Maps to the art stars: Artists open up on the 14th Annual Santa Barbara Studio Artists Tour

"It's a great opportunity to meet new clientele and to showcase my new series," says artist Michele Zuzalek of the Santa Barbara Studio Artists Tour. This is the 14th year that local artists have been opening their studios to the public. Kenneth Song/News-Press photos
“It’s a great opportunity to meet new clientele and to showcase my new series,” says artist Michele Zuzalek of the Santa Barbara Studio Artists Tour. This is the 14th year that local artists have been opening their studios to the public.
Kenneth Song/News-Press photos

Buyers, collectors, fellow curious artists, locals and art tourists: all will be converging this weekend for the 14th annual Santa Barbara Studio Artists Tour. With over 30 painters, sculptors, photographers and mixed media artists opening up their studios to visitors, it’s a chance to see these creative beings in their natural habitat, their studios.

That might be a converted garage or a guest house or a barn or a shed. And the artist might be working in organized chaos or be impeccably neat. But the studio tour remains endlessly fascinating to many.

One of the new artists on the studio tour, Karen Lehrer works out of a former horse and goat barn on her property that she calls the Art Barn.
One of the new artists on the studio tour, Karen Lehrer works out of a former horse and goat barn on her property that she calls the Art Barn.
 Neal Crosbie is taking the weekend off from the Cabrillo Blvd. Arts and Crafts Show to welcome visitors to his studio.

Neal Crosbie is taking the weekend off from the Cabrillo Blvd. Arts and Crafts Show to welcome visitors to his studio.
Ruth Ellen Hoag favors large watercolor crowd scenes. Her studio, nicknamed Whistle Stop, is at the back of the Slingshot Gallery on Canon Perdido Street.
Ruth Ellen Hoag favors large watercolor crowd scenes. Her studio, nicknamed Whistle Stop, is at the back of the Slingshot Gallery on Canon Perdido Street.
Tonight, before the tour, an opening reception will present selections from all the participating artists in a small gallery, and the all-important map to the studios will be handed out. For the artists, this is also their chance to socialize and check in on each others’ works. And it gives attendees a way to see who they might want to visit. (Seeing all 36 artists might be impossible over the two days.)

This is Dorothy Churchill Johnson’s fourteenth year on the tour. “To be honest, it isn’t always a lot of fun for the artist, it’s a lot of work,” she laughs. “But we do it because we have a huge population of artists here and no galleries to speak of. The dual purpose is to promote our own art and to raise the profile of Santa Barbara.”

Whether or not that has happened over the years is still hard to tell. Audiences and the number of artists have grown. But there has been an increased out-of-town presence recently, and Ms. Churchill-Johnson says last year she met people from New York, and sold art to a couple from Dallas. Art sales are a sign of an economic recovery, but even if you don’t sell, she says, the exposure is a good investment.

It’s worth it enough that Neal Crosbie, the prolific artist who hangs his shingle every weekend on Cabrillo Boulevard, takes the weekend off and welcome visitors into his space – “one large cathedral-ceilinged room” – in his 1895 “old cowboy house” in Mission Canyon. This is his fourth tour.

“I sell well there, and I can sell larger works (at home) than I can at the beach,” he says.

New artists joining the tour this year include Pamela Benham, Sophie Cooper, Karen Lehrer, Cynthia Martin, Cathy Quiel, Dorene White and Michele Zuzalek.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet new clientele and to showcase my new series,” Ms. Zuzalek says. “I have a lot of new work and I’m excited to talk to people about my process.”

It was her abstract-artist friends, including Peggy Ferris, also on the tour, who pushed her to sign up. “You have to do it, they said, it’s a real high!” she said, adding that knowing people would be visiting her was the deadline she needed to really stretch herself, and she has more than 100 works she will be showing to people.

Ruth Ellen Hoag works very large – crowd scenes painted in several layers of watercolor – at her studio, nicknamed Whistle Stop, at the back of the Slingshot Gallery on Canon Perdido. In this converted garage – you really can’t tell – she also teaches watercolor classes every week, and enjoys the downtown space.

“A lot of my buyers come from the open studio tour,” Ms. Hoag says, who is one of the tour’s founding members.

“We’re really starting to push the idea of year-round open studios. The original idea was to push the idea of open studios to people so they’d come back. But it turned into an event. Getting people to come back is the next step.”

Santa Barbara Studio Artists
14th Annual Open Studios Tour
When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Opening reception 5 p.m. today
Where: Various locations.
Opening reception is at Corridan Gallery,
125 N. Milpas St.
Cost: $20
Information: (805) 280-9178, www.santabarbarastudioartists.com

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