Open Studios, Open Hearts: Central Coast Artists Bare All

Bruce Everett studio.jpg
Landscape painter Bruce Everett opens his Templeton studio to the public this month during the Open Studios Art Tour. | Courtesy photo.

Tucked away in the Templeton countryside down a gravel road lined with lush vineyards, Bruce Everett's studio could be mistaken for just another brick-red barn. Push past the double doors trimmed with white, however, and you'll discover an airy art haven.

"When I first started painting, I would never paint in a big enough space," explained Everett, who constantly struggled to expand his Los Angeles garage. Now he's able to put the finishing touches on his large-scale landscape paintings in a 1,400-square-foot structure with warm wood features, vaulted ceilings and a veranda overlooking rolling hills studded with live oak and pepper trees.

Everett's studio is among the artistic work spaces that will be open to the public Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21 during the Open Studios Art Tour, sponsored by the San Luis Obispo County Arts Council, or, Arts Obispo. Now in its 14th year, the free event offers an inside look at the creative process of 238 artists throughout the Central Coast.

"You get to talk to the artists and understand why or how they created the art, which is something you don't get to do in a gallery or museum," explained Jenna Hartzell, Arts Obispo program director. "You get to see the process ... not just see that final product."

This year, Arts Obispo has made it even easier to find Open Studios participants, In addition to the free tour guide, available online and at select locations, there's a new Open Studios iPhone app that lets visitors map out their routes.

Hartzell compared the experience of traveling from studio to studio to wine tasting, noting that visitors enjoy exploring San Luis Obispo County in a fresh way. "They like the adventure. They like seeing parts of SLO County they've never seen before," she said.

Ken Frye studio in Nipomo. | Courtesy photo.
Ken Frye studio in Nipomo. | Courtesy photo.

Nipomo woodworker Ken Frye, who handcrafts museum-quality furniture in a converted airplane hangar, said he enjoys sharing his process with art lovers. "I feed off the public's response and their energy and enthusiasm," said Frye, who's participated in Open Studios for a decade. "They usually tell me it was well worth the drive."

A remote South County outpost with "a beautiful view of the ocean," Fryes' 2,400-square-foot studio offers ample space for woodworking equipment and materials under 14-foot ceilings.

"When I go out there to be at my studio, it means I'm going out there to be creative," said Frye, who divides his time between crafting custom projects for interior designers and architects, and creating one-of-a-kind artwork using high-end materials such as European pear wood, madrone burl and quilted maple. He spends 250 to 400 hours on each museum-quality piece, typically turning out one a year.

Frye doesn't mind the pokey pace or the time-consuming attention to detail. "When a month goes by and I'm not working on my art pieces ... I'm eager to get back into it," he said.

Nipomo artist Ben Trogdon turned a massive wine barrel into a pottery and fused glass studio. | Courtesy photo.
Nipomo artist Ben Trogdon turned a massive wine barrel into a pottery and fused glass studio. | Courtesy photo.

Elsewhere in Nipomo, Ben Trogdon finds peace working at his potter's wheel. "Throwing at the wheel for me is pretty meditative for me," said the artist, who's been known to crank up Cat Stevens, James Taylor and The Beatles while he's working. "You're just really focused on the pot on the wheel."

Fortunately, the acoustics are "really good" in Trogdon's studio, a 21,500-gallon redwood barrel once used to age red wine. He and his wife, Robin, bought two barrels from a Hollister winery about a year after moving to Nipomo in 1979; the other is used as a water tank at his wholesale tropical plant nursery in Nipomo, Pacific Sun Growers.

Trogdon compared the laborious process of assembling the staves, which measure 3 inches thick, 6 inches wide and 21 feet long, to "a giant pick-up sticks game." "I had a big party and got my friends to come to over to put it (together). The next morning it had fallen over in a huge pile," he recalled with a laugh.

Trogdon said his unusual studio is a hit with Open Studios visitors who come to check out his colorful pots, plates, bowls and fused glass masks. "It's unique, it's different. People are really excited to see it, and pretty interested it," said the artist, who's been on the tour for about seven years.(His mother, Arroyo Grande painter Lorri Trogdon, is also participating in this year's tour.)

Visitors love stopping by Patricia Griffin's studio, housed in a one-room schoolhouse in Cambria. | Courtesy photo.

Ceramic artist Patricia Griffin loves welcoming art lovers to her Cambria studio and gallery, housed in a former one-room schoolhouse built in 1881. Originally located on Santa Rosa Creek outside the North Coast town, the schoolhouse, which served its original purpose until World War II, was eventually donated to the Cambria Lions Club and moved to its current West Village site adjacent to the Cambria Library.

Griffin moved into the schoolhouse, which was used as an art gallery by the Allied Arts Association of Cambria for several years, in 2010. In order to protect the historical structure, she's kept the interior façade walls added by the association, put in a floating linoleum floor in her "heavy-duty clay space" and installed a kiln in a separate building once used as dressing rooms and storage space.

"Part of my interest in the building was that it has been a real community center," explained Griffin, who's tried to preserve that connection. "When you have that mix of a historical space with new work being created, it just adds a lot of energy to the place and to my own work."

Patricia Griffin in the studio. | Courtesy photo.
Patricia Griffin in the studio. | Courtesy photo.

According to Griffin, participating in Open Studios over the past three years has been "a really good thing for the progression of my work." "Having people to come in and getting feedback on my work almost immediately has been really interesting," said the artist, who seeks inspiration from woodcuts, scrimshaw carvings and the natural world for her textured clay vessels.

Plus, she said, she enjoys strong support from the five other studios on the Cambria Pottery Trail, including Earthsea Pottery, Dancing Dog Clayworks and Rollie Younger's Cambria Pottery. "It adds to that feeling I get in Cambria of being a town potter," Griffin said.

Everett finds a different sense of connection at his Templeton studio --which, like the house he shares with wife Patti, was built in 2007. "I like the idea that it looks like it's been around for a while," the retired Cal State Northridge professor said.

Although the studio houses a small wood shop, storage space, several reference books and magazines, and a vast collection of Kodak slides, Everett spends most of his time in the center work area painting, sometimes sitting on an old bar stool or standing on a well-worn Oriental rug.

A mission-style table holds his brushes and oil paints, while a wooden settee offers a different perspective. There's even a red hide-a-bed for those long nights when Everett is trying to get a detail just right.

No wonder he feels so at home there. As fellow artist Frye said, just being in the studio "gets me in a creative mood.... It definitely feeds my soul."


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