A century in art: 206 artists, 222 pieces at Bedford Gallery's
'Walnut Creek Turns 100: Celebrating the City Through Art'
By Lou Fancher
Math makes its debut at the Bedford Gallery, where 206 plus 222 equals 100.
Put another way, that's (206) artists and their (222) works adding up to "Walnut Creek Turns 100: Celebrating the City Through Art," a centennial-honoring exhibit running now through Nov. 16 at the downtown gallery.
Not every painting is a Picasso, nor every three-dimensional rendition as worthy as a Rodin, but each item in its own way, is a masterpiece. Visual statements, following themes like parks, pools, open space, community and commerce, are testimonies to Walnut Creek's history, heritage and humanity.
Bedford Curator Carrie Lederer said the show was not juried, but that all artists with living, working or loving relationships with the city had an open invitation to take part.
"This exhibition highlights the enthusiasm of our community members who contribute to the texture of our town," Lederer wrote in an email. "A walk through the show provides a visual celebration."
A walk through the show is also free of charge, thanks to a grant from the Lesher Foundation. Although the majority of the artists are from Walnut Creek, 16 other cities in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, plus San Francisco, had artists making contributions.
In addition to glorifying the beauty of the area photographically, as happens in Michael Warwick's dramatic, wonderfully worn "Borges Ranch Fog," the
show pays tribute to a variety of mediums and styles. Oak wood felled from trees in Shadelands was used to fashion Brian Condran's elegant "Heritage Oak Cabinet."
Artist Shirley Burkart chose papier-maché for "Inside Walnut Creek," a crusty shell out of which a label-laden sprout bursts with the names of the area's open spaces and trails. The Folk American style of "Yesterday and Today" by Jorge Vasquez and Mary Lou Correia's oil painting "North Peak, Mt. Diablo" open a window on grand traditions in art history. Judy Bolef Miller's mixed media "You Want It? We Got It ... Walnut Creek" and Jackie Carroll's minimalist line work in "On Stage—Lesher" stride into more modern territory.
"When I think of Walnut Creek, I think of open spaces and golden rolling hills dotted with twisted oaks," said Sharon Tama. Captured within the mighty fold of branches in the Orinda resident's acrylic on canvas "Soaring Oaks," the velvety intricacy of moss suggests intimacy. Tama likes to "hit spots" with her fingers while completing a painting and is similarly "hit" by inspiring images that she says, "are a painting waiting to happen."
Memories, mothering and many days spent poolside prompted Walnut Creek resident Nadini Batra to venture out of her comfort zone in "Swim Meet." With the painting's divers mid-plunge, Batra said the observers she depicted in the background were most interesting to paint because that is where she most often finds herself.
"I usually paint landscapes," the Kaiser neurologist said. "But I swim and my children swim. What draws people to Walnut Creek is the community that comes together around swimming."
Clark Vilas of Moraga has connections to Walnut Creek dating back to when the Oakland-based ad man listed Dean Lesher as a client.
He recalled in an interview a time when horses grazed on the edge of town, Highway 24 and Broadway Plaza were but a dream and the Old Danville Highway dead-ended at a tree-lined creek near Mount Diablo Boulevard.
Fulfilling a promise he'd made long ago to his mother, Vilas became involved in making art soon after selling his ad agency in 2002. Painting classes at the Lafayette Community Center led to a sculpting workshop where he created the noble-looking "Walnut Creek Masters Swimmer."
"That was the first time I had my hands on clay," he recalled. "No sketches, I just dove right in." The piece took two days to complete, then sat goggle-less for a time.
"One day I was looking at it and thought, That would make a good swimmer. I thought it made it more interesting: without the goggles, it's just another bust," he said.