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Sierra Art Trail

September 29-30, 2017
Written September 30+
Dear Diary and Friends and Family,

North of Fresno, on the road leading to the South entrance of Yosemite National Park, the hills hold a wide range of artists, or so we have been told.  We have seen some of their work from time to time in local galleries, but once a year, over 100 artists are part of the Sierra Art Trail.  In past years, we have always seemed to have a conflict, but this year we set aside a Friday and Saturday to see what we might have been missing.

On Friday, we left home early enough to hit the trail at the 10am opening time.  We really had no plan, but we knew we needed all the time we could manage.
Our first stop was in the old kitschy shop area of Coursegold.  For the Sierra Trail, one additional tent had been added, offering the works of a jeweler and a basket-weaver.  Their work was nice, but somehow we were not inspired. (I didn't even manage to take any pictures!)  Not the artists' fault, just that sitting in amongst the normal tourist shops was too distracting for us.

d170929_28_workartist.jpgWe had similar results at another of our standard art stops in Oakhurst.  There is a collection of galleries, anchored by the Stellar Gallery, that we normally enjoy, but not so much this day.  Marianne did do a bit of networking and ended up with an application to display her work, so all was not wasted, although I'll admit my art enthusiasm was at a low spot.

So, I will move this diary on to the good parts!

Our first good stop was at "Fresno Flats", a collection of old buildings that had been moved to form an historical park.  From the park monument we learned that "Fresno Flats" was the original name for Oakhurst. In one of the old buildings Steve Montalto had set up some prints from his company "High Mountain Images".  You MUST go to his website to see his galleries "Fire in the Sierras" and "The Sun, The Moon and the Stars". 

Later, our last stop was also with a photographer.  William Neill had opened his home and displayed offerings from his 30 years of photography in Yosemite.   Neill is an award-winning landscape photographer and, while we did not buy any of his clearing-out-the-house large prints, we did get some insight into the challenge of making a successful career in photography.  Go to his site as well.

d170930_01_house.jpgd170929_10_scene.jpgNow, what about "regular" artists?   At a house set on the hills outside Oakhurst we found four artists  whose works were all special.

Amy Morgan showed an eclectic collection of silk painting, rock painting and ceramics.  When we discovered she had done many of the silks while living in Romania, our conversation ran off to living in Eastern Europe.  I think we all enjoyed being able to tell stories that our day-to-day friends have tired of.

Monique Wales produces wonderful linoleum-cut prints as Red Tail Studios.  Truly exceptional and, with the advent of internet marketing, her client-base is world-wide.  She led Marianne through the process of "pulling" a feather print and, on our Saturday return, Marianne bought one of Monique's.  (Picture below, with Julia.)
d170930_10_mandprint.jpg Julia Bristow was the third talented artist at this stop and, again, Marianne became a happy customer.  The necklace she bought was  deemed to be just perfect for Marianne's own showing later this month in Los Banos. As a coincidence, the print Marianne had bought from Monique had started out as one of Julia's nature photos, a talent she did not even have on display.

d170929_18_pirate.jpgSteve Carney was the fourth artist showing at Monique's house-workshop.  He claimed to be no more than a "hobbiest" woodcarver, but the quality of his work showed his forty years experience in the art.  While Marianne was talking with Monique and Julia, Steve gave me his history in carving, perhaps a dying art in America.  He started as a young man, just out of high school, and hopes to finally have more carving time when he retires from the local school district next January. (This pirate example had impressive detail, but I failed to get a picture of a his carved whale pod, that better displayed imagination and talent.) No web presence yet, just email (scarney12001@yahoo.com), another task for retirement?

Our next house for arts was a schoolhouse, the Gertrude School, a one-room schoolhouse founded in 1878 and still in service through 1962.  Today, it holds the Yosemite Western Artists (YWA), a group that does all sorts of art, including just a small bit of "Western" work.  Sandra Scott met us at the door and immediately, she and Marianne said "Do I know you?".  Yes, indeed, they had crossed paths in other Fresno art venues.  Small world (actually, the size of the local art community is surprisingly large.)  Sandee showed us her offerings, in water color, acrylics, and "alcohol ink", the last two are techniques Marianne experiments with.  Sandra then handed us over to Suzanne Banks, who had her work on display in the other half of the old classroom.

By now, we were wearing out a bit, but we couldn't pass on a farm/art-workshop: Highland Downs. Celia Allman combines her organic farm with a related art specialty: decorated eggs.  Plenty of base material for her whimsical creations.  We may not have been taken with the art, but the farm was a real jewel.  Too bad it's so far from Fresno!  (We did manage to buy one of Celia's famous berry pies, a small one just right for travelers.)

By now we had been on the Art Trail from 10:30 to almost 4pm, saturated for sure.  Along the way, we had asked for dinner recommendations and South Gate Brewing Company had received two enthusiastic votes.  That was good enough for us. 

d170929_50_dave.jpgWe settled at the bar and started with a house-made beer from Dave, the friendly bartender.  Marianne asked him a question or two about local history and he turned out to be an expert, of sorts.  Dave, born and raised in Oakhurst, was a "Clamper", a member of The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus (ECV).  His particular Clamper chapter had erected a number of the local monuments to Gold Rush history, including the Fresno Flats memorial we had stopped at earlier.  It seems the ECV, originally founded in the mid 1800's, and resurrected in 1930, is devoted to history and drinking, or drinking and history.  So, if you ever see a bunch or wobbly red-shirted guys out on a Western highway, they may be history buffs in disguise.

