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Ventura County

50 Views of Santa Clara Valley

Art: Museum exhibit, opening today, features paintings chronicling scenes of a region that is still largely connected to agriculture.

June 07, 2002|SUZIE ST. JOHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A three-year effort to capture the beauty of the Santa Clara Valley will pay off today when the latest exhibit at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art opens.

Nearly 50 oils, watercolors and pastels by 18 local painters will be on display through Sept. 1 in the show "Painting the Santa Clara Valley." The pieces attempt to capture the flavor of a valley that follows the Santa Clara River from Ventura through Saticoy to Saugus in Los Angeles County.

Museum visitors can view images of Mission San Buenaventura, cultivated fields and orchards, produce stands, field workers and horse corrals with mountain backdrops.

The artwork was selected from the recently released book "The Santa Clara Valley" published by the Easton Gallery in Montecito. The book features 100 paintings and includes a comprehensive history of the valley written by Judith P. Triem, the Santa Paula historian who wrote "Ventura County: Land of Good Fortune."

Tim Schiffer, the museum's executive director, admitted it is unusual to base an exhibit on a book from a gallery, but said the idea fits with the museum's vision.

"We felt it was important for people to realize how remarkable it is to have this incredible valley with so much history," said Schiffer, who wrote the book's introduction. "There aren't many valleys that have so much agriculture left.

"With everything in a state of change, this exhibit gives you a way to take stock of those changes. It's an appreciation."

Local painter Susan Petty said she and her fellow artists tried to learn about the valley's history in addition to creating the art. That sometimes required getting permission from land owners to paint on their property.

"It was really interesting, because you have different artists with different approaches, and what fascinates one might not catch another," said Petty, who lives on a lemon and avocado ranch in Saticoy. "Some of the things that were painted aren't there anymore, so it's nice to have preserved history through the paintings."

Petty said she is often inspired by the view from her porch.

"Many of the things I paint, I think to myself that I better paint this before it's gone or covered up," Petty said. "One of the biggest changes has been between Santa Paula and Piru, where it used to be a major orange-growing area. Now the area is changing to nurseries because there is less and less money in growing oranges."

An opening reception for the exhibition is scheduled from 5 to 9 p.m. and coincides with Ventura's "First Friday: Alive after Five" program, when downtown retailers, restaurants, galleries and businesses at Ventura Harbor stay open until 9 p.m. the first Friday of the month. The reception is free, but reservations are required.

The museum will offer several special events during the exhibit's three-month run. Gallery talks with selected exhibition artists are scheduled June 23 at 1 and 3 p.m.; Steve Bachman, the United Water Conservation District's ground water manager, will lecture on valley geology July 11 at 7 p.m.; Cal State Channel Islands history professor Frank Barajas will lecture on "Recruitment and Restriction: The Changing Work Force of Ventura County" July 18 at 7 p.m.; and rancher and environmentalist Sanford Hedrick Jr. will speak on restoring the valley's ecosystem July 25 at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 per event and reservations are required.

While half of the Santa Clara Valley book focuses on paintings, the other half features a geological examination of the valley by Bachman. Aerial photographs by William B. Dewey accompany the section and some of those photos also will be displayed in the show.

"I hope this exhibit deepens the appreciation people have for the valley," Petty said. "It's a nice, concise history, and it's wonderful to have it preserved this way."

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The Ventura County Museum of History and Art, 100 E. Main St., Ventura, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and $1 for children ages 6-17. Museum members and children younger than 5 get in free. For more information, call 653-0353.

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