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Stop and Smell the Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 

Wildflower Art Show at the Upstairs Art Gallery

 Living in Humboldt County, it's easy to become desensitized to our beautiful surroundings. Majestic redwoods, dramatic seascapes and an abundance of wildlife are all right outside our windshields during just about any local commute. But rushing through our daily lives, filled with appointments and deadlines, it's often hard to appreciate the magnificence of our coastal and inland areas.

Springtime brings yet another easily overlooked element of beauty to the North Coast with hundreds of varieties of wildflowers blooming across our dunes, marshes, fields and forest floors. Fortunately, for those of us too busy (or unwilling) to put down our cell phones and go hiking this spring, the "Wildflower Art Show" at the Upstairs Art Gallery will bring some of this natural beauty to us.

The Wildflower Art Show brings together 17 local artists, working in a variety of mediums, all translating the natural aesthetic of flora and floral forms from native environments into two-dimensional space: They paint, draw and photograph plants.

"We have oil painters, water colorists, photographers -- a lot of different styles," said participating artist and exhibition organizer Rick Tolley. And the choice of subject matter has a great deal to offer artist and viewer alike. "The natural beauty kind of resonates -- beauty resonates for people and they kind of forget the anxieties of the world for a little bit and enjoy it. I truly enjoy sharing that with other people," said Tolley.

But the Wildflower Art Show will do much more than simply showcase this thematically connected work. Tolley and company enable local kids to experience wildflowers and their natural environments in an even more immediate way. Participating artists donate portions of the proceeds from the sale of their work to a transportation fund set up by the North Coast Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS). The fund is used to help local schools travel to the upcoming annual Spring Wildflower Show to be held at the Manila Community Center. For some schools, during this period of shrinking budgets and limited resources, the transportation fund could be the difference between being able to take students to the show, or not. "[We want] to help those schools that can't pay their bus drivers or can't rent a van or need help with fuel ... whatever we can do to help people get there," Tolley explained.

This spirit of generosity extends beyond the artists to the exhibition space itself: UAG isn't taking a percentage of the artists' sales and is donating the space for the month-long exhibition. Tolley, who has taught art to kids in a variety of settings, has a keen sense of the importance of exposing kids to events like the Spring Wildflower Show and the Wildflower Art Show. Allowing kids to see and experience their local environment directly, and to see the art that environment inspires, has the potential to instill an important notion. "There's wonder all around us and maybe this is something that ought to be protected, and taken care of too, on down the line," said Tolley.

The annual Spring Wildflower Show, put on by the North Coast Chapter of the CNPS, is a continuation of a tradition started 30 years ago by Nature Discovery Volunteers. This year's event takes place the first weekend in May. The show offers visitors many different ways to see and appreciate the local plant life. "There are workshops and guided hikes and all kinds of specimens that they can view. It's pretty wonderful to see all these native plants ... all right there in one building " said Tolley, who is also a member of the North Coast CNPS.

In addition to hundreds of specimens, nature walks and seminars, there will be a wildflower art workshop were participants can try their hand at creating the kind of work that will be on display at UAG with guidance from some of the participating artists themselves. The art workshop gives Tolley and the other artists a chance to share some of that natural wonder and creative process with members of the community. The Spring Wildflower Show is clearly more than just flowers. "Both the art show and the wildflower show [are places] where you can see things, a lot of things, right in one area, it's pretty amazing," said Tolley.

The Wildflower Art Show will hang from April 3-26 at the Upstairs Art Gallery in the Arcata Umpqua Bank. There will be an opening event on April 13 in conjunction with Arts! Arcata, with refreshments provided by the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center and live Quebecois and Acadian fiddle music by Mon Petit Chou.

Participating artists include Gary Bloomfield, Andrew Daniels, Joy Dellas, Paul Fabian, Paula Golightly, Michael Harris, Linda Parkinson, Ken Jarvala, Joyce Jonte, Leslie Reid, Alan Sanborn, Patricia Sennott, Stock Schlueter, Rick Tolley, Ann Wallace, Mira Weidman and Libby Yee.

The Spring Wildflower Show will be held from Friday, May 4, to Sunday, May 6, at the Manila Community Center, 1611 Peninsula Drive (off Hwy 255 between Arcata and the Samoa Bridge). It includes an "Art Night" Friday at 7 p.m. with a free art workshop with Rick Tolley and other local artists, accompanied by live music. Materials will be provided or bring your own. Full schedule at All activities are free.

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Jason Marak

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