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D.I.Y. Art Tour

With the variety of art galleries in Sonoma County, many located near great restaurants, it's easy to put together your own studio circuit this weekend

By DAN TAYLOR
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Owner Khysie Horn in the gallery

Owner Khysie Horn in the gallery
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Article published - Nov 3, 2005 - RECREATION - D.I.Y. art tour

Museum openings draw crowds, and art seekers hit the road every few months for artist studio tours. But why wait for the next big event?

Create your own art tour this weekend. There are so many galleries scattered around Sonoma County that even art buffs can't give an accurate count. So take your pick.

Better yet, take a picnic. Like a nice drive on your day off? Head along the river and through the woods to Forestville, where Khysie Horn's Quicksilver Mine Co. offers quirky exhibits, poetry readings and a sculpture garden.

Or go to Graton, where local artists share the Graton Gallery, which also has a sculpture garden. "We have nice restaurants here," said Graton Gallery co-founder Rik Olson. "You can make a stop and see some great crafts."

Ardent walkers and one-stop shoppers can opt for the blitz technique. A quick circuit around Healdburg's Plaza in the center of town turns up at least a dozen galleries. The same goes for downtown Sonoma.

"Healdsburg has great wines, incredible chefs and now it has a lot of great art," said Sandy Erickson of Erickson Fine Art Gallery, just a couple of doors away from Healdsburg's plaza. "I am amazed at how uncrowded we still are, and how succulent the offerings are."

Once just a patch of grass in a sleepy small town, Healdsburg Plaza has become a busy cultural hub. "Healdsburg did it right," said Jody Grovier, manager of the annual ARTrails artist studio tour for the Arts Council of Sonoma county.

"They've got a number of galleries and restaurants that have grown up around the plaza. It's art and business working together. "The result is an tourist attraction that locals can also enjoy all year long, big enough to offer choices yet small enough to cover in an afternoon.

"What's great about Healdsburg is the scale of the square and the layout of the town," said painter Michael Coy, a partner in Arches Gallery, next door to Erickson. "It's popular because of the ascendancy of the wine industry and some good planning work done in combination. It's great to see people from all over having a good time."

In history-soaked Sonoma, home to early settlements, the flavor is different but the impact is the same. "Here we have the historical stops - the mission and the barracks - and now there are tasting rooms," said Amanda Krauss, gallery manager for the 60-member Arts Guild of Sonoma.

Clustered galleries support each other, Grovier said. "Galleries tend to survive and do better when there are other galleries around," Grovier added. Standing side by side, places that display good art also challenge each other. "We're competing with exceptional galleries here," Coy said.

Whether you're wandering around the plaza or all over the county, you'll notice the galleries offer a broad variety of artistic styles.

At Arches, painter and gallery partner Mylette Welch charms visitors with her comic portraits of dogs. Next door, Erickson offers a new exhibit of kinetic sculpture by internationally known artist Jerome Kirk. "There are 40 pieces, and everything's moving," Erickson said. "It's beautiful."

At Quicksilver in Forestville, Horn often seeks out the unusual, currently showing hand-carved caricature sculptures by Ernie Fosselius and flower-like collages by Jenny Honnert Abell.

Horn also offers live jazz and poetry readings. It helps overcome the hesitation people sometimes feel about venturing into a fine-arts gallery for the first time. "You just need to get people in the door," she said.

Gallery owners urge visitors to simply walk in and learn as they go. Credentials aren't checked at the door. Expertise is not a prerequisite. And admission, except perhaps for a few occasional special events, is free. It's up to you whether you want to buy art.

"People who don't know art shouldn't be intimidated by it. They should get out and ask questions," Erickson said. "I go to car shows and I don't know a darn thing about cars."

The hardest part about cruising the galleries is deciding where to start. There are so many, and they are so unlike each other. To help the public survey the possibilities, more than two dozen art venues have joined to form the Sonoma County Gallery Group, and formed a fledgling Web site - www.scgg.org - to get the word out.

"Then it's up to the public," Horn said, issuing a challenge and an invitation: "Don't be afraid, and know that every gallery space is different. If you don't like one, try another."

More about the Sonoma County Gallery Group

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