(Oil on canvas work by Richard M. Bennett titled "Pajaro Valley")
WATSONVILLE — Over its 32 years in existence, the majority of artists showing in the Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour have been centered on the northern and middle portions of the county.
On the southern end of the county, Watsonville has always had a small but strong showing of artists, but it didn’t have the numbers as its northern counterparts.
This year, South County has a made an effort to close the gap.
Twenty Watsonville artists are participating in the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County’s Open Studios, up from 12 in 2016, according to Open Studios and Events Director Ann Ostermann. Of those 20, nine are first-timers to the tour.
While noting that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why the number of artists spiked, Ostermann said she was “thrilled.” More artists in Watsonville will encourage North County residents to visit the area and explore the city, she said.
“We always try to remind people to use Open Studios to visit parts of the county that you don’t normally visit,” Ostermann said. “There’s great reasons to drive down to Watsonville.”
This year, 300 artists working in a variety of media across the county are participating in Open Studios, which began Saturday in North County. A total of 44 artists are new to the tour, while 37 have participated for more than 20 years, according to Ostermann.
Studios are divided between North and South County (with the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor as the dividing point). Saturday and Sunday features South County artists, and Oct. 21 and 22 is an all-county weekend that features select artists in both North and South County. Each day, studios are open from 11 a.m.–5 p.m.
As it has been for the past few years, the Artist Guide is available for free alongside the Good Times publication, as well as at outlets throughout the county. A free app for mobile devices is also available for download.
The move has proved to be a success for the tour, Ostermann said, allowing it to be more accessible to all residents. Organizers decided to drop the usual $20 price tag on the guide after they realized sales had dropped by more than half over a period of 10 years, from 5,000 in 2004 to 2,400 in 2014.
Thousands of people are expected to walk through artists’ studios over the three weekends of the tour. While the artists will be selling their work, Ostermann said tour-goers don’t need to feel pressured to make a purchase.
“[The artists] are looking to share their joy of art with you and create a connection,” she said. “There’s nothing like seeing where people get their inspiration. It really makes you appreciate the work they’ve done.”
‘Clusters’ of artists
According to Arts Council Executive Director Michelle Williams, Santa Cruz County has more artists per capita than any other county of similar size. As a result, there is a good chance that there are neighborhoods of artists in areas of the county.
That happens to be the case in the East Lake area of Watsonville.
Five artists — Richard M. Bennett, Jan Carter, Bonni Carver, Melissa West and Elizabeth Williams — all live within a mile of each other. Their studios will be open for the next two weekends.
Ostermann said there are “clusters” of artists throughout the county, who work together to promote each others’ studio.
“There’s a real spirit of camaraderie when you see people all around each other,” she said.
Bennett, whose studio is located on 341 Brentwood Drive, presents landscapes, portraits and figure works in his drawings and prints. He also works in bronze and hydrostone sculptures.
“I believe that art is the key to the understanding and preservation of the tree of life,” he said.
Carter, who lives at 466 Tuttle Ave., creates portraits, landscapes and still life and images in acrylics, watercolor, pastels and colored pencil.
On 688 Delta Way, Carver will display her watercolor work that depicts local landscapes.
West is both a painter and printmaker, with prints ranging in subject from ancient legend and fairy tales to contemporary social issues.
“In my prints I often depict the characters who populate myths, legends and fairy tales, but transplant them into a modern or neutral setting,” said West, whose studio is located on 451 Tuttle Ave.
Williams, working in acrylic paint on a variety of surfaces at her studio on 525 Argos Circle, creates folk art images and sculptures of mermaids, whales, circus performers, dolls, robots, horses and more.
Sylvia Valentine Henrichsen and Renee Sayer Wence will once again be sharing Valentine Henrichsen’s studio on 33 Karen Drive in Watsonville.
The two joined forces in 2015, but Valentine Henrichsen took 2016 off to focus on creating new work.
This year, Wence, a 28-year Open Studios veteran, is focusing on smaller scale collectible clay art, while continuing to experiment with inks and acrylics on clay.
“I have proudly participated in Open Studios since 1989 as a Watsonville South County artist,” she said. “It has been my most important and appreciated event.”
This spring, Valentine Henrichsen and her husband Paul Henrichsen traveled to Bali and Thailand for a month. For the photographer in her, Valentine Henrichsen was in “photo heaven,” she said.
Watsonville photographer Sylvia Valentine Henrichsen will showcase her work during Open Studios from her recent travels with her husband Paul to Bali, Thailand and other places. Contributed photo
“We got up close and personal with tigers, monkeys and elephants,” she said. “We enjoyed pristine infinity pools and rice fields. We connected with amazing cultures and beautiful people. We were in awe of the beauty.”
Visitors to Valentine Henrichsen’s studio will see her photos from that trip as well as some from road trips in the United States.
Wence said hosting her art at Valentine Henrichsen’s studio in 2015 was a “huge success,” and she expects the same this year.
“Sharing with another artist gives me a chance to see their art, share inspiration, meet new visitors and bring my art closer to a cluster of artists for the public to tour,” she said.
Valentine Henrichsen said teaming up is beneficial to both the artists themselves and the visitors.
“It’s great for customers to have multiple artists to see on one visit and our work really complements each other and has a good variety,” she said.
And holiday shoppers can also get a jump start, both artists noted. Wence will have a variety of treasure boxes and trays, tiles, vases and jewelry for sale, while Valentine Henrichsen will have greeting cards, mats, magnets, mousepads and more, with a portion of proceeds going to environmental and nature nonprofits and hurricane relief efforts.
A preview exhibit for Open Studios is on display at the Santa Cruz Art League, 526 Broadway, through Oct. 22. Exhibit hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
In addition to the main preview exhibit, there is also a satellite preview exhibit at the R. Blitzer Gallery, 2801 Mission St. in Santa Cruz. This exhibit features work by artists in the remote areas throughout the county. The exhibit will be open through Oct. 22.
For information and to find the 2017 Artist Guide, visit artscouncilsc.org.