1130 Pine Street, Paso Robles, CA 93446
August 3, 2009

Downtown Art Center Is Fun & Interactive

Paso Robles Magazine

Downtown Art Center Is Fun & Interactive

By Chris Weygandt Alba

Award-winning artist John Barnard has a problem with a large painting. It rests on the easel in his space at Studios on the Park, on Pine Street.

He started it the day before. To my eyes, it’s a wonderful view of Morro Rock, in John’s Impressionistic style.

“I think it’s too flat and too photographic,” he says. “I’m thinking what to do. In the meantime, I’m looking for a step ladder to hang that big picture back there.”

“That big picture” is another marvelous Barnard painting, this one of a lighthouse on a hill. Painted in the vibrant hues he favors, it could never be accused of being “too photographic.”

John’s one of 20 accomplished artists who work in the public at the Studios, and like him they’re all doing something to a piece of art as you wander through the building. And they love to talk about what they’re doing.

“I’ve been sitting here all afternoon waiting for it to speak with me,” says Heidi Franscioni of her particular artwork that day. It’s a dreamlike photograph painted with beeswax in a technique called encaustic painting.

Next to Heidi’s desk is a humongous triptych in oil undertaken by her studio-mate, Harold “Spence” Spencer, who at 89 is “our most senior artist,” says Heidi. Spence isn’t there on this day, but Heidi enthusiastically discusses his work. He is an art historian and an extremely talented painter.

“The wonderful thing about the Studios,” she says, “is that every time you come in, it will look different in here, as artists work on different things. It’s fun and unique.”

It certainly is. I wander through the studios, galleries, and exhibitions on a summer afternoon, and I find a half-dozen artists happy to interrupt their work to talk about art and how fun the center is.

Artist Anne Laddon deserves a medal for bringing her vision of Studios on the Park to life. This interactive art center is the first of its kind in Central California, and she’s the driving force behind it. For 15 years, she did a similar center in Virginia.

With a lot of work by a lot of people, volunteers, board members, and artists, the center came to fruition in May. In July, they began offering classes and free special events too.

Anne is in her own studio this afternoon, which she shares with silversmith Randy Stromsoe. She’s barefoot, and her palette is the glass top of a display case.

“I love this color,” she says of something pinkish on the glass. “I hope I can remember how I made it. It belongs in this painting.”

The painting she’s working on is a bold, abstract pastoral scene, a style evident in the other works hanging on the wall of her studio.

“I love to be interrupted!” she exclaims when I ask if I am distracting her from her work. “It’s thrilling! It’s energizing! I finally have an audience!”

She jumps up from her seat and gestures at a list of ideas on a desk. “We’re going to have special occasions, one every week, so watch the sandwich board out front for the special events, or check the website,”

On Friday evenings from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., for instance, plein air painters will capture summer impressions at the Concerts in the Park.

The center also will offer, Anne tells me, a “community art party” for all ages and skill levels. On the third Sunday each month, a fun subject will be unveiled from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and everyone will get to sketch, draw, paint, color or photograph in the center atrium of the Studios.

On Sunday, August 16, the subject will be the alpacas of Cripple Creek. Bring your own art supplies, and just show up.

Anne and the other artists I talked to are thrilled to have people stop in and ask what they’re doing.

“All my life I’ve been interrupted,” says John Barnard. “I have five kids.” he stops what he’s doing to go look through his unframed work when a visitor asks about his portraits of people. “I have a face here you might get a kick out of,” he says with a laugh, and sure enough, it’s a face a person can get a kick out of.

Artist Jeanette Wolff, in the neighboring studio, stops what she’s doing to show me a piece she’s been working on lately. Like much of her interesting, award-winning work, it’s a meixed-media collage over watercolor. Play Pin Up Casino online. Videoslots, pin-up girls in real games.

“I especially love the public’s reaction,” says Jeanette. “It’s nice to try to teach them something.”

Farther down the row, watercolorist Laure Carlisle is working on a commission. A former art teacher, she does watercolor on canvas and she can’t wait to teach a class about the technique.

“It’s totally a goof-proof medium,” she says. “It’s quite liberating.”

The whole open-studio thing is a joy to Laure. “We can inspire each other,” she says. “It beats working in isolation. It’s so fun to be here and chat with the people, to hear what they think and what they like.”

The building that houses the Studios used to be a Packard-Hudson dealership. Not only are you greeted when you walk in by the front end of a Hudson Hornet (it’s sawn in half and functions as a desk), but there’s a “Showroom” in the back.

The Showroom is run by Paso Robles Art Association volunteers, and it offers a juried, themed show that changes every five weeks, explains “showffeur” docent Joanne Licsko.

August’s theme will be “California Dreaming,” with a public reception on Thursday, August 6 from 4 to 6 p.m.

The last thing Joanne tells me is really the theme of the entire Studios on the Park:

“There’s always something fresh here.”

And it’s really fun, too.



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