Two first-year Open Studios artists open up about their art within the framework of the environment
Ask three people what they see when they gaze into one of those magic eye pictures and you are practically guaranteed to get three entirely different answers. Where one person sees a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, another may see a couple kissing passionately, and the third may see a space shuttle landing on the moon. Art is subjective, in other words, and backs up the claim that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Similarly, where your average Joe may see only a scrap of washed up wood, Cynthia Kingsbury and James Barsimantov see exquisite works of furniture. A rocking chair maybe? Perhaps a table on which many future meals will be shared? The sky isn’t even the limit with these two craftspeople, and this, their first year participating in Open Studios, marks just the beginning.
In good old Santa Cruz fashion, an impressive number of Open Studios artists have created works made from natural objects that have been gleaned from nature’s bounty. For Kingsbury, using branches and driftwood is an artistic choice as well as an ethical one. “I have made a commitment to use only recycled or sustainably-harvested wood,” she explains. “It’s one way I give my appreciation back to a big, beautiful natural world that shares its masterpieces with us daily.” Her furniture, which possesses a patchwork, Alice-in-Wonderland type of aesthetic, is meant to be lived with, to be enjoyed for many years to come. “My tables are made for using, and my chairs are made for sitting,” Kingsbury says, her language as pleasant and down to earth as her myriad designs.
Barsimantov, though endlessly inspired by the natural beauty he finds daily outside his Seabright area doorstep, also draws on his experience spent in Panama during a stint in the Peace Corps. “I was inspired by the rustic furniture that locals made with hand tools from roundwood harvested on their land,” he says, his designs resembling a beach shack version of Pottery Barn. Barsimantov goes on to explain that he has based his furniture making technique on traditional Panamanian home construction. The tool he uses most is a machete, thus truly maintaining a tradition, handcrafted from days of old.
For Kingsbury, participating in Open Studios is a delight; a bonus in addition to the sheer enjoyment she receives simply by piecing together her furniture. “I love touching wood,” she says. “I love looking at trees. As a species, human beings have an extensive history of interacting with trees. Trees have long been a source of comfort for us. I believe this is why most people react on an almost instinctual level to my pieces. It’s as if a part of them were coming home. It’s a wonderful thing to see.”
For Barsimantov, the feeling is mutual. He explains that he was inspired by his neighbors and their children who build monuments, sculptures, forts, and other various creations out of the driftwood that washes ashore each winter in the Seabright area. “My intention has been to build furniture that reveals the beauty in natural cycles,” he says. “I create structure from driftwood while maintaining the essence of its journey from forest to river to ocean to beach.”
Although both Kingsbury and Barsimantov have been piecing together their creations for both 16 and seven years respectively, 2011 marks the first year each artist has participated in Open Studios.
Unlike the magic eye pictures, one may gaze at these pieces indefinitely, the tangibility of the solidly crafted furniture inexorable, a personal symbol intertwined with Santa Cruz to be cherished for years to come.
Cynthia Kingsbury and James Barsimantov will be among the scores of artists participating in the Open Studios encore weekend, Oct. 15 and 16 in both North and South counties. For more information, visit Cynthia Kingsbury Found Wood Furniture or Open Studios at ccscc.org.