Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
Sierra Art Trails is an annual three-day art extravaganza in the foothills north of Fresno. This year, 85 artists offered their wares, often in their mountain homes and workshops. We spent a full Friday and Saturday driving a hundred miles or so, seeing only about a third of all the venues.
Now I want to document our experience in a diary, but I wondered how to give a sense for our two-day experience, without quickly losing reader attention. Of course, Marianne and I will need enough record to shake our aged memories in a year or two, but regular folks...?
I'll define a theme: "Old Friends and New". That seemed to be how the trip developed naturally, with visits to some artist-friends of the Trotter house-artist (M.) and discussions with new artist-acquaintances who offered insight into their work and artistic passions. We left each of these new folks feeling we had new friends.
To start, I will put my favorite new friend stop first and the best old friend stop next. Then, I will add notes for all the people we visited. Finally, tourist details (eating, drinking, staying) are pushed down to a postscript. OK?
Best-In-Show: Scott J. McGrath and McGrath Arts.
McGrath Arts had been on our Friday itinerary as a "maybe", but we tired before we got there. It is off the beaten path, even by Sierra Foothills standards and "large scale metal sculpture" is outside our normal interests. Fortunately, at our first Saturday stop, photographer/carpenter Tom Eggert recommended McGrath as a must-see. He was right.
The gate to McGrath Arts, at the end of a quarter-mile dirt driveway, was a hint that the work done here would be special. Down at the workshops, we started chatting with Scott and proceeded to be blown away by his work spaces and his work. I could have taken enough photos for a long diary-entry on shops and machines alone, or on all the work on display. Instead, the gallery below is just a hint.
First shop; Scott and helper Mike; Scott explaining his silver mission tabernacle project.
Scott's wife's drawings; bronze castings of geese; a wind sculpture.
Out-sized iron sculptures, six feet and more tall, some much more.
Next-Best-In-Show: The North Fork Bunch of Friends
Almost our only REQUIRED stop was outside the little village of North Fork. Marianne's friends Marina, Amy, and Ren had all brought work to Dawn Hart's mountain home. Here are reminders of our visit.
Marina Popov - We already had three of Marina's ceramic bells at home, so we certainly recommend anything she does. She also just returned from Kiev, Ukraine, with a piece from Sergey, a ceramicist we bought a dozen or more pieces from a decade and a half ago. Small world.
Ren Lee - Ren's "built ceramics" are truly imaginative. She claimed that she started this general type of ceramics when she discovered she was too anxious to calmly throw a pot on the potters wheel. Great compensation. We made our first purchase on this trip, although we have been admiring the work for a long time now.
Amy Morgan - Amy has a variety of artistic expressions, silk painting most notably, and an enthusiasm for explaining them all that is infectious. We met her a year or three ago, on an earlier Sierra Art Trail excursion.
Dawn Hart and Hanna Desch (on the potter's wheel) were new friends for us. I'm sure we will see them around other local venues, or perhaps in Sierra Art Trails 2020.
New Friends - Friday
We started the art tour right next to breakfast (Wild Fig Kitchen - see postscript) in Coursegold, Carolie Jensen had set up a display featuring her pine needle baskets, a native technique she learned from a local Miwok Native American weaver. Nice work. Nice conversation with a new friend.
Just up the road, we stopped at the first photographer for our tour: Jerry Bosworth. I was interested in his black and white landscapes, in part because he uses a monochrome Leica, a very specialized relative of my new Leica Q2. (Jerry said he was in fact next in line at Horn Photo for a Q2.) All his work was wonderful, and at clearance prices, but wall space at home is limited, so all we bought was this post card.
Marianne mentioned wanting a manzanita branch for home decorations and Jerry immediately offered part of one of his dying trees. He brought out a chain saw, handed me some giant scissors, and presto, a new project for when we get home. He's definitely a new friend.
Bosworth also recommended our next stop: photographer David Hoffman and his artist-wife Charlotte Hoffman. We made the short drive to their foothills home and immediately struck up a pair of new-friend conversations, Marianne and Charlotte talking painting and David and I talking photos.
David and Jerry go together taking pictures in the Sierras, and both do wonderful landscapes, but record the same scenes differently in color, composition, and impact. Charlotte works in color pastels, a medium Marianne has tried and never mastered. Charlotte has it mastered. For some reason, the only photo record we walked away with was the driveway picture and purchased cards from Charlotte. Visit the website links!
Mariposa was the northern limit of our art trail and our first stop was the Sierra Artists Gallery. The gallery shows the work of twenty local artists, but Marianne was quickly taken by Hannelore Fischer and her acrylics. They immediately started talking, in German and English, like longtime friends and acrylic colleagues, sharing Hanna's novel painting technique.
