A&E

Open Studios Returns with 55 Newbies, its Largest Freshman Class Ever

New Open Studios artist Hildy Bernstein mixed-media work uses photography and digital art

Landscape artist Paul Fortis’ Santa Cruz workspace is one of the studios that can be viewed during this weekend’s Open Studios tour of North County artists. Artists from all around the county will be part of the tour Oct. 16-17.

With doors wide open, Santa Cruz County artisans, ceramists, jewelers, painters and sculptors are welcoming the public back for some post-quarantine visual extravagance. After the virtual-only tour of 2020, this revival of the Open Studios concept is welcome indeed, both for creators and the inquiring public.

For decades, Open Studios Director Ann Ostermann has looked forward to October, and no more so than this year, with nearly 300 artist studios joining in the excitement.

“We’re so happy to be producing the tour again this year,” she told me. “So great to be back to an in-person event. Artists are so looking forward to welcoming the public and we’ve helped by supplying every artist with face masks, hand sanitizers and signage to keep themselves and their guests safe during the tour.”

The bright pantone green masks match Open Studios tour signs—a nice visual touch. “The majority of our participants are displaying their work outside, just to make sure the public feels comfortable and welcome,” says Ostermann. She also revealed that of the 295 participating artists and artisans, “there are 55 new first-timers joining us—our largest-ever freshman class. So there’s plenty to see!”

Printed guides to the tour are available at all GT pick-up spots, “and, of course, the public can just drive around and follow the bright green signs to various studio locations,” she says. There is also an Open Studios app available.

The director herself is one of the biggest fans of this annual art tour. “You get to meet the artists and see their new work. Open Studios takes you out and about in the beautiful fall weather. It’s my baby,” she admits. “I love doing it. They’ve got me for two more years.”

One of the artists who’s looking forward to meeting the public this month is perennial Open Studios player Hildy Bernstein, whose Westside studio on Mission Street Extension will showcase a provocative new suite of hybrid digital art and photography she calls “Identity Crisis.” “My new work, over 150 pieces, is completely influenced by the Covid quarantine,” she tells me.

Two years ago, I toured Bernstein’s studio full of satirical Trump multimedia pieces, regaled by her astute caricature skills. This year, her work is filled with the isolation and bewilderment of the recent quarantine. A phone selfie, which she altered through various digital coloring techniques, started it off.

“I am very excited to show my new work,” says the painter/visual journalist. “For years, I painted in a large warehouse studio, but after a year of sheltering in place, my art-making got started on my phone screen. This year’s Open Studios feels like an important moment of passage, coming out of isolation and honoring what we’ve all been through.” Like many artists, Bernstein sees this as “a big step after these very reclusive 18 months. And I’m ready!”

In addition to the popular art crawl’s many newcomers, some of the area’s outstanding veterans will open their doors to the public. Stephanie Martin will show her newest hand-colored flora and fauna etchings. Bridget Henry shows astonishing color woodcuts, and expect sensitive watercolors from John Flores and Marie Gabrielle, sumptuous clothing and accessory designs by Christina MacColl and jewelry by Fereshteh Fatemi and Ann Wasserman. I remember how exciting it was a few years back to visit Wasserman’s gleaming jewelry displays, and peek into her professionally equipped studio. So much behind-the-scenes precision instruments and techniques go into each handworked piece. Look for glass design from Heather Matthews and Peter Vizzusi, tile creations Kathleen Crocetti and travel paintings from polymath Joe Ortiz. And no Open Studio in Santa Cruz County is complete without fresh new paintings from Charles Prentiss. There are hundreds more studios to visit, offering a chance to meet the artists, learn about their process and purchase one-of-a-kind items.

Open Studios tours are Saturdays and Sundays, 11am-5pm. Many artists have additional safety measures in place—please respect their on site guidelines. North County tours are Oct. 9-10 (Felton, Ben Lomond, Brookdale, Boulder Creek, Bonny Doon, Scotts Valley, Davenport and the city of Santa Cruz). All County tours are Oct. 16-17. santacruzopenstudios.com.

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