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Photograph by Kirk McNeill, 'Mooring Buoy #30'
Those Who Kelp Themselves: Local artists like Kirk McNeill, whose work is shown above, lead hands-on workshops as part of this weekend's Art Extravaganza.

Garden of Artsy Delights

At this weekend's Art Extravaganza, hosted by the Pajaro Valley Arts Council, it's art play among the succulents.

By Maureen Davidson

THIS WEEKEND, grownups and children alike can plunge their hands into wet goop and shape it into musical instruments good for a lifetime of whistling, shaking and general merriment, or perhaps make like Monet with loaded palettes and paintbrushes to capture the glory not of Givenchy but of Watsonville reveling in midsummer bounty. Dad always warned against playing with melting candle wax because it'd burn, right? But here's a chance to sculpt it into Rodinesque figures working from a live model or layer its milkily transparent richness over photos and drawings to make encaustic paintings. Have a window that needs a dazzling glass mosaic? Make it. Or fashion a garden sculpture out of plastery gunk and chickenwire. It's time to release that pent-up child into the garden of creativity.

The Art Extravaganza is two days and 21 one-to-five-hour workshops, with a dozen ongoing art demonstrations and slide presentations for adults and children in the sprawling gardens of Watsonville's Sierra Azul Nursery. Here the spirits-lifting outdoor sculpture exhibition, Sculpture Is, sprouts over 100 artworks of all conceivable materials and styles amid colorful shrubs, succulents and towering trees. The exhibit and the Art Extravaganza are presented by the Pajaro Valley Arts Council.

"I don't think there's ever been anything like this," says Susana Arias, a widely exhibited Santa Cruz sculptor and this year's co-curator of Sculpture Is. She organized the Extravaganza as the next logical step in the four-year development of the extraordinary confluence of art and nature that Sculpture Is has become.

Like the 14-year old, six-acre Mediterranean-inspired demonstration garden and nursery located across from the Watsonville fairgrounds, the Sculpture Is exhibition has matured beautifully; the exhibition is now considered one of the region's most important art events. The Rydell Fund of the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County awarded them a grant twice the amount that the Pajaro Valley Arts Council requested.

Jeff Roendale, Sierra Azul Nursery owner, has been co-curator of the Sculpture Is each year.

"I have always loved the way that sculpture interacts with nature in a garden setting--there's so much life to it, a contrasting expression of beauty, one that doesn't need to be cultivated," he says. As a businessman, he also hopes that the exhibition will encourage more homeowners to invest in sculpture for their own gardens. He sets the example; each year he purchases works for Sierra Azul's growing permanent collection.

Co-curator Arias wanted to give the public a chance to have the experience of making art. "It's such a tough time right now, we all need more positive things, to share positive experiences," she says. Evidently others felt the same. "I began by approaching a few friends," she continues. "Everybody volunteered."

The core grew to over 30 artists. Many, like Tobin Keller, Rose Sellery, Dale Bates and Andy Ruble, are among the area's most beloved art teachers, expert in coaxing out that creative force in students and helping them succeed. They created the highly structured workshops that provide all materials and the guidance to enable participants to enjoy themselves and walk away with something substantial. Workshops cost from $10 to $50, depending on the materials and the length.

Since the opening reception for the exhibit in May, attended by more than 700 people, the workshops have been filling steadily. Some are already at capacity. However, observers are welcome at all workshops. Some, like Marilyn Kuksht's metal sculpture using wire-feed welding, or the ongoing drawing or painting from a posing professional model, are open for drop-in participants. Free demonstrations take place throughout both days.

THE PVAC'S ART EXTRAVAGANZA is Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 1-2, 10am-5pm, at Sierra Azul Nursery and Garden, 2660 E. Lake Ave., Watsonville (across from the Fairgrounds). Enroll at or 831.722.3062. (Note this is also the weekend of the Monterey Bay Berry Festival at the Fairgrounds; plan travel time accordingly.)

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