It's been said that Mendocino County with its population of just under 90,000 souls, has more artists per capita than any other county in California — and Anderson Valley is the place many of these artists call home. Recently, a group of them formed the Artists' Guild of Anderson Valley, with a main focus of presenting an annual Open Studio Tour, Memorial Day Weekend, May 29-31. This is the 8th consecutive year for the tour, where artists and artisans open their doors and welcome the public. It's a free event with maps available at many businesses throughout the valley. The public can visit the artists' studios from Yorkville to Navarro, meet the artists, and observe art-in-action demonstrations. Artists who usually work alone suddenly become extroverts!
Banners and a-frame signs on Hwy 128 will direct the public to the studios. Here are some profiles of a few of the Guild artists on the tour this year.
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The art of Nancy MacLeod & Bill Allen combines this couple’s talents in colorful, folkart-fantasy furniture, textiles, and paintings. For more than 25 years they traveled up from southern California, through the Anderson Valley, to visit family friends in Mendocino, always appreciating the natural beauty of this area. Moving northward, they eventually were able to sell their house in Oakland to buy land in Anderson Valley. Their straw-bale house is a wonder, with whimsically-designed, “appliqued” wooden cabinetry and bright colors everywhere. It’s impossible not to smile when you enter their home, with cupboards , mirrors, and candleholders, all integrated into the joyful artistic vision of the architecture. Nancy’s formal art training was in Southern California, and while at California College of the Arts in Oakland, she turned her designs into art-to-wear , selling her appliquéd textiles all over the country, including I. Magnin’s, Macy’s, and Henri Bendel. Bill’s creative carpentry skills are evident in the fantasy furniture they produce together, and Nancy’s paintings reflect her cheerful, light-hearted and family-focussed approach to art. Bill and Nancy are actively involved in local school events , and their daughter, Olivia, attends Anderson Valley High school. Nancy designed the garden in the high school's Quad and Bill was the prime gardener and rock mover! On the Tour, the public can visit their studio at Forest Haven, 21921 Panorama Way in Philo. They welcome showing visitors their solar home in the woods on the tour, and other days by appointment. 707-895-3134 Their work can also be seen at Rookie-To Gallery in Boonville and at Family Hands in Ft. Bragg.
In Boonville, visitors to the studio of Antoinette von Grone are treated first to the beauty of a knot garden leading to her light-filled painting studio. Antoinette fell in love with Anderson Valley when she stopped overnight at The Apple Farm on her way to Mendocino. She commented to her writer-husband Tom, the next morning “I am home'” — and the couple began their search for a place in the Valley. Their Boonville home and gardens reflect the couple's prodigious creative energies. Now well-integrated into the needs of the valley, Antoinette is better known to some as a tireless EMT-trained volunteer on the Valley's ambulance service. Her art training has ranged from studying textile design in Germany and Austria to fashion design in Paris, where she apprenticed in window design at Hermes. Her paintings reflect a classically beautiful European art tradition,combined with an intellectual and often witty personal outlook, and a deep concern for the dwindling wildlife around the world. Locally, her work can be seen at Mosswood and Boonville Mercantile, as well as Breggo tasting rooms in Mendocino and Anderson Valley. Much of her artistic output is in commissions from collectors. She will be opening her studio doors to visitors on the tour and her studio is open at other times by appointment, located at 12370 Anderson Valley Way. 415-256-8100.
You may have noticed the bright blue tiled Pepperwood Pottery sign in Navarro on Hwy.128. It marks the studio of potter, Doug Johnson. Doug arrived in Anderson Valley in 1971 and taught ceramics at a facility for troubled children, known 20 years ago as Clear Water Ranch. Not long out of high school and college himself, he readily took to the valley. He says,” The Valley has changed a lot since those days. There were almost no vineyards, and Edmeades was the only one on the valley floor. This was all apples and sheep. You could rent a room at the old Boonville Hotel for $12. a night, which my fishing partner Chris Isbel and his family did every Friday night to watch tv. It was cheaper than the movies.”
In 1974 Doug started Pepperwood Pottery with his then-partner, Kristy Gould and at first they just made planters, loading up the VW bus to drive all over local counties to sell them at nurseries.
Their rent was $80. and PGE was $7. then, and he says it was easy to get by. They also did craft fairs for four years and soon tired of that. Then they opened a gallery on Main Street in Mendocino and did well there for 6 years, but after the couple broke up, Doug went to work for North Country Real Estate, selling property. It was to be a short-term plan but it ended up lasting 18 years. Doug is now a full-time potter, with a beautiful studio and garden displaying his elegant crystalline pieces. He reports that many people notice his tiled sign and stop in, and he welcomes visitors to the Memorial Day Open Studio Tour. “From past experience, this year's art tour should be a fun event.” says he.
Doug Johnson's studio is located at Hwy.128, milemarker 14.68.
Sculptor and painter, Rebecca Johnson, whose studio is in the Wiley Barn , 1200 Hwy 128 in Navarro, first came to the Valley to housesit for Paula Gray in Yorkville. While there, her dog, Calla, got a fox tail in her ear, and to pay the vet bill to remove it she got a job at the Boont Berry Farm Store, working for Burt Cohen. She liked the people she met there who shared her vision of local sustainability and decided to stay longer. She then got a job working for Don McMath , a surveyor. Rebecca was the “rodman” — the person who climbs fences and traverses ravines of poison oak.
“I walked all over the valley” she says, ” and fell in love with it. ” Returning to Philadelphia ,Rebecca sold her artist’s loft and made a career change. She’d been adjunct teaching at Dartmouth and Kenyon colleges, having one-person shows in New York, group shows at universities and museums like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others. She’d received art grants and fellowships — but she, like many others, had fallen under the rural spell of beautiful Anderson Valley.
She adds,“After a few years of living here I went back to teaching, but in a new way. I became the AV Elementary School art teacher, and discovered the joy of working with children as they explore and share their creative spirits.” In recent years, Rebecca has collected and used barn wood in her paintings and sculptures. Her paintings depict long-standing barns that may disappear in the future, and she sometimes casts barn boards into bronze, creating standing totems, markers of weather and past homesteads.
When asked about the Open Studio Tour she offers, ” The Anderson Valley Artists Open Studio Tour is an opportunity to have people explore creative spaces throughout the Valley. In order to make Art I spend most of my time alone in the studio. During the tour I open the big barn doors and become an extrovert talking with people about art, process, and ideas. It is a nice change of pace.
Her studio is also open to the public on days other than the Tour. Appointments are recommended — 707-895-9205. Her work can also be seen at Spindrift Gallery in Gualala.