Monday, September 27, 2010

Anahita King and Walter Lawson

Anahita King
This will be Anahita King's second year on the Hwy. 62 Art Tours.  She has also participated in an open studio tour in Topanga, California.  King works in watercolor and she is a gifted ceramicist.  We sat outside on a comfortable back porch while Anahita told me about her art.  A few chickens were eavesdropping, hoping for more of the table scraps they had been given shortly after my arrival.   King has been in Joshua Tree for two years.  She came here from Topanga to take care of her mother.  She and her husband still have a house in Topanga, so she often finds herself going back and forth between the two places. 
One of the chickens.
King says she has been an artist "forever."  Her family didn't have television when she was growing up.  Her mother had a strong design sense, and her father was an engineer and designer.  King's dad had a shop in the garage where he worked on cars and was always "tinkering" with something.  He was notorious for absconding kitchen utensils for his own purposes, driving her mother crazy.  Anahita remembers a teacher she had in the fourth grade who had the students do murals of the desert.  King had painted roadrunners as part of the mural.  It was this experience that made her realize that art was what she wanted.   King went to college in Flagstaff after picking the school out of a catalog.  Northern Arizona University had a great ceramics department.  They have a huge anagama, or wood - fired kiln.  King's college experience undoubtedly paved the way for her to study ceramics in Japan for three months.  She lived in a village called Shigaraki, where the entire population is centered around ceramics.  The anagama kilns there fired for three days continuously, and pine had to be fed into the fire every three minutes.  There is no glaze used in an anagama kiln.  The wood and ash creates the color and textures on the ceramics.
One of Anahita's slab-built teapots
King's Datura teapot with cups

One of the ceramic sinks created by King.
King's main focus in ceramics is slab building, where slabs of clay are used to form the vessels and objects.  In addition to beautiful sets of teapots and cups, Anahita also makes Joshua Tree plates, cups, sinks and ceramic shrines.  The shrines or altars Anahita creates are made so that a person can put candles or photos in them.  They were first inspired by King's meditation teacher.  Her teacher gave her dolls and these dolls have found their way into King's shrines.  Spirituality has become such a big part of King's life now that she wanted to create something to reflect its importance in her life.  Her shrines are the result.  The sinks Anahita creates are a wonderful way to customize a bathroom or kitchen.  She does take custom orders on sinks.  She and her husband have even collaborated on a shower in their Topanga house.  She created 900 ceramic tiles for the shower, and he installed the tiles. 
One of King's watercolors.  "Dally contemplates sneaking into the garage."

This year for the Hwy 62 Art Tours, Anahita King will be showing her ceramic teapots and teacups, her other ceramic wares, her shrines and a collection of watercolors featuring the above mentioned chickens.  You will have a chance to feed the chickens yourself, if you decide to make this a stop on your tour this year.  I highly recommend it.  Anahita is showing in Joshua Tree the second weekend of the Art Tours, October 30th and 31st.

Walter Lawson at his easel.

The next artist we visit this week is Walter Lawson.  Lawson is an oil painter who has been in Yucca Valley for twelve years.  He and his wife moved here to be near his son Ian.  Lawson's grandmother was an artist, and he remembers all his life he loved visiting galleries and museums.  His grandmother taught him to draw figures when he was young.  It wasn't until he turned 86 years old, when his wife bought him paint and a easel for his birthday, that he finally began his artistic journey.  He portraiture is his main passion, although he has painted a variety of other subjects, including seascapes, landscapes and local scenes.  
Lawson's oil painting of Water Canyon Coffee.
Lawson was actually born in California, but he was still an infant when his family moved to Canada, where he grew up.  His father was a pastor, and his grandfather had a printing business.  Walter learned the printing business from his grandfather.  It was the printing business that enabled Lawson to come to the US and finally move to California, the place of his birth.  Lawson's grandfather was also the person who introduced him to sailing, another of his passions.  Walter owned a 30 foot sailboat in Long Beach, which he finally had to give up because he no longer had the strength to wield the mast and sails.  Lawson is a citizen of three countries: the US, Canada and the UK.  He went to boarding school in Canada and England when he was growing up, and served in the British Army and fought with the Highlanders during WWII.  (He switched to the Highlanders because his grandmother wasn't happy that he was serving with the British Army.)  I could sense that there were stories in Lawson that were just waiting to be told.
A self portrait in oil.

