical, spiraling 12 foot long line of lathe unfolds like a melody across the gallery wall.  The technique of stacking slats, nailing them and creating spirals is recent and springs from a residency Holmes did at the dump where she discovered how much lathe was a discarded by-product of demolition.  The repurposing of wood and wood objects has become particularly popular in Northern, CA, because of our strong interest in sustainability and eco-consciousness.  Wood artists like Holmes are exploring the material in new ways and creating pieces with a strong conceptual element behind them.

Sparks and shavings flew as Jerry Kermode demonstrated turning techniques to a packed house at the Petaluma Arts Center. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 In late January, Jerry Kermode, a full time wood turner from Sebastopol, gave one of the center’s most action-packed artist demos ever on problem solving for wood turners.  “I love the lathe because it’s really the only tool in the shop where you are the blade,”  Kermode told a packed house of wood enthusiasts.  Kermode teaches wood techniques out of his home studio and is featured in Sunset’s The Ultimate Garage: Getting Organized, Outfitting Your Garage, Creative Use of Space.  

Like many artists, Kermode studies ancient techniques and finds solutions for problems that are a blend of old and new.  While living in Hawaii, he encountered the cherished calabash (bowl) culture of the Islands and discovered that old calabash bowls were often repaired with wooden inserts, or kepa.  Kermode began experimenting with biscuit joiners used in cabinetry to hold together included or fragile wood while turning it and refined this into a signature technique of stitching (bowl repair).  Kermode, collaborates with his wife and business partner, Deborah Kermode, who finishes the bowls he has carved, and the couple has a number of natural edge of bowls in “Family Tree.” 

David Keller’s dovetail jigs, revered in wood circles, are on display at the Petaluma Art Center’s “Family Tree” through March 13, 2011. Keller worked for Art Carpenter in the early 1970’s who demanded that all casework be dovetailed, a task that was painstakingly done by hand. Together Art and Dave recognized a need for a jig that could precision dovetails and Dave subsequently designed it, along with the first flush-trim router bit . His model 3600 jig that he designed long ago is still a best seller and his bit has revolutionized tool work.

Tools of the Trade

“All these makers love tools” says Hanna, “whether it’s a bandsaw or a new industrial design machine.  Over the past 25 years, there have been major changes in the tools associated with achieving sculptural processes, in most cases designed by makers to meet a specific design need.”  

Dave Keller, of Petaluma, who apprenticed and then worked with Art Carpenter in the early 1970’s, refined Carpenter’s technique for uniform dovetail joinery into the Keller dovetail system in 1976.  Hanna has created a display of three of Keller’s aluminum templates and examples of different ways that dovetails are used. 

In "Alumination," Andrew Perkins painstakingly layered aluminum and maple and then cut and sanded to achieve exquisite patterning in his table. Photo: Geneva Anderson

John de Marchi is a Petaluma sculptor and machinist/welder renowned for his finely-designed hand tools for woodworking.  De Marchi fabricates new tools from scratch out of the finest steel available and also elegantly refurbishes old tools.

Rising Stars

The community gallery presents a snapshot of some of the latest developments in furniture design through student artists from the Wood Furniture Design Program at California College of the Arts.  These rising stars were asked to respond to various design problems posed by their instructors and you’ll see cutting-edge works in a variety of style, materials and intents.

Andrew Perkins’ stunning table “Alumination” is a clever use of aluminum, a very flexible material, which has been layered with maple wood and then cut and sanded to expose elegant metal patterning whose exposure increases as the table leg tapers downward.  Perkins is a 2010 CCA student recipient of the Ronald and Anita Wornick Award for exceptional talent in furniture design.

Noah Brezel’s “percival” (2009) is a functional seat with 12 legs that looks a lot like a spider.  Brezel took cherry edgebanding and glued it and bent it over a curve to create some highly complex intersections.  Brezel is interested in creating functional furniture with a perceived frailty and uses traditional hand-craftsmanship along with 3D computer modeling and laser cutting. 

Noah Brezel’s “percival” (2009) is a functional seat with 12 legs fashioned from cherry edgebanding and cherry veneer, 32’ x 41’ x 17’. Brezel has attempted to bridge the gap between craft and design and strives for clean lines. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Michele Marti deconstructs Victorian furniture and then reconstructs it for her own purposes.   “The Curious Sofa” has been formed by joining two Victorian chairs together to form a single sofa that forces two people sitting on the chair together to rub knees, a very un-Victorian thing to do.  “Victorian’s Spread” similarly co-joins two chairs and indelicately references America’s weight gain.  Marti and student colleague Brezel led a chair- making workshop at SFMOMA last year as part of its 75th anniversary celebration.   

