The first Three Rivers Artists’ Biennial Studio Tour was held April 4 and 5, 1992, with eight brave artists opening their art-making spaces. Four years later, in 1996, the second Studio Tour doubled the number of artists to 16.
Studio Tours past— Over the past 24 years, the following 62 local artists, all working in diverse art mediums, have generously shared their work spaces and their art as inspiration for the public: Rick Badgley, Jeanette Barton, Betty Bergthold, Anne Birkholz, Jana Botkin, Miriam Briks, Lynne Bunt, Carole Clum, Elsah Cort, Gary Cort, Nikki Crain, Deborah Dal Zuffo, Meryl Darsey, Karen Dennis, James Entz, Donna Fairman, Aranga Firstman, Adrian Green, John Griesbach, Ursula Grimm, Anne Haxton, Linda Hayden, Jeffrey Jay, Nancy Jonnum, Jerry Jonnum, Arlene Jayme, Shirley Keller, Karen Kimball, Gene Maddox, Jim Mathias, Eddie McArthur, Wendy McKellar, Denis Milhomme, Judy Miller, Carolyn Myer, Gary Olenslager, Georgellen Parker, Maggie Pavlou, Stan Pavlou, Mike Perez, Armin Pfadisch, Clayton Porter, Brenda Proudfoot, Marn Reich, Carol Rookstool, Christine Sell-Porter, Mona Fox Selph, George Smith, Kevin Spottedhorse, Larkspur Dawn Spottedhorse, Saundra Sturdevant, Nadi Spencer, Tina St. John, Ron Stivers, Frank Treuting, Louisa Toste, Martha Widmann, Jimmie Wollenman, Lidabelle Wylie, Kevin Yee, Lorraine Young and Zachary Zachary.
Several weeks before each Studio Tour, the participating artists would visit each of the studios for a special, private Pre-Tour. These times were a wonderful opportunity to hear the artists talking with each other about how they worked and what drew them to making art.
Many artists are shy and quiet by nature, and this was always such a precious experience for me. I often felt it was the best part of organizing the Studio Tour. I hope local artists might be able to continue this practice, even when we are enfolded into the larger event.
Artists in Three Rivers— Artists and Three Rivers have been linked for a long time, with beginnings way back in 1940 when photographer Gene Gray and his brother-in-law, sculptor Carroll Barnes, mixed local dirt and water to build their adobe art gallery called “Sierraden” (the building located just east of present-day Sierra Lodge on Highway 198). Barnes sculpted his famous Paul Bunyan redwood sculpture in front of this humble structure just as World War II was getting underway.
When I first moved to Three Rivers in 1977, I loved hearing the stories that Gene Gray would tell me about making the adobe bricks and, later, when I met Carroll Barnes and his wife, Vangel, at their home in Sebastopol, I heard more about the early days of making art here in the foothills.
Jean Caulfeild, master serigraph artist, told me tales about the cooperative (and sometimes contentious) art exhibits held in the 1950s and ‘60s at the old Apple House on the North Fork and at the Three Rivers Woman’s Clubhouse, also on the North Fork (now the Three Rivers Arts Center). Jean gave me tours of her art studio, a tiny upstairs room above a shed next to her modest home on the North Fork. I remember seeing scraps of rejected serigraphs torn up in her trash can.
Pauline Whitson would take me into the dusty, dark, and very big Apple House, digging through boxes of her botanical drawings and art. She owned the building and was part of that early artists’ group that shared exhibitions, all following the lure of being an artist in Three Rivers.
Frequent visits to the home of Rosemary Packard led to fun lunches and talks about the creative life in Three Rivers, peeking into her spare bedroom/studio where she painted her landscapes.
Immersed in the stories of these early artists, and as a budding photographer myself, I had my first booth at the Redbud Arts and Crafts Festival in 1978. Gene Gray had nudged both Butch Castro (remember his magnificent photographs of the amazing poppy bloom on Dry Creek in 1978?) and me to get out there with our work, so we shared that first booth under a tree in the front yard of Ard Farkle’s Restaurant.
In 1983, Rod Simonian asked me to organize the 10th annual Redbud Festival, which I continued for the next seven years and that also included the formation of the Arts Alliance of Three Rivers as the festival’s sponsor when the local chamber of commerce disbanded.
Studio Tour comes to Three Rivers— Several years later, in 1991, as co-owner of the Cort Gallery, the impetus came to organize an artists’ studio tour for Three Rivers. In those years, studio tours were not as common as they are now throughout California.
I had seen studios open in the Bay Area and thought what a great idea it would be for our little town. I loved to see how art was made and how each artist arranged their studio space.
I knew it would be an amazing experience for people to be able to talk with the artists in their studios and hear their stories of art-making. In 1998, the Studio Tour fell into its biennial pattern, and Marilyn Messa joined me as a partner in producing five studio tours for the next 10 years.
For the last five tours, visitors were enthusiastically welcomed and given their guidebooks and maps by Kerry Kaus, Anne Marks, Sharon Gayden, Peggy Hunt, and Stephanie Dethlefs.
Studio Tour future— I have been deeply honored to work with so many dedicated artists over the years and am excited about the new direction of the Studio Tour, joining the new larger one that was started in 2013 by the Arts Consortium (the designated county arts organization for the California Arts Council.) I am hoping that all of the artists and creatives of Three Rivers will continue to open their studios and share the mysteries of their art-making. Sharing the art is as important as making it.
On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, March 20-22, 2015, artists' studios will be open throughout Tulare County. The application deadline for artists to join the tour is October 3, 2014. See www.artsconsortium.org to download an artist’s application and follow me on facebook.com/threerivers.arts for continued news and commentary about local and global art.