Walter will be showing from 15 to 18 paintings for the Hwy 62 Art Tours this year.  There were paintings stacked against the wall and filling every inch of wall space in his studio, but he hopes to have a few more finished for the Art Tours.  Lawson is showing in St. Joseph Arimathea church in Yucca Valley, and whatever paintings sell during the tours, he plans to give the proceeds to the church.  Walter loves the feeling of accomplishment that painting gives.  He is always thrilled when people ask him to paint them.  Please do stop by St. Joseph's  church in Yucca Valley to meet this fascinating artist and see his oil paintings.  Lawson will be showing the second weekend of the Art Tours this year, October 30th and 31st.

written by Karine Swenson

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ellen Hill, Dali Mama and Elizabeth Green

This week's visit takes us up a winding driveway to the home and studio of Ellen Hill.  Ellen will be showing with Louise Akin (a.k.a. Dali Mama) and Elizabeth Green this year.  Unfortunately, Elizabeth could not join us for this visit.  My visit with Ellen and Louise was a visit I won't forget.  While sipping saft - a Swedish drink made from Elder berries - both Hill and Akin regaled me details of their rich and fascinating lives.
Louise Akin (on left) and Ellen Hill
Ellen Hill grew up on the Dxwlilap (Tulalip) reservation in Western Washington state.  Her first art teachers were the "grandmothers", the older women of the tribe who could still speak the Dxwlilap language.  She fondly recalls sitting under "story poles" as a child, listening the the stories of the tribe.  The children learned basketry, dance and a myriad of other handicrafts.  She learned that art is sentient, and has something to teach us.  Hill spent eleven years on the reservation.  Many of the skills she learned on the reservation have stayed with her to this day.  She has a deep love and great appreciation for hand made goods of any kind.  She still makes porcelain bead jewelry.  The beads are usually strung on cotton or silk.  The Tulalip people used dog fur as "wool" and were renowned for their weaving and knitting.   Hill knits, and even taught her son to knit.
Ellen Hill, Burning Bush

Art was always a part of Ellen's life.  Her mother knitted and did embroidery, and her father was a woodcarver.  Hill's father made his living as a logger.  The family moved to Vancouver, WA because her brother had cerebral palsy and was deaf.  He needed more care than what was available on the reservation.  They later moved to the logging town of Stevenson.  Ellen went to the University of Washington on a scholarship.  Even though she was interested in art, she was unsure if she could make money as an artist.  She started school as a pre-med student.  She then immigrated to Canada, where she had to choose her major.  She chose to continue studying medicine.  It was about this time that her brother was killed.  She took time off from school and began "trekking" and painting.  Painting was therapy for her - a way for her to deal with the loss of her brother.  She spent time in Yosemite, hiking, climbing and painting.  Ultimately, she found herself in Ojai, California with no money.  She found out about an art show in Ojai.  She didn't even enough money for the entry fee.  However, she managed to show her paintings to someone in charge who told her she could show her work and if she sold some paintings, she could use the money to pay her entry fee.  She hung her art on a clothesline, and did end up selling some work.  She remembers how the art community encircled her and helped her.  She then found out about another art festival in Ventura.  That was the beginning of her career as an artist.
Ellen Hill, Echo Canyon
Ellen Hill, Inland Sea
Ellen Hill, Colors of Life

 Hill has shown her art at outdoor art festivals as well as art galleries.  She has traveled a lot, settling in the desert in 1979.  She still has connections in Canada.  Hill's approach to her paintings is unique.  She mixes her own paint, using high quality materials she has researched.  She then creates a traditional watercolor painting, usually with strong landscape elements, and then cuts the painting up.  The pieces are manipulated with medium and then re-assembled.  This process of cutting her paintings began in college, as a way to break free from trying to make her paintings too perfect.  The resulting images feel like abstracted landscapes, and have rich texture.  Ellen has been a self supporting artist her whole life.  Money from the sales of her art even enabled her to study homeopathic medicine.  She has a doctorate in homeopathic medicine, and has used her knowledge of homeopathic treatment to help "incurable" patients free of charge.  Ellen Hill will be showing her distinctive paintings, original art note cards and her porcelain bead jewelry for the art tours this year. 
A collection of Hill's porcelain jewelry and animal totems.

