January 4, 2005

Cornerstone Festival of Gardens

Filed under: Art and About Art — admin @ 3:17 pm

There is little that satisfies me as much as being taken to heights of extreme emotion via a theatrical, musical, dance or visual art experience. But I think my favorite relationship with the arts happens when I see or hear something that inspires me to go home and create art myself. The Cornerstone Festival of Gardens in Sonoma provided such inspiration.

The Cornerstone Festival of Gardens (www.cornerstonegardens.com) opened last July as an art exhibit by landscape designers who, using innovative and unusual materials, demonstrate how a garden can become a living and changing art piece surrounding your home. In 20 exhibits, traditional and unusual garden plants subsist with salvaged materials, creative reinventions of common household items and wacky, imaginative applications of outdoor structures. There is a maze constructed of recycled screen doors. A dying tree is completely covered in blue Christmas balls. White birch planted among crushed-seashell ground cover make an obstacle course for an informal game of bocce ball. Broken terracotta pots line a suggestive path invoking the journey of immigrant farm workers across the Mexican border to California. And a field of giant pinwheels spins wildly on the windy Sonoma flatlands.

Chris Hougie, the founder of Cornerstone, says of the idea behind the festival, “Designers are encouraged to invent, inform and create beautiful and compelling gardens that engage and inspire the viewer intellectually, emotionally and aesthetically.” The approach sure worked for me.

You see, I’m a lazy gardener, but I love a beautiful garden. I particularly love roses. I aspire to have a rose garden that reminds visitors of Orchard Nursery’s glorious rose section, where myriad varieties form endless rows of splendor all season until the last plant is sold. All my roses have names and stories about how they became a part of the family. Feeding my roses and pruning them is relaxing and rewarding. Sitting in my home and gazing at the sea of color from April through December is one of life’s simple pleasures.

And then in January, both the roses and I go into dormancy and for three months I hibernate in the house. This is where the art comes in, at least in my theory. Although I consider the severely pruned back stems of the rose to be sculptural, it occurred to me when I went on an art and garden fundraising tour several years ago that my rose garden would be greatly enhanced in the wintertime by the inclusion of outdoor art. On that tour, I saw spectacular gardens surrounding even more spectacular homes. The sculptures on display in the gardens were beautiful, but pricey. I thought to myself, “When I make my millions, I will buy high-ticket art and enhance my garden with magnificent sculpture.”

This turned out to be a frustrating statement. Since patience is not one of my virtues and I haven’t won the lottery yet, I’ve been trying to brainstorm alternate avenues for acquiring art. I thought about taking a welding class to create my own figures. I thought about building statues out of salvaged materials. I even asked a local church music director if I could have the pipes from the church’s old organ to make an art statement. None of these ideas have come to fruition.

A light bulb went off for me while strolling through Cornerstone. Our garden can be creatively enhanced with something as simple as red spray-painted bamboo uniquely arranged. Or monochromatic rocks piled in an unusual way. Textures from common building materials can be abstract and alluring when displayed in an unusual orientation.

For me, creating art is more enjoyable the tighter my budget and the freer my imagination. Winter is here, and this year I look forward to searching for inspiration in my garden canvas.

June 8, 2003

Technology provides link to humanity

Filed under: Art and About Art — admin @ 3:23 pm

I can’t help myself. I’ve tried to suppress this column for months, but it needs to bubble forth. There is so little positive energy being generated by the media these days, that I am compelled to use this space to share how one person in my life uses a blend of creativity and technology to send joyful, peaceful and positive vibes to me on a regular basis.

The subject of this column did not want me to write about him, so I am not going to. Instead, I’m going to write about what he does. I’ll call him Dan for our purposes.
Dan is an artist and an email acquaintance of mine for about a year now. He contacted me after reading some of my stories in the Sun. Dan does stunning nature photography and after he and I corresponded through a few text exchanges, he put me on one of his mass emailing lists to send me information about his photographic pursuits. I admit, when I first realized I was included on his mailing list, I groaned. I’m one of those people who despises being impersonally copied on emailed jokes, pleas from “good causes,” stuff about “women’s issues,” or whatever else I didn’t ask to be sent.

But being on Dan’s list actually is a gift. Most Mondays, and often once or twice throughout the rest of the week, I check my morning email and there is a message of hope and inspiration from Dan cued up first among the unread messages. His emails usually contain a scene from nature he photographed within the last 48 hours, accompanied by a spiritual and uplifting quote. The quotes are taken from cultures around the world, while the photos are often the topography and flora we see in our Contra Costa backyards every day. I have seen pictures of Mt. Diablo this year through Dan’s lens that are unlike any other interpretations. Dan usually includes only a brief message describing where and when he took the photo, and wishing us all blessings and peace. Getting one of these messages is quite an invigorating way to start the day.

Using the wonders of modern technology, Dan has found a very personal way to touch my life with his art. I don’t know very much about Dan other than the fragments of his soul which he has revealed through his photography. I do know that he is the only person in my life with whom I have regular spirit-to-spirit communication exclusively via artwork.

