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[whitespace] Rick Strini Art of Glass: Rick Strini molds a blob of molten glass, readying to blow it into an artful vase.

Photograph by Debora Strini

All-Around Art

Open Studios takes an annual tour of the many places art lives

FUNNY THAT SANTA Cruz County--an area with perhaps as many visual artists per capita as it has surfers--is home to fewer fine art galleries than smaller towns like Carmel and Sausalito. But that doesn't mean there's not plenty of art around. Walls at libraries, cafes, retail stores (not to mention the dozen or so museums and galleries Santa Cruz County does have) are liberally hung with everything from impressionist watercolors to abstract assemblages.

And every October, area art lovers get a chance to see where art really lives. Open Studios, an exhibit of artwork and the local community of artists, provides a three-weekend glimpse of some of the many faces of the visual arts beginning Saturday and running weekends through Oct. 17.

Glass House

Rick Strini chats casually as he twists an amorphous glob of glass inside one of his studio's 2,030-degree electric ovens. As he blows and shapes the soon-to-be vase (one of his "Jack in the Pulpit" designs), the glass transforms from an opaque white to a glowing golden hue.

Standing a few feet from someone swinging a scalding metal pole usually isn't the most relaxing experience. But as Strini gracefully manipulates his medium it becomes apparent that he is a seasoned professional.

And after 35 years as a glassworker, Strini's memories of finding his calling also trace the evolution an artistic movement.

"There was no one around here to apprentice in those days," Strini says. "I started at the beginning of the backyard studio movement. We really built that movement and found techniques common in the early part of the century that were mostly lost."

He has come a long way since he created his first piece, which he describes as "something abstract." His Strini Art Glass colorful creations to 400 galleries, including Made in Santa Cruz and Many Hands Gallery, and travels to art festivals around the country. But as Strini takes me on a tour of his backyard banana palm jungle it becomes obvious Open Studios has a special spot in his heart--he and his wife are sketching plans to rebuild their home around hosting the annual event.

In addition to showing a sampling of his works, Strini and his team work until noon for those wanting to witness his smoldering creativity. A new dad, he also hints at treats for kids, including glass doubloons and pirate stories.

"The kids ask the best questions," Strini says. "And they love to see that it is viable to be an artist. They don't have to go off to the office, but they can make a living in the studio doing something they love."

--Mary Spicuzza

Rick Strini. 3880 Floral Court, Santa Cruz. Studio open Oct. 2 and 3.

Live Wire

Sculptor Nadine Nemec talks about her latest series of works as if they came about almost entirely from impatience. But her wire and wood creations, all of human figures, seem painstakingly constructed, literally weaved like body-shaped baskets.

"A lot of people were doing bronze casting, but I wanted something that I could work on right then," she explains of her inspiration, which came during a Santa Fe sculptors retreat. "So I went after hardware store debris."

Two years later, she's found local suppliers for her unique materials, scraps of wood from a South County mulcher and copper wire from a recycler. And though she relies on garbage heap pickings for inspiration, Nemec says she feels more in control of her artistic output.

"I've been moving more toward economy and having total control over my work," she says. "I don't have a foundry ... and working in bronze is a very expensive process. Finding wood and materials from a recycler is tremendously cheap by comparison, and it lets me work thoroughly through the process. I want to work quickly through a problem."

An open studios artist for five years, Nemec started out showing works developed with more traditional sculpture techniques. Early figurative works, headless torsos standing straight, angling athletically or curled on the ground, were hand-modeled and cast in bronze or carved from alabaster--though most have the kind of earthy elements, a slate base or a bed of sticks, that show up in more recent works. As the number of sales she makes at the annual event has declined because she has "veered away from the mainstream," she explains, her reasons for participating have also changed.

"During Open Studios, people come especially to see my work," she says. "And that kind of interaction is great. I'm interested in their reaction; I know what my intention was, but it's great to see what they think. It's amazing the chord you strike with people sometimes."

--Rob Pratt

Nadine Nemec, 129 Catalpa St, Santa Cruz. Studio open Oct. 9 and 10. www.cruzio.com/~nadpete/nadstone.html.

Constructing Images

Janjaap Dekker calls himself a journalist, a teller of tales, and it's easy to see why. A photographer for El Andar magazine, Dekker takes unexpected views of his subjects, finding beauty in impossible angles or unlikely subjects. These are photos not meant to illustrate a written story. Instead they speak volumes on their own.

Lately, travels through Mexico have yielded a pair of gorgeous photo essays: one of up-close-and-personal scenes among the megalopolis of Mexico City and another of startling images of children and adults picking through a vast Oaxaca dump that looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

But for the Open Studios catalog, he submitted an image that looks like a ball of lightening coursing through a nighttime sky. Call him a trickster.

"I sort of had the same thing in the catalog last year," he says. The image this year, he explains, comes from a story he worked on featuring Mexico City architect Ricardo Legorreta, who designed the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation. "It really piques people's interest at that point, and they come by and see what my work's all about."

Dekker, though, doesn't work with an agenda in mind or a message to communicate. He just looks for scenes that catch his eye:

"Sometimes I'm more interested more by the printing than the photography," he says. "I see myself as a graphic designer. I go around looking for what pleases me, and I have no control or no desire to control what happens."

Though an award-winning photographer recently honored by New California Media for "Los Pepenadores de Oaxaca--Working in the City Dump," Dekker makes his living as a carpenter.

--Rob Pratt

Janjaap Dekker, 136 Centennial St., Santa Cruz. Studio open Oct. 9 and 10, 16 and 17.

'Big Red' Man of Steel/Red Dawn: 'Big Red,' one of Aaron Van de Kerckhove's large steel sculptures, was recently sold, but it will make an appearance at Open Studios.

Steeling Beauty

Aaron Van de Kerckhove has never participated in Santa Cruz's Open Studios before this year. But as the 25-year-old artist describes his past projects, I realize that this young steel worker, known as "the mobile guy," has already built an impressive following in town.

Van de Kerckhove has created intricate mobiles for numerous local businesses, including Integrand Design, the Museum Store, the Bagelry, and he's just added one of his latest creations to the recently reopened Saturn Cafe.

When asked how long the new inter-galactic, 18-foot-wide, 7-foot-deep mobile took to make, he laughs, "My whole life."

Mobiles may be his business, but Van de Kerckhove says that Open Studios is a chance for him to highlight his passion for large-scale outdoor sculptures. The self-taught artist started in printmaking but quickly discovered a love of sculpture, even though he had some trouble finding a spot to build his large creations.

He now shares a Commercial Way warehouse, which sat vacant until he divided it into five separate studios with several other creative-types, including another Open Studios artist, glass worker Rosemary Abel.

"I hope other artists realize that they can turn all of those vacant spots around town into studio space," Van de Kerckhove says.

--Mary Spicuzza

Aaron Van de Kerckhove, 1667 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Studio open Oct. 2 and 3, 16 and 17. www.apvdesign.com.

Participating artists may be tucked in workspaces all over town, but Open Studios is surprisingly easy to navigate. Buy a catalog (which doubles as a Year 2000 calendar), grab a friend, and hit the streets of Santa Cruz. The first weekend (Oct. 2-3) features studios south of the Yacht Harbor, the second (Oct. 8-9) features northerners, and two-thirds come back for an encore weekend (Oct. 16-17). For more information and a list of locations to buy a catalog, call the Cultural Council at 688-3359 or visit the website at www.ccscc.org.

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From the September 29-October 6, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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