Louise Akin has been working since she was 18 years old.  Louise shares Ellen's appreciation of handmade goods.  Her mother did embroidery and other handwork, while her father was a tin smith.  He created metal sculptures for community centers.  Akin studied at an LA trade technical school for two years.  While she was in school, she won a "Gold Thimble" award for an evening gown she designed.  She always felt at home in fashion.  When she finished school, she went to work for Tadashi.  Louise was hired to do a couture line there.  She remembers the challenges of working in couture.  At that time, there were no computers and every thing was hand done.  The work was both creative and technically challenging.  They were given a drawing at the beginning of the day, and by the end of the day they were expected to have created gowns in different sizes finished and in a box, ready to ship to New York.  In addition to her tenure at Tadashi, Akin also worked for Catalina and Platinum.  Akin worked in couture until a rotator cuff injury prevented her from continuing in fashion.  It was because of her injury that she started learning to paint fabrics and learn the techniques she uses now to create her hand-painted and hand-dyed silk clothing. 
One of Dali Mama's silk shawls.
Dali Mama and a silk jacket

Many of the techniques used to make Dali Mama's silk paintings were discovered through trial and error.  Louise was first inspired to dye silk when she saw some beautiful sarongs from Bali.  She wanted to find a way to emulate the beauty of those batiks.  She has studied Japanese techniques, such as "shibori" which is the Japanese art of "memory cloth."  The cloth "remembers" what you do to it.  She has discovered that natural dyes are quite toxic because they contain heavy metals.  The dyes she uses are French dyes.  They are expensive, but high quality dyes.  Apparently, these French dyes have quite a history.  Originally, they were from Russia.  After the fall of the royalty in Russia, the dyes went, along with the women who knew how to make them, to Paris.  The secrets to make these Russian dyes were finally sold.  Now, the same secrets are used to make watercolors as well as high quality silk dyes.  Akin says she has "fallen in love" with wax, and uses beeswax for her batik work.
Louise Akin with another luscious creation in silk.
Each silk piece in Akin's collection begins as a piece of white silk.  She applies color using sea sponges, stiff bristle brushes and other tools, some of which she makes herself.  The layers of color are preserved with beeswax.  Once the painting on fabric is complete, the silk is put in a steam cooker to set the color in the fabric.  She has the pieces dry cleaned to remove the wax.  The beautifully painted silk is then cut and sewn.  Each piece is painted, cut and sewn by Akin, making it a wearable piece of art, unlike any other.  Louise has been working for herself as an artist for twenty five years.  For the Art Tours this year, she has hopes to introduce pieces painted and dyed in Indigo.  Working in Indigo dyes sounds complicated, as the pots of indigo dye must be checked every day.   I wait with anticipation to see what this artist does with indigo dye and silk.
Elizabeth Green is a gourd artist who is currently living in Idyllwild, but has lived in the desert for a long time.  
Elizabeth Green, Jasper Swirl Vase
Elizabeth Green, The Road Within
Elizabeth Green
Make sure one of your stops this year is reserved for a visit to Ellen Hill, Elizabeth Green and Louise Akin.  You'll be glad you did.

written by Karine Swenson

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Allen and Mita Barter

Allen and Mita Barter truly live the good life, and they prove that you don’t have to be a millionaire to do it.  With an eclectic, former homesteader in Twentynine Palms, a cabin in Big Bear and a beach shack in Baja, they have achieved the perfect locational triangle for high desert living.

They moved to Twentynine Palms thirty-two years ago, when Allen accepted a position teaching art at Twentynine Palms Continuation High School.  Mita worked for the school system as well, starting as an instructional assistant for severely handicapped students and then becoming a library technician at the Twentynine Palms Junior High.   Along the way they raised two sons: Nicholas, now a Waldorf teacher in northern California and Markland, a purchasing agent for Southwest Airlines.  The boys were willing accomplices in many of Mita’s early art/home renovation projects.

