June 10, 2004
by LINDA MITCHELL
LIKE MANY OF THE LOCAL ARTISTS WHO ARE TAKING part in this weekend's North Coast Open Studios (NCOS), I've been getting ready for the event for some time now, finishing up new paintings as well as trying to revive older pieces that never quite worked, sometimes dragging out work I abandoned months or even years ago. Although I routinely open my studio to visitors once or twice each year, it's amazing how many half-completed paintings, not to mention cobwebs, can accumulate between serious cleanings.
I work in a converted garage in my back yard, so even though it's the studio itself people are presumably coming to see, I also have to make sure the garden is navigable and the bathroom is clean. Additionally, since I can't imagine inviting people over without putting out something to eat, I have to figure out what to feed everyone. It all takes a fair amount of effort, if you want to know the truth.
Still, being included in this annual event is pretty irresistible from an artist's standpoint. Co-sponsored by the Humboldt Arts Council and the Ink People, NCOS is well promoted and draws an ever-increasing crowd of art appreciators each year, generating considerable exposure and sales for the majority of artists who open their doors. This probably explains why artist participation has nearly tripled in the six years Open Studios has been happening -- a total of 91 studios are included this time around.
Here's how it works: Each artist chips in $30 and agrees to open his or her studio doors from 11 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday. For your money, you get a spot in the NCOS pamphlet (officially the NCOS Artists Directory and Studio Maps) and a piece of art in the preview exhibit at the Ink People (through June). You also get the collective marketing power of 90 other artists, a bonus not to be taken lightly. When you consider that each artist adds his or her own friends, followers, and patrons to the mix, participants get a tremendous promotional punch for a $30 investment.
For me, the only downside to being one of the participating artists is that I don't get the opportunity to roam around the studios of the other participants, and after checking out the names and images included in this year's pamphlet, I have to admit I was almost sorry I'd signed up. These artists represent such a diversity of local voices, I feel like I'm missing out by not being able to take a peek at some of their working spaces and palettes.
Scan through the NCOS pamphlet (you can get one from the sources listed below), and you'll see what I mean. Local artists are working anywhere they can find the space, all over the county, and they're making just about everything -- seriously. Included on the tour are the studios of painters, sculptors, potters, mixed media artists, digital artists and videographers, quilters, woodworkers, glassblowers, photographers, printmakers, jewelry makers, and on and on.
Studio doors will be open from Fortuna to Trinidad, but the bulk of the spaces are concentrated in Eureka and Arcata. Since it's probably physically impossible to visit all 91 studios in two days, the best thing to do is study the directory and maps for yourself and decide what art you want to see, which artists you'd like to meet, and how much time you have to spend. I'm tempted to make a list of the ones I'd visit if I were out and about myself, but space prohibits my being as inclusive as I'd like to be, so I think I'll skip it.
Although the artists opening their doors this weekend represent just a small fraction of the larger local art community, by attending NCOS you can still get a pretty good idea of how diverse and original the work being created on the North Coast really is. If you're around this weekend, check it out.
Pick up a printed NCOS Directory at the Ink People, the Morris Graves Museum or the Art Center in Eureka; at Wildberries, the Northcoast Co-op, Arcata Artisans or the Art Center in Arcata; and at a variety of other locations throughout the county. You can also get more information online via the brand new NCOS Web site at www.northcoastopenstudios.com.
Linda Mitchell can be reached via
story & photos by BOB DORAN
AS NORTH COAST OPEN STUDIOS GEARS UP for its sixth year this weekend, a group of artists in Arcata is getting ready to celebrate the grand opening of a collective studio space.
They call it StewArt Studios, the name a play on the fact that the artists' spaces occupy part of the bottom floor of the historic Stewart School, built in 1925.
Pull around to the parking lot behind the building and you'll see the studio windows behind decorative grates. Finding the entrance is a bit more difficult. The none-too-inviting double doors near the center of the building look like they lead to a basement, and until recently they did.
Earlier this year, six artists took over 4,000 square feet of what had been a cram-packed storage space. After a number of improvements, including walls to delineate individual studio spaces, they moved in on April Fool's Day.
