Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios to kick off 25th year
By Lou Fancher
After 25 years and the advent of Internet shopping, nothing beats the face-to-face, hands-on, freewheeling -- and free -- Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studio Tour.
Painter-jeweler Susan Brooks and clothing designer Carol Lee Shanks launched the good time event in 1991 to showcase their work. Open this year from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on four consecutive Saturdays and Sundays beginning Nov. 28, Brooks said longtime customers now send their children to her studio for their wedding rings.
"You can find a client for life," Brooks said.
The attraction for the public is convenience, with 100 professional artists and galleries opening their studios in an area bracketed by interstates 80 and 580 on the west, College Avenue on the east and only a few locations further north than Gilman Avenue or south of Alcatraz Avenue. Beyond the ease of sauntering down an avenue and wandering into Berkeley artists' home studios or shared spaces in public buildings, the tour offers intimacy and one-of-a-kind treasures crafted in blown glass, ceramics, paint, textiles, metals, leather, clay, wood and more.
"The studios that look inviting from the door attract the most visitors," Brooks said. "Beautiful lighting, music, a gracious greeting by the artist. Friends bring friends to studios where artists have put themselves out."
The give-and-take is truly two-way, metalsmith Curtis H. Arima said.
"I love to be asked questions about my work and the process," Arima said. "As interim chair of the jewelry metal/arts program at California College of the Arts, I'm an educator. Direct interaction with the public has helped me understand my work and how I want to push and pull it in different directions."
Shoshana Zambryski-Stache is participating for the third time. Working primarily with analog photographic processes, she exposes the inner membrane of eggshells to imprint haunting photographs that include barns, leaves, Paris street scenes and other images.
During the tour, visitors will also be introduced to her latest lighting designs. She said people have "juxtaposing" attitudes about galleries versus studios: intimidated by the more daunting environment of a gallery, but comfortable perusing an artist's studio space. "Joyful" is the term she uses to describes the tour.
Brooks said that over the years few organizational changes have been made, but evolution among the artists who've participated for two decades is huge.
"You see the work maturing," Brooks said. "Trends, you don't see. Artists aren't pandering to the masses, they eke toward the next step."
Nor have the crowds changed at least in one respect.
"People are extremely respectful," Brooks said. "I might see 200 people a day. Because of the do-it-yourself nature of today, they come in knowing what it really takes to make art."
It's likely they also come in having perused the Internet, maybe even followed a YouTube video to learn painting, sculpting, woodworking, crafting textile arts or other skills. Brooks said that for artists, the Internet is just one tool.
"You have to have your studio, show at galleries, participate in activities, have a website," Brooks said. "The Internet is not a panacea."
Multiple platforms make using the Internet for marketing exhausting, Zambryski-Stache said. Accustomed to getting the word out on an almost continuous loop because she's noticed that attention spans and the retention of information are declining, she said, "This event is so incredible from the artists' point of view because it's established and the promotional work is covered by our participation fees," she said.
Arima provided a counterpoint.
"In the '90s and early 2000s I relied only on galleries to represent my work," he said. "Now, I still have galleries and stores that carry my work, but I can also self-promote and share my work through my own studio (website)."
Brooks said she and Shanks occasionally talk of passing responsibility for the tour to someone else.
"We need someone who will care for it the way we do," she said. Learning that this year, Brooks will use her father's 100-year-old chasing tools to fashion oxidized sterling silver jewelry that is a crossover from her atmospheric acrylic-on-wood paintings, it's hard to imagine more tender care for the tour, or a more enticing reason to attend year after year.