Wood’s Rising Stature:

In the contemporary craft world, wood is still a little bit of an underdog that has yet to be discovered in the big way that glass or ceramics have been in craft collecting  and  museum circles, explains Julie Muniz, Associate Curator of Crafts and Decor, Oakland Museum of CA.  “Today’s wood craftsmen are really exploring the material in new ways and pushing the boundaries beyond the vessel and chair and into some very interesting installation pieces with some sort of commentary and conceptual element behind it.  All this speaks very well for wood’s repositioning as a vibrant conceptual craft form.”

Michele Marti's "Curious Sofa" is a gorgeous spoof on Victorian morays as well as furniture design. Two people sitting on this plushly upholstered seat are forced to touch knees, a very un-Victorian thing to do. Photo: courtesy Michele Marti

Muniz has worked closely with Ron and Anita Wornick of Healdsburg and San Francisco, whose wood collection was the basis of the Oakland Museum of CA’s 1997 show  “Expressions in Wood: Masterworks from the Wornick Collection.” Having amassed one of the most important conceptual craft collections in the country, and enthusiastically nurtured and supported wood artists through purchases, endowments, and fellowships, the Wornicks are now pushing to get wood its long due recognition in the country’s leading museums.  “Wood will only be elevated to the level of fine art when the best of the work gets into fine arts museums and gets the exposure and recognition it deserves to stand beside other things that are more readily accepted as fine art,” said Ron Wornick.

In 2007, the Wornicks bequeathed 250 pieces from their conceptual craft collection to Boston Fine Arts Museum, including the 120 works in the MFA’s 2007 exhibition “Shy Boy, She Devil and Isis: The Art of Conceptual Craft.”  In 2009, they gave several wood pieces to the Oakland Museum of CA’s wood collection.  Earlier this year, they gave 100 pieces to Racine Art Museum (RAM) in Wisconsin in conjunction with its “Knock Wood” exhibition celebrating wood’s entrance to RAM’s permanent collection.  Their collection includes pieces by many of the master artists in “Family Tree.”

Ron and Anita Wornick attended “Family Tree’s” opening and were impressed.  “Shows like this one here in Petaluma are critical in raising public awareness about how far wood has come,” said Wornick.  “I ended up spending a lot time there.  Normally an exhibition is a little more horizontal in terms of a certain time frame or artist, but this one went all the way from Gary Knox Bennett, who is as old as tree and one of the originals, to Barbara Holmes and Chris Loomis (who are mid-career) and these three represent a 40 to 50 year time span of making in this language.  There was real discernment in the selection of pieces too.  And not only did it have a range of artists and works but there were also some inexperienced collectors there too and it was fun to see all of this unfold.”

Artist Talk:  Saturday, March 5, 2011,  2-4 pm  Ashley Eriksmoen: From Vikings to Lasers: One Woodworker’s Journey Seeking Appropriate Technologies for Creative Work

To construct complex, asymmetrical, organic forms, sometimes the best technology involves 21st century lasers, and sometimes it requires hand methods used by 9th century Vikings.  An understanding of both can bring the best possible solution in Eriksmoen’s sculptural furniture work.  Ashley Jameson Eriksmoen has exhibited at galleries and museums nationwide including the Fuller Museum and Pritam and Eames, and is the recipient of numerous awards and grants including the Norwegian Marshall Fund.  She has taught woodworking and design courses and workshops at several schools, including College of the Redwoods and California College of Art (and Craft).  Eriksmoen currently creates in her woodshop in Oakland.  Fee: $5 suggested donation.

Recommended Reading:

Woodturning in North America Since 1930 (Yale University Press, 2003) complete history of woodturning

The Maker’s Hand: American Studio Furniture, 1940-1990 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2009)

Made in Oakland: The Furniture of Gary Knox Bennett (American Craft Museum, now Museum of Arts & Design, 2001)

Expressions in Wood: Masterworks from the Wornick Collection (Oakland Musuem of CA, 1996 available at the museum store at the Oakland Museum of CA and online.)

Details: The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, at East Washington Street, in central Petaluma,  94952.  Gallery hours: Thursday- Monday, noon to 4 pm.  Phone: (707) 762-5600 or

March 4, 2011 Posted by | Petaluma Arts Council | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment