Eugene Weekly : Visual Art : 10.16.08

See the (Art) World in Lane County
DIVA fundraiser opens studios to public
by Inka Bajandas

Mark Andrew’s commute to work takes him about a minute. All he has to do is walk out the door of his west Eugene home and across the gravel driveway into his studio.

Perhaps he’ll whittle a form from a chunk of wood, create wax molds for bronze sculptures, sketch up and plan the concept for his next sculpture or start chiseling away at one of the many rocks lying in wait in his backyard perched on wooden pedestals.

Mark Andrew in his studio

Most people who come in contact with Andrew’s art in a gallery or public place never see the process he went through to create it or the space where he worked on it, but for two October weekends, in cooperation with the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts (DIVA), Andrew and other local artists reveal their creative processes to the public.

The DIVA Open Studios Art Tour is a fundraiser for DIVA. Last year, DIVA won a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission, which allowed the small operation to employ three full-time staff “and provide services and opportunities for artists,” says DIVA Executive Director Mary Unruh. But the grant is coming to an end.

Now, DIVA is selling 15-month calendars featuring local arts events and the artwork of the 30 local artists who are participating in the tour. The calendars, which contain a map showing the locations of the artists’ studios, are tickets for the self-guided tour.

“We’ve been looking for something to be a fundraiser but also fit in with our mission, which is to be a catalyst for the arts,” Unruh says. DIVA was inspired by the open studios tour that takes place in Santa Cruz, Calif. Their tour features 300 artists and is estimated to bring one million dollars into the local economy, Unruh says.

“[Santa Cruz has] established themselves as an arts community, and that’s what we want for Eugene,” she says.

Unruh says that DIVA hopes to create an arts economy in Eugene and give much needed exposure to local artists. “There are so many great artists here,” she says. “We don’t appreciate them.”

The tour is also part of DIVA’s recent efforts to educate the public about how art is created. Recent shows at DIVA addressed the process of creating fiber art and ceramics. The artwork of the 30 open studio artists, including Unruh, who makes fused glass, is also on display.

“Art takes so many forms, and I think the studio tours are a way to demystify the process of art,” she says. 

Each of the artists participating in the tour was asked by DIVA to add an educational component to the tour of their studios.

Andrew will be showing people who visit his studio the tools involved in creating stone, bronze and wooden sculptures and demonstrating how a sculpture goes from concept to model to finished work. “This is all just bits and pieces of old jobs,” he says as he glances around his studio, indicating the sketches of past projects on the walls, the sculptures surrounding him on all sides and the wax carvings resting on one of the tables. “People learn a lot out here.”

Faith Rahill, who works with ceramics, mostly creating patterns with colored clay, plans to be working in her studio as she normally would during the studio tour so visitors can watch her work. She also has photographs available detailing her process of combining different colored clay to form a block containing an intricate pattern that she then thinly slices and uses to adorn everything from tiles to mugs.

“I feel very lucky to work under these two skylights,” Rahill says, looking up at the light shining down in her studio, built as an addition specifically for her.

Watercolor painter Sisy Anderson and photographer Scott Huette, a couple who share a backyard studio that they converted from a garage, are also involved in the studio tour. Anderson paints using Chinese watercolor techniques, and Huette does landscape photography and is working on a series of photographs created using the 19th century photography technique called cyanotype, where the image is blue and white. Visitors to their studio during the tour are welcome to learn how to make sun prints, as cyanotypes are more commonly known, and try out some of Anderson’s watercolor techniques. 

“The big thing about this studio tour is you’re going to see artists working,” Anderson says. Huette adds that when at a museum, people just stare at the art, usually not even for very long, but going to an artist’s studio is entirely different. “This type of open studios creates another opportunity to engage in art,” he says. “Art has different levels, but when you share it with others, you get the biggest impact.”

Along with showing their studio and sharing their techniques, Anderson and Huette are displaying a collaborative installation titled “Remembrances: Memorializing Anew” featuring six-foot cyanotypes with Anderson’s watercolor painting on top that reflect on the layers of their shared memories.

Having people come to visit their home isn’t a stretch for them. “Sisy and I both like to host events,” says Huette. They’ll make it like a party, he says, with a fire going and some food. 

This isn’t the first time that some local artists have opened their studios to the public. Anderson and Huette participate in Oregon Crafted, which has members throughout the state who host open studios the first weekend of each month. Andrew is also a member. Rahill sells her art from her home in studio sales twice a year.

Besides their studios, another reason to visit an artist’s house is to see how art has been incorporated into their homes. Andrew carved a pond scene into his front door. Unruh jokes that people on the tour will be more interested in her kitchen, where she installed fused glass counter tops, than her basement studio. All the tile work in Rahill’s house was done using her tiles. “We’re so visual, so our homes are pretty interesting,” she says.

The DIVA open studios tour takes place 11 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 18-19 & 25-26. Calendars are $20 and are for sale at DIVA and at the studios. Call 344-3482 for more info.