Napa’s Open Studios

We made our Saturday excursion to Napa Valley for Open Studios ’09, two weekends of displays by artists and local vintners. The drive was a study in contrasts: huge storage facilities, great skeletons of overhead power lines, palm trees outside fancy hotels, followed by open land filled with dry, dry grass. Ashley explained that California got the Golden State name from the color of the grass that grows on the hillsides that aren’t barren rock or scrub trees and not from the ore discovered in the hills of northern California as I had thought. I still haven’t recovered from knowing that a place with as much fog as San Francisco can be so dry.

Napa had the same set up as every other metropolis, small and large, with shopping centers and gas stations and fast-food joints on the outskirts of town. But as we drew closer to the heart of the area, we saw more and more grape vines, heavy with fruit awaiting the harvest. One of Ashley’s employees said his family was going to pick this weekend. We also saw lots of stretch limos climbing the back roads toward the wineries. It’s a great idea. If you’re gonna taste, let someone else do the driving.

The Open Studios consisted of venues scattered on and off the town’s main streets. There were painters, sculptors, photographers, multi-media artists of every stripe.

It took us a while to find the studio belonging to Kathryn’s friend Irina Rozo because Coombs Street seems to have odd and even numbered addresses on the same side of the street. None of us had ever encountered such a thing before and no one seemed to be able to explain why 100 and 101 were near each other, but separated by several buildings and both on the east side of the street, which inexplicably changed its name from Coombs to South Coombs somewhere just before the two buildings. (I checked the map and there doesn’t seem to be a North Coombs. Maybe they want to confuse visitors.

When we found Irina’s place in the Sawyer Tannery, we discovered dramatic paintings and even more dramatic sculptures that evoked motherhood and family. Her translucent soapstone pieces reminded of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, only rendered in 3-D.

We sipped the wine donated by St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery as we gazed at her works and those of her neighbors who had gone off to look at other displays. Irina gave us a demonstration on one of her sculpture in process. Actually it was two pieces – a larger one that curved over a smaller one in perfect symmetry. Mother-and-child imagery was clear even in the unfinished product.

Irina wrapped her wrists and forearms before she started because the tools are heavy and she risks injuring tendons and muscles if she doesn’t take care. Then she sharpened her chisel in a pool of water. The heat of the sharpening evaporated the water, and she knew the tool was ready when the water was almost gone. Then she demonstrated how she removed pieces of the stone so the image could appear. Tap-tapping gently, she angled a pointed chisel to remove small pieces of stone around a center point, creating a little “mountain.” Then with a single blow, she took off the crest of the mountain. She also demonstrated with a mini-rake that left striations in the surface. P1010004

And then, be still my heart, she let me take chisel and mallet to her precious stone. I was terrified that I would damage it, but she explained that she was taking out much of the back part, so I couldn’t do any harm. I tried the little rake which made furrows in the stone. It felt very satisfying to see the immediate results of one’s labor, but after about five minutes I had to stop because my arms were hurting. Irina is about five feet tall but she’s got way more stamina than I.

Kathryn and Anna declined to try it – Kathryn having done many times before and Anna being too shy – but Ashley gave it a shot and enjoyed the challenge as well. Because he’s so tall, he had the advantage of being able to approach the piece from above, which I think made it easier for him to strike the blows that created the “mountains.”


We had stopped at a different studio in trying to find Irina’s, and they invited us to come back for pizza and wine and viewing. So we collected Irina and piled in Ashley’s Land Cruiser for a trip to a much larger display at 100 Coombs. After a quick survey, I realized that we should have gone to that one first because after Irina’s works, most of the stuff on display was a disappointment. One interesting series by Cheryl Laube consisted of photographs on transparent paper so that everything had a layered effect. That was the only piece of the exhibit that left any impression on me.

The best part of that venue was the très delicious wine from the appropriately named Delectus Winery. The sales rep offered a couple of reds, starting with a Merlot, which he said tasted more like a Cab. It did lack the softness of Merlots that I generally dislike. This wine was more robust, but I did not taste the “[v]ibrant nose of apple-cinnamon, hints of vanilla, Chinese plum sauce, and chalk dust. The palate is youthful, still a bit tight, chewy and velvety with a hint of creaminess.” At $50 a bottle it should taste like expensive champagne!

The Napa Valley Cab was huge – “approachable” was the description on the web site, but I would call it more grab you by the throat. It would go well with really strong cheese – or with the bits of chocolate thoughtfully left next to the bottles. At $60 a bottle, I declined again, reflecting on the cost after shipping.

Our return trip was uneventful. The evening ended with a viewing of House of Flying Daggers. After a day gazing on paintings and sculptures and photographs, it almost felt like sensory overload to watch this martial arts film. It is apparently based on a true story of the Robin Hood-like group, the Flying Daggers, who opposed the China’s Tang Dynasty around the year eight hundred. The movie is gorgeous – full of lush costumes in vibrant colors and beautiful scenery that was actually filmed in Ukraine and Australia. The choreographer was a genius as the fight scenes and the dances give the movie super-charged energy. The plot twists are a bit much for a two- hour film, and the ending is rough for a fable. Overall: a B+.


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One Response to “Napa’s Open Studios”

  1. A World of Stories « Lizr128′s Blog Says:

    […] The guest stars from China are part of a cultural exchange program and provided the most visually arresting performances of the evening. “The Red Thread” is based on the belief that everyone who is intended to meet is joined at birth by an invisible red thread. The dance involved long pieces of red silk launched by a dancer in white. They flowed and circled around the others and united them at the end in a cats-cradle of interwoven beauty. The dance reminded me of the graceful and gorgeous House of Flying Daggers. (See the last paragraph of “Napa’s Open Studios.”) […]

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