Across Mariposa's Main Street, we stopped at a local wine shop (see post script) where Fran Shell was showing her "pottery", a term she prefers to "ceramics". She uses specific techniques, including one where horse hair is burned on the hot surface of the pieces right out of the kiln. Interesting patterns. I was attracted to more utilitarian pieces, where Fran leaves the material thick and quite heavy. A new cereal bowl for my breakfasts.
West of downtown Mariposa, we visited two more artists.
Melinda Abeles was showing her intricate bead-work, small pieces that take a several ten-hour days apiece. The detail was amazing.
Phyllis Becker was showing a variety of ceramic pieces, most of which might be classified as "kitchen ware"; butter dishes, serving plates, cups, and the like. We like almost all, but got back in our car and drove away. After five-hundred feet of driving and discussing how much we liked Becker's work, we returned as customers and new friends.
Our final Friday stop was at Stellar Gallery.
Jonathan Bock runs the gallery and organizes Sierra Art Trails, both full-time jobs I would think. We talked for awhile and it was clear he was proud and enthusiastic about promoting local art and artists. Good for him!
The main room of Stellar Gallery features one piece each from all the Stellar artists. Among them I recognized old friends:
New Friends - Saturday
Our first Saturday stop was at Tom Eggert's home, where his divided interests of photography and furniture-making were on display. His "vinocultural" furniture was rustic, but better-than-that. His photography was yet another take on local Yosemite and Sierra scenes, sometimes just leaves in a puddle, as he demonstrated for Marianne. A different artistic eye. Tom also insisted we go see the iron-smith who makes bases for some of his tables: Scott McGrath. A great recommendation, that and his overall friendliness definitely earned Tom a "new friend" label.
Most of the rest of Saturday was spent at McGrath Arts or with Marianne's buddies showing in North Fork. Both are described at the top of this diary.
Our last stop on the 2019 Sierra Art Trails was a family home in Yosemite Lakes Park. Lisa Anderson and husband Martin Shapiro showed their glass-work and ceramics and son Isaac Shapiro his photographs. I'll admit, we were tired by this time, and perhaps not sufficiently appreciative of yet-more-art, but it was nice to see a family where art played a role. And glass panels in late afternoon sun made decent pictures.
So, that was our 2019 Sierra Art Trails. I think we now look forward to see our new and old friends at other local venues and at the 18th Sierra Art Trails in 2020. Stay tuned.
John and Marianne
post script: tourist information
We often describe a good meal or a good temporary residence on our travels. They are part of good memories. As a matter of website policy, we do not describe bad experiences. Who'd want to remember? On this short trip, we had two good meals and a wine tasting to remember.
First was the Friday breakfast in Coarsegold at Wild Fig Kitchen. Since we'd enjoyed a lunch there last year, I suppose this is part of "old friends". And, again, we enjoyed a garden meal, in perfect early-Fall temperature. Maybe Wild Fig should not get credit for the weather, but the food was great too.
Wine tasting does not seem like the "art" of the Sierra Art Trails, although Mariposa's Casto Oaks Fine Wine and Arts was hosting potter Fran Shell. Nevertheless, it was a recommendable stop, so it is described down here in tourism.
The Casto Winery story sounded like dream-come-true success where Harold and Kris Casto took a flier and bought a 160 acre ranch, east of Mariposa. They worked part-time for years building a successful vineyard and ranch and then, as a retirement project, started making their own wine. More hard work, but also more success.
The tasting room poured five wines, from a light white to a port, each good to more than good. We settled on a Cabernet-Merlot-Syrah blend called "Man's Best Blend", in honor of the owner's dog. The white lab used to ride in Harold's four-wheel on everyday vineyard chores, as sketched on the label. The wine was good enough to buy, but it came with the back story that Harold had passed away unexpectedly a few months earlier.
Friday dinner was both good food and interesting fellow-diner interactions. Smokehouse 41 was recommended somewhere along our Sierra Art Trail and we need to thank whoever suggested it. The Smokehouse served generous portions of tender barbecue beef, pork, and sausage, along with appropriate side dishes. It all paired well with our Man's Best Blend.
Smokehouse 41 is a small and pretty casual place with tables almost bumping into each other. One one side of our table, we started a conversation with "Jimmy", whose retirement job was as a Yosemite National Park bus driver. He was a positive and engaging guy, who managed to stay positive while navigating a huge bus among summer tourist crowds. He said we should look him up on our visit to Wawona Lodge later this month. Another new friend!
On our other side, we detected accents and accents attract us. Marianne asked if they were German and the man said: "No, French, but I can speak German if you like." That started a half-hour conversation, in English, where we learned that Jean-Jerome and his wife were touring the US West. Back home in southern France, they have a three-unit AirBNB-type home that sounded like just the sort of place we need to visit! The last of our new friends?