Magazine article Sunset

Art by the Sea: Ocean Scenery Meets Local Talent along the North Coast

Magazine article Sunset

Art by the Sea: Ocean Scenery Meets Local Talent along the North Coast

Article excerpt

Foamy surf detonating against rocky sea stacks. White, crescent-shaped beaches edging emerald coves. On a winter drive along the coast north of San Francisco, the vistas offer timeless appeal. Add a few stops in vibrant art towns to wander galleries and chat with colorful artists, and you have the makings of an entertaining weekend getaway, a kind of Art 101 field trip. Bodega Bay, Gualala, Mendocino, and Fort Bragg all have thriving art communities and galleries to showcase local talent. Even cafes and lodges are filled with paintings, carvings, and blown-glass pieces.

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These small towns are great places to learn about media and trends, perhaps meet new and emerging ceramists or sculptors, and shop at cooperatives (where prices are usually moderated by the fact that many of the owner-artists are just starting their careers). The North Coast art scene may not be as prominent yet as, say, a Carmel-by-the-Sea, but word of its high quality is spreading. Despite the remote location, the number of people visiting open studios on September's annual North Coast Artists' Guild Studio Discovery Tour (www.studio-tours.com) has doubled in the last two years. And now there are more special events at galleries year-round,

including Fort Bragg's First Friday (707/964-8266) and Mendocino's Second Saturday (707/937-5818).

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"This is not an easy area to reach or to make a living in," says Mendocino Art Center executive director Peggy Templer. One result, Templer contends, is that the area fosters artistic individualism. "You won't find any Thomas Kinkades here," she says. "You will find freshness and creativity." When you visit, you will also encounter an art scene that's laid-back, friendly, and anything but pretentious.

Artists are drawn to the North Coast's radiant quality of light and the rough-hewn shoreline. For visitors, the winding route of State 1 is simply one of the best drives in California. But who knows? In the muted light of winter, the coast might even bring out the artist in you.

Bodega Bay and Gualala

If you're a novice art buyer, it's hard to beat the help you can get from a gallery owner with time to talk. That's just what you'll get in Bodega Bay, a small cluster of shops, cafes, and galleries huddled along the highway. Galleries here pay a lower rent than in San Francisco, two hours south, so art prices can be more reasonable.

About an hour's drive north of Bodega Bay, the old lumber town of Gualala sits on a wild coastline. On some winter days, gray whales pause in their migration to hang out in the coves. Art lovers will want to hang out in the Gualala Art Center, where you'll see a wide range of media and styles in a light-filled gallery. Built by the local community, with donated funds and labor, the center is tangible proof of the power of the growing art community here.

Gualala Art Center. Everything from edgy to traditional art. 9-4 Mon-Fri, 12-4 Sat-Sun. 46501 Gualala Rd., Gualala; www.gualalaarts.org or 707/884-1138.

Local Color Gallery. Works by established and emerging Sonoma County artists--paintings, prints, glassware, and pottery. 10-5 daily. 1580 Eastshore Rd., Bodega Bay; www.localcolorgallery.com or 707/875-2744.

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Pangaea. The restaurant was designed by artists, and local artwork is on display throughout. $$$; dinner Wed-Sun (reservations suggested for $36 prix fixe Sun dinner). 39165 S. State 1, Gualala; 707/884-9669.

The Ren Brown Collection. Contemporary Japanese prints and antique Japanese furnishings in a serene setting. …

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