17th Avenue Studios offers a ‘hip’ open house
To say that Lenny Gerstein makes no bones about his artwork is an understatement. He’ll admit that he’s not expecting to make a fat paycheck off his stunning wood sculptures, and that’s just fine with him, thank you very much. He’s already had a successful career—this part of his life is dessert.
The ‘hip’ 70-year-old is full of witty remarks and humor—good tools for a bedside manner—a necessary component of his previous career as an orthopedic surgeon. Nowadays, the doctor is three-quarters retired (as he tells it), and he offers occasional medical clinics for children suffering from orthopedic ailments. With the rest of his time, he carves the chunks of wood he finds in the ocean and creates an array of beautiful pieces of art, which are showcased in his workplace at the 17th Avenue Studios. The venue, which serves as home to 40 artists, is having a reception from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday, April 4 at the Santa Cruz Art League, and an open house on Saturday, April 5 and Sunday, April 6 at the 17th Avenue Studios location.
Gerstein’s studio will be open to the public for browsing and many pieces will be for sale. If you’re lucky, you can sit down with the storyteller-artist and hear a few tales from his colorful life. To start with, maybe he’ll tell you about how in the world an orthopedic surgeon became such a talented fine artist.
But first, he’d have to tell you how he became a surgeon, and how he came to Santa Cruz from New York. The former happened in 1959 when the Queens-born native started working as an orthopedic surgeon. In 1970, well into his practice, he visited a friend in Santa Cruz. Gerstein and his wife had criteria for a place they wanted to live, and Santa Cruz fit perfectly onto their checklist: a place near a university, and not too far from a big city. The ocean, and gorgeous scenery didn’t hurt. Soon, he started his private practice in a location next to Dominican Hospital. He became three-quarters retired about six months ago.
As for becoming an artist? Well, that part of the story is told in pieces. As a youngster, Gerstein would carve things like chalk and wax. Eventually, his carving skills lent themselves to working with wood. When Gerstein relocated to the Santa Cruz area, he visited the studio of an artist working in Carmel Valley. The pair became friends and coworkers, as the artist needed assistance on a commission.
“I worked with him for six to eight months,” Gerstein says. “He had big 10 to 12 feet doors carved in wood. He’d work on one side, and I’d work on the other. Whoever had the most chips on their side won by the end of the day.” And that was Gerstein’s tutorial in an exquisite art form.
But the crossover from orthopedic surgeon to wood carver? “Both of them require the ability to see things in three-dimension,” Gerstein says. “Reducing a fracture and putting it in place, it’s very satisfying … to fix someone’s bones so they’re straight. There’s less stress with this, and it doesn’t bleed.”
And both skills, obviously, require a pair of sturdy hands, hawk-like eyes, exceptional intellect, a vision for the end result and a happy ending. Case in point: A while back, Gerstein made one of his regular post-storm treks down to the ocean, where he forages for wood on land, and under the water. On this particular day, he dragged a “big ol’ log [out of the ocean] and it was very feminine,” Gerstein says. “Very beautiful wood. I was very happy [with it].”
So he went about carving it, taking that feminine sensibility and crafting it into a woman. The only catch was that “she was lacking some things that women have,” Gerstein says. “I put it aside, and read a poem: The English lady is so refined, that she has no bosom and no behind. She was ready for me and she was done.”
His “English Lady” stands tall and beautiful. Sure, her “lovely lady lumps” as Fergie would call them, are rather delicate, but her craftsman knows she’s complete. The beautiful wooden woman stands gracefully amongst myriad other creations by Gerstein: There are the ducks, the frog, the piano with its musician hands, the golf ball sculptures, the woodpecker and of course the walking sticks made out of hip replacements (the top piece you hold onto is a ball shape—an actual hip replacement). Each rests in Gerstein’s studio, where hordes of tools from a master woodsman are scattered about. In fact, it’s here that you will meet a man who describes himself as having, “the skill of a surgeon, and the heart of an artist.”For more information about Lenny Gerstein, visit lenswoodcreations.com . Gerstein is part of a group show at the 17th Avenue Studios, 980 17th Ave., Santa Cruz. A reception for the show is from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday, April 4 at the Santa Cruz Art League, 526 Broadway St., Santa Cruz. The 17th Avenue Studios are open from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 5 and Sunday, April 6.