It seems to me that Dan has hit upon a way to share humanity — and art is uniquely human— through computer technology which often gets knocked for being cold, impersonal and isolating. In the global aftermath of war and the realities of economic depression, we need more human-to-human contact to keep the world from falling apart, even if it’s just our little corner of the world. Many of us sit down at a computer every day. A lot of us snap pictures all the time of the people, places and objects we find inspiring. Try testing how fast your Internet connection can transport your heart into cyberspace.

January 9, 2003

Some art with your Chow?

Filed under: Art and About Art — admin @ 3:13 pm

My mom asked me the other day if my son and I wanted to try out the new Chow restaurant in Lafayette’s La Fiesta Square. I didn’t realize that the space which formerly housed a produce market finally had a new inhabitant. Mom explained to me that Chow was a San Francisco restaurant that purportedly wanted to become a neighborhood restaurant for the folks in Lamorinda.

I admit, I immediately had a preconceived notion of what to expect. With San Francisco predecessors Chow and Park Chow, Lafayette’s Chow probably had tasty food, but could a restaurant with San Francisco roots actually achieve the atmosphere of a neighborhood restaurant out here? I had my doubts.

We picked a table where my toddler could study the physics of a fire crackling in the fireplace, which left me staring at a wall with a piece of artwork on it. It wasn’t until my entrée arrived that I realized the art was done by Lamorinda’s own Marcy Wheeler. I scanned the room and saw that the restaurant was full of Wheeler’s artwork. This new restaurant had immediately entrenched itself as a full-fledged participating member of the community by sharing its walls with an artist in our community. Well, welcome to the neighborhood, Chow!

I have since learned that Chow is more than just a neighborhood restaurant — it’s also a good neighbor. Owner Tony Gulisano is a Lafayette resident who truly values the importance of community as more than just a buzzword. It turns out that Wheeler’s exhibit during these inaugural weeks of the restaurant is the first in a collaborative effort between the Lafayette Arts Gallery and Chow. The gallery, housed in the quaint cottage across the street from Chow, missed the foot traffic that the produce market used to bring. Gallery co-founder Cathy DeForest approached Gulisano about an ongoing relationship between the gallery and the restaurant and she will now be curating the exhibits that will be up on Chow’s walls. So if you stop in periodically to this neighborhood restaurant, you can take a peek at some of the artwork your very own neighbors are producing.

Now that’s the real spirit of community, if you ask me. What I continue to find surprising is how few of our local business owners take advantage of the wealth of visual artists living in Lamorinda. There are some outstanding business owners in our three cities who are in Gulisano’s league when it comes to integrating the many facets of this community into their businesses. I’m not going to name any because I’ll surely forget some, but I can say that I know some of these businesses owners don’t necessarily live within city limits, but they chose to set up their business establishments here because they wanted the spirit of Lamorinda to be part of their business plan.

I have trained myself to be particularly keyed into what is hanging on the walls when I enter just about any structure. Practically every business has walls with something hanging on them. Retail establishments, doctors’ offices, lawyers, accountants, dry cleaners, coffee shops — you name it, they all have the public traipsing through their doors on a daily basis. I sigh when I see a print of the Bed, Bath and Beyond variety on a wall when it is almost as easy to call, say, the Lamorinda Arts Alliance (284-2788) and ask if they can help with finding original artwork to enhance a space. I can understand if you may not want your walls to be an informal gallery, but then consider purchasing a few pieces you like from a Lamorinda artist and essentially donate the free publicity for them. You never know when someone might be coming into your office for a root canal and find themselves connecting with a piece of art from an artist whose work expresses a shared life philosophy. The use of local art on local business walls is one of the simplest symbiotic relationships I can imagine to keep the definition of community alive and well.

August 29, 2002

Art on Wheels

Filed under: Art and About Art — admin @ 3:03 pm

Meet Lauren Asta, founder, president, CEO and sole employee of Art on Wheels. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat with this brilliant young woman who had one of the best ideas for how to spend her summer vacation that I have ever heard.

Lauren is an art student at Cal State University, Chico who has a wealth of babysitting and childcare experience, and a passion for art. Coming home to Lafayette for the summer, she had lined up a gig teaching art at Diablo Valley College’s “College for Kids” program. She loves working with kids of all ages and realized that the time she wasn’t teaching at DVC could still be filled with more kids and more art if she offered combined baby-sitting and art instruction services. As she put it in her publicity flyer, “Have a babysitter come to your home, help you out, and enrich your kids.”

The response was overwhelming. Lauren could hardly accommodate everyone who wanted an art-teaching babysitter. With great satisfaction, and cash in her pocket, Lauren returned to her studies at Chico a few weeks ago.

