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The Arts
10.03.07

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'No Other' by Nancy Leigh Hillis, collage, 23 inches by 31 inches
Insider Art: The next three weekends offer the chance to visit the studios of 300 Santa Cruz artists, including Nancy Leigh Hillis of Aptos, whose collage, 'No Other,' is pictured above.

Open Studios Tour

Imagine getting ready for scores of strangers to pop in and look at your artwork.

By Traci Hukill


This week Nancy Leigh Hillis will double-check the pricing on her oils, watercolors and collages; set the greeting cards out where guests can see them; scrutinize the paint job on the studio walls one last time and make sure the Open Studios sign is visible from the road. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, she'll wait in her studio to see who drops by. It's the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County's 22nd annual Open Studios tour, and for the 300 participating artists, it's a lot of work, an all-too-rare chance to sell some art and in many cases a nerve-wracking proposition.

"We're absolutely scared shitless," says Open Studios first-timer Stephen Spill, who, with his wife, Sylvia, is showing digital nature photography at their Westside home. "There's something about Open Studios, throwing your house open and baring your soul."

Hillis and the Spills are part of Open Studios' largest-ever freshman class. Numbering 60 in all, they range from ceramicists to watercolorists and woodworkers to fabric artists, all opening their studios to the public for the first time this weekend. Event manager Ann Ostermann says there are as many first-timers this year as people who've been doing Open Studios for 11 years or more, "so there's an interesting yin and yang."

The participants are chosen each year by a committee of fellow artists and arts supporters. Since the committee has to choose from among so many different media, it employs two criteria: a skillful handling of the medium, and a developed style or distinctive voice. Artists who display both are invited to participate.

This year's class of Open Studios newcomers includes at least one surprise: Stephen Hosmer, whose iconic posters featuring Wilder Ranch, the Lighthouse and other Santa Cruz landmarks are on display around town.

"I was scared what it was gonna feel like," Hosmer jokes, adding that he didn't think he'd be able to show his work in a commercial space, which is where he actually does his painting. Over the next three weekends he'll be selling originals, prints and posters out of his Potrero Street studio.

This year's Open Studios Tour features a number of familiar Santa Cruz artists, including watercolorist Charles Prentiss of La Selva Beach, Becky Olvera Schultz, whose Native American-themed prints feature mythological characters in silhouette, and James Aschbacher, whose playful murals are visible around downtown.

Ostermann says this year she hopes Studio Tourists venture beyond their neighborhoods into the far reaches of the county: to Ben Lomond, Bonny Doon and Watsonville. One possible draw to South County is Francisco Alonso, a Watsonville artist and muralist who was born in Michoacan, Mexico, and emigrated to Watsonville with his family at the age of 10. Alonso is being sponsored by the new Rydell Visual Arts Fund Organizational Grant in an effort to expand marketing opportunities for artists in the extreme northern and southern parts of the county.

For some artists, like Daniel S. Friedman, the next two weekends present an opportunity to see old friends, including people he's gotten to know through Open Studios.

"There are people who come year after year to see how the art's evolved," says Friedman, who used to do a lot of large-format abstract pieces in deep, saturated colors and now finds himself drawn to painting on plywood with metal bolted onto it.

"And it works out for me too, because I really like to know who takes my paintings," he says. "I feel a more personal connection to my paintings and the people who take the work. So this is almost sort of a blend between business and social."

Artists showing for the first time this year might take some comfort from Friedman's experience. "It took a lot of perseverance," he says. "In the beginning very few people came by and there were very, very few sales. Part of it was I was a new artist, and part of it was I wasn't very well known. But now it's really changed. The whole event's gotten really professional."


THE OPEN STUDIOS TOUR runs Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 6-7 and Oct. 13-14, with an Encore Weekend Oct. 20-21. Maps are on sale for $20 at Bookshop Santa Cruz, Palace Art & Office Supply, Museum of Art and History and other locations. For info call 831.475.9600.


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