Saturday, February 26, 2011

TWO DAYS: Napa to Mendocino to Arcata


Downtown Napa
A. Paul & I finally encountered our first cell-less, wireless stay in Mendocino, so tonight's blog will catch up on our art tour over the past two days.

We landed in Napa Valley on Wednesday night and awoke to an overcast day as we set out to explore the wine country.  Our first excursion was to the old historic town of Napa founded in 1847. Prior to the business of the vineyards, Napa's economy, much like the economy of other small towns of Northern California, was tied to cattle, timber and mining-both gold and silver.  The shifts in the economy brought new migrants to the area and, among those, creative individuals who attempted  to capture the landscape and activities of the valley which continues in the contemporary artwork of today.    

Not unlike our previous finds in other communities, there were many storefronts lining the downtown that sat empty. Some of these, galleries that were not able to weather the economic woes felt by so many across the nation.  A. Paul & I headed north to see how other communities in the wine country were faring. 

L-R: Thomas, Kerry, & Chistopher
standing in front of Jeremy Mann artwork
 Our next stop was in St. Helena where we met up with gallery owner Christopher Hill and his associate Thomas Paul Smith at the Christopher Hill Gallery.   Within minutes, A. Paul & I felt at home in this gallery.  Both Christopher & Thomas gave us a warm welcome, answering our many questions about the gallery, its artists, and the area.  We were fortunate to see several of Jeremy Mann's works currently on display along with some exceptional, evocative pieces by international artists, who make up the bulk of the gallery artists.   The goal of much of the nontraditional work at the gallery, according to Christopher Hill, is to "engage the viewer and entice him or her to look beyond the norm of what is comfortable."   To this end, Hill has carefully selected represented work that reflects less of the environmental landscape of the wine country and more urban, abstract, and expressionist pieces.  The Christopher Hill Gallery has been successfully in business about 10 years with a stable of approximately 20 represented artists   Thank you Christopher and Thomas for taking the time to speak with us and for the wonderful gift as we departed.  We hope to see you in Provincetown to return the hospitality.

As we walked the rest of St. Helena's small but quaint downtown, A. Paul & I noticed that the town seemed to be surviving the national economic crisis more favorably than its neighboring communities. The shops lining the streets were open for business with few to none vacant buildings. 

Following a quick lunch and stop in Calistoga ,where we visited a couple additional galleries including the Lee Youngman galleries , we began our trek westward across the rolling mountains that separate the wine country and the seaside town of Mendocino.  The rain did catch up with us throughout the day but it made for a reflective drive through the hills as seen in the images.  We landed just in time to settle in at the historic 19th c. Mendocino Hotel situated across from the Pacific Ocean.  Unfortunately, the dark of the evening settled in quickly so we had to wait until daylight to take in the breathtaking views Mendocino has to offer, which completely offset the inconvenience of not having cell or wireless access.

Slideshow:  Napa to Mendocino   (Day Two follows the slideshow)

Main Street Mendocino
When morning came, the sky had cleared and the seaside village of Mendocino could not have been more picturesque. Its location along the Pacific Ocean and proximity to San Francisco, has made Mendocino a haven for vacationers and artists alike. Though the off season year round population is less than 1000 residents, the town's stores and galleries were open for our visit.  Of the handful of shops that line the one-sided Main St, (the other side a scenic lookout over the ocean) the majority of shops are art related.  Even the watertower houses an artist.  Pastel artist Suzi Long rented the watertower for a short term rental years ago and never left.  Today, Long operates a gallery on the lower level, resides on the second level and has her studio on the third level, where she also teaches workshops.

 At the Highlight Gallery, A. Paul & I were captivated by the exquisite wood furniture and raku ceramics.  We were also impressed with the creative glasswork seen throughout town. We ended our early afternoon excursion at the Mendocino Art Center which consists of three gallery spaces, workshops, an iron forge, a bronze casting foundry and a Performing Arts Theater.   The MAC offers artist in residency programs as well as a number of choice art workshops and is open year round.   

Reluctant to leave this little hamlet along the ocean, A. Paul & I knew there were still unexplored scenic views to discover en route to Arcata, CA.  What we discovered was far more beautiful than words can convey.  Each turn of the road offered one incredible view of the Pacific after another.  The ocean gave way to wooded canopies dappled with light only to give way to ocean again.  It was not until we passed Fort Bragg and entered into the forest pass that we hit the expected snowstorm.  The ess curves of the road were harrowingly beautiful with the snowlaced trees.  The sun broke through just as we entered the flat lands along the ocean again outside Eureka, only to drop hail, blowing snow,rain and back to clear skies with incredible cumulus clouds.  Words are simply not sufficient to express the absolute beauty we encountered in the pictures nature painted for us today,  so I hope the images will convey the journey more fully. Tomorrow, we travel to the Redwood Forest and onto Crescent City along the border of California and Oregon.  

Until tomorrow, we hope you enjoy the today's travel.


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