Lauren reported that one thing parents kept repeating to her was “I don’t know why no one else is doing this.” This was my thought exactly when I first heard about Lauren. I can’t say with any certainty that no one else is offering this babysitting bonus. In fact, only a couple of summer ago a wrote about teenage sisters in Piedmont who were running their own art daycamp for kids. I interview many of the children they taught, several of whom were only four or five, and they were having a wonderful time. They said every day was different and they had a lot of projects to decorate their rooms with.

But I have to say, if there are other babysitters who are doing art with kids, they are keeping it pretty quiet. I admit, I have rather strict criteria for the people with whom I choose to leave my son. I believe that everyone he encounters can bring him the gift of their knowledge, experience, interests and talents while they do even everyday activities like reading a book, playing ball or eating dinner. It’s not a 24-hour tutorial at my house. I’m just not sure how beneficial it is for my son or his babysitter when I come home and they’re watching the Cartoon Network — an activity I walked in on once.

After talking to Lauren and briefly lamenting the fact that she had to go back to school and can’t babysit for me, I remembered a mother I once worked for. During two summers while I was in graduate school, I hung out with Erin, a little girl in Moraga. Often, Erin’s mom would leave art projects for us to do. We molded soap, drew, painted, and cut-and-pasted a variety of objects. Sometimes we sang songs, or played impromptu, original duets on the piano. Sometimes we cooked magnificent concoctions in the kitchen.

As a caretaker, I appreciated these suggestions from Erin’s mom because it helped me plan a creative afternoon with Erin. I enjoyed the projects, and I think Erin did too. I had a lightbulb moment after talking with Lauren about how I could be more proactive in providing creative activities for my son and his babysitter. If I had a willing sitter, I could essentially shape him or her into an art-making babysitter. He or she doesn’t have to be an art major, or have a particular passion for art like Lauren. Hey, my son is 20-months-old — we don’t need a Rembrandt here. But hopefully if he or she enjoys drawing, painting or making figures out of pipe cleaners, we could have a mutually beneficial experience on our hands. I’m not afraid of the potential mess. I’ll even clean it up when I get home.

So while we’re creating an art studio at our house, all you babysitters should know that according to Lauren, there is a hot market in this area for multi-purpose childcare. I hope that like any good, profitable idea, there will be a wealth of folks following the lead of Art on Wheels very soon.

December 21, 2001

Art is in the cards

Filed under: Art and About Art — admin @ 3:26 pm

I have started making my own thank you cards. I don’t mean the writing on the inside. In fact, I have learned that I’m one of a rare breed who actually enjoys writing thank you notes. It’s part of the division of labor at my house. My husband will drag the trash cans to the bottom of the driveway if I promise to write all the thank you notes.

I’m now making the actual card itself. I’ve been inspired by the two local art galleries operated by the Lamorinda Arts Alliance. A staple in these galleries, as you make your way to the cash register to support one of the artists in our community, is a display of note cards designed and produced by the artists. Some are original works of art in and of themselves, while others are reproductions of their big brothers and sisters on the wall. I’ve received numerous thank you notes from members of the Lamorinda Arts Alliance during the three years I’ve covered arts for the Sun and every single one of them has been a miniature version of the artist’s work.

So I thought to myself, if they can make art on a card, why can’t I? I get tired very quickly of pretty note paper from stationery stores, and I hate sending a duplicate pattern to the same person more than once. Since every note pertains to a different thank you, I feel the card should be unique as well.

My first attempt was rather modest, taking postcards of works of art in the Vatican and gluing them to cardstock. The personal touch came in selecting an appropriate image for the occasion of the thank you.

I haven’t played with watercolors since I was a child, so I bought a basic set and made my next cards by simply swishing the color around on paper. Very therapeutic with quite a pretty result.

My idea for my latest creations came from the fact that I wanted to use up some gray speckled paper that has been lying around and some old acrylic paints left over from a Christmas craft project a few years back. I smeared the paint on a rag with terrycloth striations and pressed the card into the colors. My husband called it offset ragging, and the process has resulted in my favorite cards to date.

I’m not comparing my cardmaking techniques to the time and talents of the Arts Alliance artists, but each of my cards is a one-of-a-kind creation I’m excited to share with the receivers of my thank you notes.

All this creative activity has caused me to think about the mysterious dichotomy in our society where homemade cards are concerned. We expect finger-painted, water-colored or cut-and-past construction paper masterpieces from children, but just about the time puberty hits, we start forking over our cash to Hallmark. Only those bold enough to declare themselves artists continue to assert their creativity with the unabashed abandon of a child. It’s rather sad that as we perceive ourselves to be more adult, we choose to suppress our individuality while making a connection as personal as a written note. One Valentine’s Day when my dad was battling cancer, a compromised immune system prohibited him from venturing out to get a store-bought card. Instead, he used colored pens and made a card for my mom. It was one of the sweetest, most romantic exchanges I have ever witnessed.

I haven’t had the guts to tackle birthday and holiday cards yet, but since a majority of the recent cards I’ve sent in those varieties has been accompanied by an apology for the lameness of the sentiment due to a dearth of clever card-writers, I will probably be making that my next art project.