With the beers and a light meal (excellent, actually) finished off, we headed to the Best Western for a peaceful evening. We checked in, along with all kinds of Yosemite tourists.  We could tell they were bound for the National Park because they were mostly foreign, the norm for this time of year after American families have returned to school routines.

So, Day 1 was successful.  Plenty of art and a few stories.

 On Saturday  morning we started, slowly, with the Best Western buffet and a chance to start this diary.  As at check-in, we were surrounded by foreign languages, bringing back memories for when we were the foreigners traveling.  Good memories.

After breakfast, we headed back to Red Tail Studios so Marianne could buy the necklace she "needed" for future art venues.  We also bought one of Monique's prints, but we already told you that (above).

d170930_13_picayuneschool.jpgd170930_15__karen.jpgHeading south to Coursegold, we hit our first artist display, Karen Tillerson's and her fine art travel pictures.  She was showing in the Picayune School, a one-room schoolhouse originally devoted to Miwok children.  Tillerson showed a wonderful collection from exotic places throughout the world.  The combination of a willingness to place herself in challenging places as well as an artist's eye for each scene, makes her work special. (Tillerson email is kytillerson@aol.com, just in case.)

d170930_20_museum.jpgd170930_23_maytag.jpgThe Picayune School was part of the Coursegold Historic Museum.  We have driven past the roadside sign any number of times, but the Art Trail gave us reason to stop and we were glad we did.  Inside the white Kennedy Barn was a eclectic collection of old stuff, mostly turn-of-the-century mementos from the Coursegold area.  I think my favorite was the big, round, wooden Maytag washing machine.  They don't make 'em like this anymore.

The museum buildings also include The Old Adobe, dating from the mid 1800's, perhaps even before the California gold rush.  The rooms were fully furnished and seemed as if the family had just left a few minutes earlier.
d170930_28_native.jpgThe last "buildings" represented the even earlier area residents, the Miwok.  There were a pair of cedar-bark houses, and a series of grinding stones, examples of a simple life that was overrun by the 1948 Gold Rush.

All together, this is a gem of a museum and we need to share it with grandkids.

d170930_30_karen.jpgd170930_32_recycle.jpgBut now, back to art.  Our next stop was again off the beaten path, at a dramatic home overlooking the Fresno River Valley - usually more valley than river in this dry countryside.  Jeweler Karen English was set up in the shade of the front patio.  Her one-of-a-kind pieces were particularly colorful.  This particular necklace was made from recycled vinyl rings and beads from Africa and Pacific Islands.  Nice work, but no sales for Marianne today.

d170930_36_gablerroom.jpgd170930_38_gabbooks.jpgThe home itself belonged to Franka Gabler, another extraordinary photographer.  Her pictures of the mountain and desert West are a combination of the grand and the intimate.  The quality is intimidating to me in my own photography.  I generally avoid taking pictures of pictures, so all I can do is recommend a visit to her own website where you might want to buy a book or two.

d170930_40_barbershop.jpgd170930_42_vrymixedmedia.jpgThe next Art Trail stop was at a barber shop and the Symmetry Hair Salon.  A humble sort of setting, but most friendly folks offering their art.  Marianne was interested in the assemblage work of Myrna Axt because Myrna had exhibited at M Street Gallery and her pieces had been interesting, if a bit unusual.  Today, they seemed to mostly be ...  unusual.
The last Coursegold stop was at the home studio of Carolyn Hartling.   Carolyn does "Atmospheric, Contemporary Landscape Paintings", perhaps not our favorite, but admittedly well done.  More importantly for Marianne, Carolyn heads an art collective that offers a chance to display at a gallery up in Oakhurst.  Networking for our home artist.
As an added bonus, Hartling's studio had a display of Lori Levine's current fascination: angels.  Marianne and Lori had met and talked art-talk before, so it was fun to listen to her current enthusiasm.  She paints angels to gain their protection and, in today's world, we could all use a protecting angel or two.  Don't snicker, it calms her and sells paintings.

And that was it.  Eleven or twelve stops in all, visits to over a third of the almost 100 Sierra Art Trail's 2017 artists.  Our favorite: Red Tail Studios, both for the quality of the work on display and for the interesting conversations we had with each of the four artists. Landscape photography was the other highlight, with four truly excellent practitioners of the art. Each had technical skills, but more importantly, each placed themselves where they could see and capture interesting scenes, from hikes in the local hills and mountains to exotic travels across the globe. 

Disappointments? Other than a few photographs, no large pieces.  And, perhaps related, few if any "wow" pieces.  Plenty of talented people, and art from a variety of genres, but we still need to work in more serious art in the not-too-distant future.

Next?  A trip to Sequoia and Yosemite for me, part of that put-yourself-where-pictures-can-be-made and to the Santa Cruz Mountains for a Zentangle seminar for Marianne.  Separate art training trips.

Stay tuned.

John and Marianne.


We rushed home Saturday, not because we had tired of the Art Trail, but because we had a dinner with neighbors.  Joan and Vern Selland hosted a lively gathering and four couples enjoyed the food, the drink, and, most of all, the company.  Marianne managed to get pictures to help our memories!


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