Finding Ojai's artists usually requires a bit of sleuthing, but visitors this weekend will have access to 56 studios, including that of Beatrice Wood, the famed 94-year-old potter and doyenne of the city's art community.
Participants in Ojai's fourth annual studio tour are given maps and catalogues and, guided by bright pink banners, wend their way through orange groves, up winding mountain roads, across streams, into suburban tracts--wherever the artists happen to work.
The tour, which already is regarded as something of a tradition, marks the one occasion each year that the sizable Ojai art community goes public.
The handful of commercial galleries in town shows little local art, and, although a few of the artists have in-home galleries, they are secluded in odd corners.
"Even the artists didn't know how to find each other," said Gayel Childress, a longtime local artist. "We would know they were here, but we wouldn't know their faces or their phone numbers."
Childress and two artist friends, Bert Collins and Marta Nelson, started to change all that four years ago when they organized the first Ojai artists' studio tour as a benefit for the deteriorating Ojai Art Center. They quickly recruited 25 artists and sold 500 tickets. This year, they expect to sell more than 2,000, again donating profits to the center.
Tickets, which cost $12, may be purchased at the center or by calling (805) 646-8737. The tour runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, and ticket-holders are also invited to a champagne reception for the artists at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Art Center.
Studios run the gamut of architecture from a historic cook shack on an old estate to a country mansion. Artists will be on hand to chat about materials, techniques, or whatever else moves them.
"I enjoy seeing the spaces the artists work in as much as seeing their work," said Leslie Clark of Ojai, an artist whose own mountaintop studio commands a view of the Ojai Valley clear to Lake Casitas. "Also, when you visit a studio, you see everything they do. There might be works from a few years back, experimental works, things that have never been released to the world. I love to see the range. I don't think you get that in a gallery."
Bending over snapshots, Clark tells of scouring the shoreline for a view of the Channel Islands through palm trees for a recent commission.
"There's a story behind every painting, and often people will want to buy the painting after they've heard it," she said. "They really like to make that personal connection with the art that is hanging on their walls."
The tour presents traditional watercolors, oils and ceramics and rarer art forms such as painting on eggs with wax and the painstakingly detailed historical figures by George Stuart; museum-piece ceramics by Beatrice Wood and floral still lifes by Sunday painters.
"It's a very egalitarian, non-elitist show," said John Perry, who is the tour's first professional producer. "We didn't do any winnowing out this year. You never know what people are going to like."
Perry added the work of local artists in dance and music to the event this year in a performance concert called "Fusion: an Evening of New Music and Motion."
Bellow and Cello
The performance blends such diverse elements as the bellow of a sea lion and a Celtic harp and cello. In the first of three acts, the sounds are interwoven with the voice of Beatrice Wood telling tales from her storied life, as dancers enact them against a backdrop of slides.
"It'll be a total experience," said Elizabeth Whitney, publicist for the event. "People won't know what's going to hit them until they get there."
The three-part production features Celtic harpist Kim Robertson, a nationally known New Age recording artist, playing with cellist Virginia Kron; jazz musician and composer Theo Saunders and Plexus Dance Theater, the resident troupe at the Port Hueneme Cultural Center.
"Fusion" performances will be at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Matilija Auditorium, 703 El Paseo Road, Ojai. Tickets are $10 in advance at the Art Center, or $13 at the door.
Will the original down-home Bohemian hospitality of the tour get lost as the event grows and acquires professional gloss?
"I don't think it could," said Childress, "just because it's in Ojai."