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Open Season 

Planning your tour of North Coast Open Studios

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Colin Vance

When you visit a studio or a shared exhibition space, you're often able to interact directly with the artist. The resultant possibilities abound. You might meet an established artist you've admired or meet an emerging talent. You could get dibs on new pieces before they appear in local galleries or see the workspace where the vase/necklace/live-edge table you've been coveting was created, or chat with a favorite artist and maybe ask that person a question about the process. Encounters with art on its native turf in the company of the person who made it may be many things, but they are rarely boring.

This weekend, artists from Trinidad to Rio Dell will be opening their studios to visitors and buyers as part of the 19th renewal of North Coast Open Studios. The two-weekend event kicks off this Friday evening. With some 140 participating artists and only 31 hours in which to do it all, you'll need to strategize your itinerary. Get a handle on the bounty with one of these approaches:


Artists in the Pacific Northwest tend to haunt wild places. This has been true in the past and it remains true now. Those participating in this year's event come from some of the county's more remote districts, as well as the Eu-cata metropolitan corridor. Event organizers are urging attendees to cope with the geography by playing bingo, matching categories like wood, animation, collage and wearables with locations like McKinleyville, Ferndale and Indianola/Bayside.

Big Data

The handy event website lets users search participating artists and use tags to target results; criteria include medium (e.g. sculpture, jewelry), utility (functional, wearable), the art's potential for motion (kinetic) and the event's potential for liquid refreshment (beverage). If you've been searching for, say, that elusive wearable collage that will also wet the whistle in a pinch, this should help narrow things down.

Fat Chance

Meditate. Transpose the numbers given to participating artists in the 2017 Visitor's Guide into a hexagram sequence. Consult the I Ching to determine the appropriate order for studio visits. Warning: This strategy may not optimize mileage.

With so many participating artists, there is surely something for everyone.

If you like storytelling, check out the dreamy, densely inked narratives in Julie McNiel's drawings, paintings and animation cells, which layer observation, memory, life experience and legend into a palimpsest with distinctive Pacific Northwest features.

Fans of contemporary landscape are spoiled for choice, with options ranging from Kathy O'Leary's bright, deftly handled plein-air studies of subjects like Mount Lassen, Humboldt Hill and the Freshwater Slough to Stock Schlueter's luminous marsh and bottomland views.

If you appreciate old-time American music and bluegrass, head to Blue Lake and check out Colin Vance's handmade banjos with inlay — "playable musical pieces of art," he calls them. One dark banjo features a delicately rendered dinosaur skull inlaid in bone-colored wood at the base of the neck, where a human might sport a tattoo.

For those who like to multitask: Dave Reagan, who makes kinetic works, mixed media pieces and sculpture in his Manila studio, promises the possibly unbeatable combination of a backyard sculpture garden and an indoor miniature golf emporium.

Those who can't decide whether to look at art or surf don't necessarily have to choose. Matt Beard will be parked at the Trinidad State Beach parking lot during the event's second weekend, selling surf paintings out of a large white Sprinter van that's "parked with a view to the ocean — dog friendly, too."

Feeling gritty, yet lyrical? There's a piece of wearable art for that. In addition to coordinating the Open Studios event for a fourth successive year, jewelry designer and arts administrator Monica Topping will be opening her studio by appointment, showing bracelets, necklaces, earrings and hair clips made from repurposed materials like guitar strings, record jackets and twisted copper under her Rock Chick Designs imprint.

In addition to individual artists' studios like the ones mentioned above, the roster features collective exhibits organized by some of the area's most established artists' groups and a few creative upstarts. The Samoa Women's Club will feature work by a bevy of artists in media including photography, watercolor, hand-painted silk, manga-inspired digital renderings and ceramics.

Arcata's Fire Arts Center will be displaying a selection of glass and ceramic pieces made by members.

At the Boys' and Girls' Club of the Redwoods in Eureka, "Pictures Drawn by Youth" will merit a visit, judging from the caliber of drawings by its young artists that appear in the visitor's guide.

Mind's Eye Manufactory in Ferndale will be showing photography, ceramics, prints and wooden sculpture, in addition to examples of the bespoke skin-on-frame kayaks that space co-founder Marc Daniels builds in a traditional Aleutian style under the name True North Boats.

If the Kinetic Grand Championship this past weekend left you thirsting for more glory, you're in luck — the Kinetic Museum Eureka will be showing vintage kinetic sculpture racing machines, photographs and ephemera dating back to the race's 1969 origin.

The North Coast Open Studios Art Night begins with a preview Friday, June 2, from 6-9 p.m., continuing on Saturday and Sunday, June 3-4 and 10-11, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to all venues is free. The event takes place at numerous locations — see the 2017 Visitor's Guide, free at area locations, and for details.

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About The Author

Gabrielle Gopinath

Gabrielle Gopinath

Gabrielle Gopinath is a critic who writes about art, place and culture in Northern California. She lives in Arcata. Follow her on Instagram @gabriellegopinath.

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