The Barters took full advantage of their school vacations and summers off to travel extensively throughout the years, and continue their peripatetic lifestyle in retirement.  In fact, this interview was scheduled at least a month in advance, to coincide with a brief intermission in this summer’s wanderings. 
Allen Barter in front of his artwork.
Allen has been making art since his college days, and is no stranger to the sometimes controversial nature of artistic expression.  In the late 70’s, he erected a temporary half-bridge across Chico Creek (with the permission of the president of Chico State University) which landed him in hot water with the Sierra Club (of which he was a card-carrying member at the time).  Later, some of the old guard in Twentynine Palms found a nude triptych offensive. 

The female form continues to be a dominant motif in Allen’s work.  Currently, he is working with cement to create three-dimensional nudes which also incorporate metal and other found objects.  He is inspired by the work of Jackson Pollack, and seeks to emulate the fluidity of Pollack’s canvases in his assemblages.

Allen’s work has been shown in the Tanno Gallery, a juried show in San Felipe, the gallery at Chico State, and in a joint show with Mita at Wonder Valley’s Glass Outhouse Gallery, entitled “Allen and Mita in Wonderland”.

Prior to retiring in 2003, Mita considered her primary artistic expressions to be the creation of her amazing home and her cooking.  Now, Mita has gone from shelving books to cutting them up for use in her tiny assemblages, which she calls “Rusty Bits”.  Each of these works starts with a rusty can, often a sardine can, and a background, which could be anything from an old piece of roofing tile to an antique map fragment.  Words cut from books drive the theme of the piece, which is then embellished with ornaments and fragments of found objects.   Phrases sometimes are discovered fully formed in books, but often come together mysteriously in a way that  gives Mita goosebumps.  Her studio is a wonderland of tiny castoffs, the gleanings from yard sales and swap meets, friends’ junk drawers and jewelry boxes.  When asked to describe her art, Mita once said, “I make things out of nothing”, to which the listener replied, “No, you make things out of everything!”
Mita at work, cutting words for her assemblage.

Mita’ work has been shown at the Twentynine Palms Inn, and currently can be found in two Joshua Tree galleries, The True World Gallery and Woods in the Desert.  Come and visit their wonderful studio on the first weekend, October 23rd and 24th.
written by Bonnie Kopp

Monday, September 6, 2010

Christy Anderson, Tami Wood, Mary Kinninger Walker and Judy Wishart

Christy Anderson in her well-organized studio.
Many know her as the "license plate lady," but there's more to Christy Anderson's art than just her license plate signs.  As we are discovering, most artists allow their creativity to lead them in many directions.  Anderson is no exception.  The thing that is so wonderful about Anderson is that everything she creates is  recycled.  She makes leather wrist bands out of old leather belts.  She makes larger sculptures out of old rusted metal and "junk" she finds.  She is currently working on a commissioned piece that includes "Old Chrome", a rearing horse made from a variety of found objects, including what appears to be the rear tire of a motorcycle.  Christy told me "Old Chrome" was fabricated entirely from things that had survived the fire in Pioneertown a few years ago.  Anderson also makes bird houses, which is something I didn't know until my visit to her Yucca Valley studio yesterday.
Anderson's "Trailer Tags" - signs made from old license plates.
Old Chrome
Wrist cuffs made from recycled belts.

Anderson is a native of the desert.  She was born in the low desert, and just "kept moving up."  She has been an artist for 15 years.  Before becoming an artist, Anderson ran heavy equipment.  She remembers digging up all kinds of amazing things at a dump site.  Finally, she could not resist the lure of picking up some of these treasures and making them into something else.  She started with bottles and glass.  When asked about a defining moment, she talked about an art challenge held by Coca Cola called "Waste to Wonders."  She entered a piece made of glass and copper tubing called "Cut my Eye."  Her piece won first place in her division, and she received a check for $1000.  It was at that moment that she knew she could make it as an artist.
Anderson's bird houses.
Anderson will have plenty of new work for the Open Studio Art Tours this year.  We can expect her license plate signs as well as larger metal sculpture, her leather wrist cuffs, bird houses, and bottle cap snakes.

