During the first week of October, artists residing in the small town of Ojai, California, organize their studios in readiness for the famed Ojai Studio Artists tour. This year the tour will be held October 10, 11 and 12. I met with OSA historian, Bernadette DiPietro, at her Working Artists Studio, to find out more about the Ojai art community and OSA.
It's barely 10:00a.m. and outside the temperature is about to hit 105 degrees. Inside DiPietro's studio is cool, in more ways than one. DiPietro's artworks have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. Her "Laundry" photographic collection is a testament to her many journeys across the globe. Over the years, she's studied, practiced, and taught, in many mediums and styles, but it's her latest works--abstract mixed-media assemblages, that hold my gaze.
DiPietro landed in Ojai in the 70's, when the enclave of Meiner's Oaks, was a hub of creative people living in storefronts along El Roblar. This eclectic group of Ojai artists exhibited their works at local craft fairs and art shows. Further along the main road and past the arcade, the famed contemporary artist, craftsperson, and writer, Beatrice Wood, sold her home at Ojai's East End to ceramists Vivika and Otto Heino. "Beato," (Wood) relocated to the grounds of the Happy Valley Foundation in Upper Ojai.
1976 marked the arrival of once prominent Life Magazine photographer, Horace Bristol, to the Ojai valley. A decade passed, and as stated in Ojai Studio Artists -- 3 Decades:
"Bristol began digging out his old photographs, and the world rediscovered his now-celebrated wartime images, and his now-iconic images of the Depression Era migrant workers who inspired John Steinbeck to write "The Grapes of wrath."
Bristol joined OSA in the 90's, and along with Wood, and the Heinos, became a must-see destination on the studio tour.
I asked DiPietro how OSA began:
"Artists of the Ojai" was the name of the group when it first formed in 1984, but as they evolved, the group established themselves as a non-profit known as Ojai Studio Artists, or OSA. Artists apply for admission and there is a jurying process. Presently, OSA is limited to how many artists they admit annually. Money from ticket sales of this yearly event is donated to the local community, in the form of outreach programs in local schools, renovation projects to local buildings such as the Ojai Art Center, and student scholarships, to name a few."
Eight years ago, another art group called Ojai Art Detour jumped on the artistic weekend-wagon. I asked Detour organizer, Dennis Wood, how artists become a member of this group.
"The tour is open to all artists and mediums. It is not juried, but the level of art is quite high. I think the tour has a certain flare to it because of the many new diverse artists on the tour each year."
Recently, I attended a gallery opening for Detour artist, Mary Neville, at Gallery 525. Yes, that would be 525 El Roblar, Meiners Oaks, a "storefront." Like me, many of the guests were sweating profusely through their Ojai linens, but my discomfort was quickly forgotten when Neville's acrylic and mixed media canvases captured my eyes.
Faint images drawn with pastels and pencils allude to stories barely hidden behind bold brushstrokes of greens and blues. Neville's paintings are alive, vibrant, and beautifully stark. Her collection is titled, "What Lies beneath." Neville has a background in marketing, and worked in the fashion and architectural industries, before deciding on dabbling her creative curiosity into the world of painting. Lucky for us, she did.
Nine years ago, I made it my mission to 'do the OSA tour.' I visited three studios: Otto's Pottery, Renate Collins Hume, and Elizabeth White. That was it for me, I felt overwhelmed. The only thing I could view after seeing such profound beauty was the inside of a tall iced-latte glass. And before you ask if the weather will be sizzling hot in October, ponder this question; does the Queen have Corgis?
Considering the number of artists on the OSA tour this year equals 60, and according to Wood, Detour artists total 41, the odds of giving these artists the time they deserve seems difficult to impossible. To help alleviate this dilemma, both groups offer viewing events. Here you can meet the artists, see one piece of their work on display, and hopefully gain a sense of the artists you want to visit first and foremost.
Plenty has been written about this little gem of a town being a hippy-dippy community where drum circles camp on every corner, residents adorn tie-dye clothing, and aromas simulating deceased skunks drift across the famous "pink moment" at magic hour--I may have written such a piece. But hidden behind this façade lives a hard working, talented, humanist thinking, and successful group of people. It is not unheard of for a studio to close after day one of the tour because sales have hit close to the six-digit mark. In this situation, you may find their studio door closed with a sign reading: "gone hiking☺"
For information regarding Ojai Studio Artists, Detour, and where to stay in Ojai, check out the links below: