The Boonville Art Walk

by Bruce McEwen, July 15, 2010

Celebrating his first anniversary in Boonville, this reporter strolled the 14th Annual Boonville Art Walk last Saturday, July 10th. The day was sunny and hot with about six knots of welcome cool winds gusting intermittently through the valley, fresh off the Pacific 25 miles to the west.

A year ago, a backward, blundering bumpkin blew into town and he might just as well have fallen off the turnip truck from Sodom, Egypt, for all he knew about Mendoland’s most happening place: Boonville! He took a tentative look around and wondered aloud what he’d gotten himself into. But now the cub reporter’s a year older and infinitely wiser, having learned the difference between a maven and a dilettante, not to mention a few choice words of Boontling. Among the many things I've learned in a year of learning experiences, that in Boonville, with its vibrant culture, characters and vivid personalities, anybody with an adjustable hearing aid and a zipper on his lip can become an accomplished art critic virtually overnight. Granted, it took me a whole year, but I’ve come to understand that I’m not really a retarded eejit, like Grandpa always said, just “special.”

Given his orders and a pastrami sandwich, your intrepid reporter descended the stairs from the AVA’s noir-ish offices high atop the Farrer Building to encounter Malcolm West, who was just setting up his easels on the Back Porch, outside All That Good Stuff and Nahara's body working shop's front door.

Malcolm works in watercolors. He’s a landscape painter with readily recognizable themes: A whitewashed farmstead nestled in the live oaks spilling off the pale yellow hills in the background. With a hangover, the viewer might think he was actually looking out a window on the east wall of most Anderson Valley residences. Malcolm West's work was selected to represent local watercolor standards at the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah. This guy is good!

Malcolm’s a chatty fellow, conversant in many subjects. He told me about his experiences with pumps and plumbing in the Bay Area, for instance. He’s widely traveled but not a braggart, sophisticated without being superior, and politically prickly without being an opinionated prick about it, which requires a deft sense of balance and perspective. These qualities may be what give his landscapes balance and keeps them in perspective. All too often, the artist takes his hometown altogether too seriously, loses his detachment entirely, strays into nostalgia, and gets lost in the quaint clichés of sentimentality.

Mr. West’s unassuming, understated landscapes convey as much emotional scope to the viewer as he is capable of comprehending. Which is to say, whereas an newcomer like myself might find a given picture regionally familiar, a local would say, “Why, that’s old So-&-So’s place!” and smile fondly at some memory.

I went through the breezeway and crossed to the shady side of the street for the walk down to Tom McFadden’s woodworking shop, the northern end of the Art Walk.

John Kennaugh got there just ahead of me — the cheater had driven his car to the walk! Mr. Kennaugh is himself a highly skilled woodworker and the man who made the elegant sign hanging on the east gable of the Farrer Building announcing the community newspaper that employs me. The sign itself is a work of art. He and Tom immediately hit it off, having much in common to discuss, and Kathleen gave me the tour while Tom and John talked shop.

Tom’s workshop is a woodworker’s wonderland.

Completely refurbished Oliver table saws, joiners, planers, lathes and whatnot from the 1920s in a spacious building with high ceilings, where exotic lumber is stored and exhaust ducts for the sawdust snake up from the tools, a showcase of a lost art. With all the cheap tools from China available to hobbyists today, one easily forgets that less than 100 years ago the US made tools built to last for generations.

In the back, there’s another showcase: A little apartment featuring the fine furniture Tom has crafted. The pieces are at once classic and novel. There is an amazing attention to detail, a gifted sense of style, whimsy and grace expressed in each and every piece.

You would not want Tom’s dining sets in a restaurant, for instance, because the patrons would be loath to leave such comfort and elegance, and you could never seat another party of diners until after midnight. And the bedroom set, while the pieces all match up enchantingly, are not tediously repetitive like the stuff one sees in modern furniture stores. Every surface, of course, was rubbed with lemon oil to a finish as smooth as porcelain and polished to a warm luster.

Back out in the workshop John and Tom were still earnestly chatting. Kathleen showed me a display of cutting boards and rolling pins laid out for those who were not in the market for furniture. There were also some boxes, picture frames and delightful wooden toys.

Back out on the Art Walk, I bounced around from one venue to the next. At the south end of the Art Walk, Jaye Alison Moscariello had her painted tiles and watercolors on display at the Foursight Winery. Jaye's one of those artists us critics appreciate. She's open and patient, willing to explain herself and her work. Her tiles are painted with fruit and flowers. The ones with the fruit, she explained, grew out her concerns over how things like fruit and vegetables are marketed – where every plum or grape is absolutely perfect as if such things were natural. She admitted that a lot of people didn't get it – her statement, that is. But that was okay with her. If people liked them just for their looks it was not an issue that troubled her. She said some people wanted them for back-splash tiles in their kitchens or bathrooms, merely for the sake of decoration, and that was fine with her.

Her watercolors are local seascapes and landscapes seen through narrow slots of matting and the technique is very effective.

Sonia Gill, another helpfully communicative artist had her acrylic paintings of apple and cherry blossoms hung at Mosswood Market. Ms. Gill lives at an old orchard in Yorkville and really makes the blossoms compelling. In her canvases, the blossoms are virtually put under the microscope, appearing much larger-than-life. Every detail and shade of color is magnified.

Kirstin Robbe was in front of the General Store with a display of glass jewelry, wine bottle stoppers and shot glasses. The bottle stoppers had amazing little flowers inside the glass created by a technique called implosion which pulls drops of color into the glass. Next to her stand was Lisa Lee who had a technique of bonding handmade papers and things like peacock feathers to glass vessels with some wonderful results in color and texture. Across the street at the Hotel, there was more jewelry by Judy Nelson, paintings by Rebecca Johnson, and calligraphy by Jody Williams. Regina Schwenter-Lipp had some fine watercolors at Boont Berry Store, and Sonny Hatcher's intriguing paintings graced the walls of Rancheria Realty.

Some of the busiest places were Laughing Dog Books, Rookie-To Gallery and Lauren's Restaurant.

At Laughing Dog Books, Steve Derwinski displayed and demonstrated his hand-crafted guitars. The body of one guitar was a peace sign; the body of another featured female breasts. A crowd gathered in the shade as the tall eucalyptus trees danced in the balmy breeze to the music. There was lots of food and wine, and local authors Bruce "Pat" Patterson and Hannah Newcomer read from their work. And the always inventive Rainbow Hill displayed her much-in-demand jewelry and beadwork.

Over at Rookie-To Gallery, there were more handmade instruments by Bruce Halborn – and these were even more amazing than Derwinski's peace sign guitar and the one with the bare breasts. Halborn's "banjitars" and "guitarjos" have to be seen to be appreciated, since they're made from things like cigar boxes, wine boxes, hubcaps and even frying pans.

Of all the marvelous artwork at Rookie-To, the pieces by Paula Gray most captivated me. Her portraits of dogs and cats are the most entertaining pictures I've ever seen. Some of them are on plates. One of a dog with a ball balanced on his head, entitled "Trick," made me laugh right out loud, and I smile every time I think of the expression on that dog's face. Another one, of a cat enduring a bath, sticks in my mind's eye and amuses me endlessly. Looking at these caricatures one gets a glimmer of understanding into why we often give house pets stage names. On a more sober note, there were some gloomy photographs by Charlie Hochberg (more of these were at Missouri House), pinched ceramics by Alan Porter, jewelry by Colleen Schenck, and stained glass by Terry Ryder, all of it of high quality.

At Lauren's there was more work on display than even, perhaps, the John Hanes Gallery, which has been stuffed with fine art since it opened a couple of months ago. Lauren seems to take particular interest in the Art Walk. Her roomy restaurant and shaded porches were full of work from a myriad of artists, as she went from place to place to see how everybody else was doing. She had a very busy day.

At Lauren's, the walls were hung with big beautiful oil canvases of Buddhist figures, some in repose, all meditative, and photographs of Renaissance architecture, shot from angles that clearly and profoundly pronounced the cowing influence of Christianity, all by Kimberly Howland. Along the sidebar and dividing wall stood the wire sculpture of Ismael Sanchez. I have spent hours contemplating these wire animals, all made from a single strand of wire, looking for the two ends. I've found the ends on only two of the pieces, the horse and the bull. Out on the porch, Dennis Hudson had set up a table and was executing paintings of fish with a sumi brush; he would paint you a whole school of fish, for a buck a piece, and the dollars all went to the Anderson Valley Arts Council. Also the AV Junior High School students, under the direction of Cathleen Michaels, were displaying their notebook pendants. Restaurant staff members, Soto, Esther and Lucia had a display of hand-knits, Fred Wooley presented his photography, and there was a splendid Cyndee Hollinger collage.

But if Lauren's day venue was busy, her night venue was busier yet. The place was absolutely packed at dinnertime when the Art Walk ended at seven. I and another idle loiterer had to give up our barstools for the famished legions waiting for dinner. And then, after dinner, Lauren presented a great Dixieland jazz band. A great many people stayed to dance. One couple in particular was very good. She was elegantly décolleté, ink-blue at the hem and fading to aqua at the top with silver swirls shot through it; and he was in a Cuban shirt. They had the floor to themselves for Midnight in Moscow, and after that performance everybody wanted to try.

The Art Walk, unlike some of the other recent events in Boonville, seemed to be a real boon for business owners and local artists alike. Whereas many outside vendors took the lion's share of disposable income during the Beerfest and World Music Festival, the Art Walk benefited locals. It was a great thing!

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