This year, Christy Anderson has opened up her studio space to three other eclectic artists.  One of those artists is Mary Kinninger Walker.  Walker has been on the Art Tours for three years now.  Her vibrant paintings are often combined with intricate bead work and collage.  Walker has a strong interest in people, relationships, and symbols of society.  You will often see religious themes in her work.  She is always looking for the mother, because she was abandoned by her mother.  She has always worked in a variety of mediums, but one medium that seems to stay with her is acrylic paint.  Walker says she works quickly.  She likes to take chaos and re-organize it into what she likes.  Reflecting, she says she tries to do the same thing in her life:  take chaos and re-organize it. 
Mary Kinninger Walker with some of her paintings.
A "Madonna" painting with beads.
Kinninger Walker has been in the high desert since 2004.  She had lived in San Diego for 30 years prior to moving here.  It was a huge adjustment for her, going from a place where she had lived for so long and knew so many people to being in the desert, where she knew only one person.  She came here to recover from being the caretaker for both her mother and then her husband, both of whom passed away.   She told me she came out to Wonder Valley to "sit on her porch in her pajamas and recover."   Mary has been an artist since the forth grade, and has always had an interest in fine art, the healing arts and religion.  Those things remain the healthy practices that keep her from slipping into depression.   This year on the tours, Kinninger Walker will have jewelry in addition to her colorful paintings.  I am sure you will love meeting this lovely lady and seeing her art.
Two of Kinninger Walker's necklaces

Another amazing woman who will be showing with Christy this year is Tami Wood.  Wood is new to the Art Tours this year.  She lives in Morongo Valley, and has been there for five years.  She lived in the Coachella Valley prior to her stint in the high desert.  Tami uses acrylic paint to render her lively, joyful vision on wood.  She likes to use found wood for her paintings - things like old doors, ammunition boxes, etc.  She loves old wood.  Her paintings are not pre-meditated.  She told me that she used to "go against the grain" when she painted, and fought the images she saw in the natural grain in the wood surface.  Her more recent paintings use the grain of the wood to give her some of the forms and shapes visible in the finished painting.  Wood loves the outdoors and thinks American Pride is important.  You will see many playful versions of the American flag in her work. 
Tami Wood with her artwork.

Wood was born in Texas, and loves "everything country."  Her work is visible evidence of the things she loves and holds dear.  She uses colors that become 3-dimensional in her paintings, and if you buy a painting, you will receive a pair of 3-D glasses.  She has been known to paint on benches and stools, and is interested in commission work.  She says she drew a lot, growing up, and remembers a grandmother who painted.  In addition to participating in the studio tours, Tami has shown her work at the 29 Palms Inn, and has work at the Purple Agave in Morongo Valley.  You can also see some of Tami's work on her new website:  Make sure you walk over to this tall blonde, say hello and enjoy her playful paintings, while you visit Christy Anderson's studio.
A sampling of Wood's paintings.

The fourth artist showing with this light-hearted group is Judy Wishart.  Wishart paints on bowling balls and globes.  Acrylic paint comes alive on Wishart's bowling balls.  She told me it all got started when she went to a Lakota sweat lodge.  After the sweat, she saw a bowling ball in a thrift store and while looking at the ball, she began to see Hopi imagery.  She still uses Hopi imagery on most of her bowling balls.  She has been adopted by Shamens, and is inspired by Native American Imagery.  The painted globes are recent work for Wishart.  She said about a year ago, she suddenly just needed a globe.  She looked all over the high desert, and finally did find one.  Once she had painted her first globe, globes began to just come to her.  She also receives bowling paraphernalia as gifts.  She is not an avid bowler, although she has bowled.
Judy Wishart
Painted bowling balls by Judy Wishart
One of Wishart's globes.

Wishart has been in the High Desert for thirteen years.  She moved here from Orange County, where she worked on TV shows and managed music bands.  She came here to take care of her mother, and stayed after her mother passed away.  She and Christy met about six years ago at the Camper Van Beethoven annual camp-out at Pappy and Harriet's.  Judy says she likes to keep her art reasonably priced.  She just wants people to enjoy them.  This will be Judy's third or forth year on the Art Tours.  In addition to her painted globes and bowling balls, she will have mandalas painted on canvas, and hopefully a beaded bowling ball.
A close up of one of the bowling balls.

Four creative minds in one fantastic space!  Please do take the time to stop at Christy Anderson's studio this year.  These four will be showing the second weekend, October 30th and 31st.

written by Karine Swenson