The first space you come across as you walk in the front door is the headquarters for Meer Image, a combination warehouse, factory, office and art studio for Steven Vander Meer [photo at left], who, with his wife Carol, runs a thriving business designing and making rubber stamps.
Those of you who may be thinking, "Are rubber stamps art?" have not seer Vander Meer's work. Sure, there are little hearts and stars, the sort of stamps a teacher might use to brighten up schoolwork, but most of the Meer Image stamps are based on original artworks by Vander Meer.
The stamp form allows him to share his work in a different way from other artists; his creations become part of another artist's creations. His sources vary, some stamps are based on old etchings, some on things from nature: a dragonfly, an oak leaf, drawings of prairie grasses done by his father in the Midwest. His most recent stamps are nudes based on drawings done in the life drawing circle he runs at StewArt in a room set up for the purpose.
Vander Meer notes that stamp art and mail art have a long history. Beginning with the Dada Movement in the early 20th century, the form was revived by neo-Dadaists in the late-`60s and early-'70s.
"It was art for everybody, not in galleries, not for sale, just art for art's sake," he said. "This whole network got going, people mailing art pieces to each other, and they started using whatever rubber stamps were available. Companies sprouted up that took images from the public domain and made them into stamps. That's how the craze got started."
A graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Vander Meer came to stay at his brother's place in Arcata in 1986, while working on an animated film that was ultimately titled, "Arcata Brain Closet." It took a lot longer than expected. "By the time I was done, I had a job, and had found a place of my own. After that I never left."
It was animation that got him looking at rubber stamps. "I thought it would be cool to use a stamp image because I wouldn't have to draw it over and over -- I could just stamp it."
Once he figured out how to make stamps from his own designs, he was hooked. "I did it as a hobby, but figured if I could sell a few on the side, it would pay for my habit."
The first Meer Image catalogue came out in 1992, and his operation soon outgrew the front room of his house. He established a "real business" 10 years ago, buying a recycled paper distribution company and taking over its small office in Arcata, upstairs from Hirsh Hubcaps. The space came with a number of sublets, including artists' studios. As Vander Meer put it, "The building got a reputation as an art space and, over time, it filled up with artists."
The group would join forces for things like an annual holiday open house. Camaraderie developed. "There's an energy that comes from having a bunch of artists around, all working weird hours. You know that you're part of a group, even if everyone's doors are closed."
Eventually, the building changed hands and it was time to move on. Vander Meer signed a lease for the new location and arranged to sublet to five other artists who came over from "the hubcap building," among them Joyce Jonte [ photo below], who has a small, well-lit studio just off Vander Meer's space.
A worktable and shelves are covered with works in various media, among them, several floral watercolors, a couple of pen and ink drawings in progress. Piled everywhere and laid out on a mat on the floor are dozens of uniform-sized pieces of watercolor paper, each with a figure study, some finished, some works in progress.
"I think the ones that work best are those I've been doing in the life drawing sessions," said Jonte. "We do really quick poses -- I sketch, paint and do it all there -- then some that need more work, I'll finish later."
Like many local artists, Jonte came to Arcata to study at Humboldt State University. "I graduated in 1979 with a degree in art, got a job in a restaurant, ended up working in the Co-op bakery. I kept painting, took classes from Bob Benson and Alan Sanborn, and eventually dove back into art fulltime."
Of course, that's fulltime, not counting raising three kids on the side. "My career is art," she says, "although I can't say that I earn a living doing it. I have a very supportive partner who supports my art habit."
Four years ago, she started sharing one of the spaces at the hubcap building with painter/mixed media artist Suzanne Simpson, who is now one of her neighbors at StewArt Studios.
"I love the evolution, the fact that we ended up here," Jonte said. "This is a wonderful space. Steven's life drawing group changed my life, so of course that's a big attraction."
While it may be the first time StewArt is part of North Coast Open Studios, Jonte has been participating for years. "It's great. Every year it's been a little better. I've been doing art for years, but now that I've created a body of work and I'm getting better known locally, I've had quite a few people come out to find me. That's a great feeling."
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.