Monday, April 8, 2013

A Bright New Art Destination

The Peninsula Museum of Art

Heads up, art lovers in Burlingame and beyond! There's a bright new art destination in town, and you ain't hip to the scene till you get yourself down there to check it out. You don't have to go all the way to the city to get a fix; you can have an exciting art experience right in your own back yard.

Seriously, the new Peninsula Museum of Art is a terrific resource to everyone in the Burlingame art community, both art lovers and artists.

The odd thing about the museum's location is that it is in an interior building that doesn't have a façade on the street. However, it is easy to find. It is located on the corner of El Camino Real and Trousdale Drive, and there are convenient driveways into a spacious parking lot both from Trousdale and from California Drive, which runs parallel to El Camino. Just watch for the cheery blue flags marking the driveways.

The museum announces its presence in the parking lot with a weathered old stone sculpture stationed on a newly landscaped island. A squared archway bearing the museum's name, guides the visitor to a walkway that leads to a pretty little courtyard, with colorful plants, built-in benches and one large stone sculpture. The entrance to the museum is on the left.

Parking Lot of Peninsula Art Museum
iPad snapshot by Jan
Entrance walkway
Photo by Dan L. Smith

Courtyard of museum
iPad snapshot by Jan
You enter a fairly large hall, with lots of natural light. Known as the East Gallery, it is dedicated to sculpture. When I was there, it had an amusing collection of works in bronze and recycled materials by Lori Kay, a prominent local artist. Works included a broken wishbone in bronze and an assemblage of old books being weighed on a balance scale. Suddenly I noticed something special: in the place of honor, a large bronze sculpture of an owl by Benny Buffano, a long-time local hero. On the left of the entrance hall is a small gift shop, and on the right is a library of art books.

Photo of Lori Kay exhibit
From website of Peninsula Art Museum
Sculpture by Benny Buffano
Photo by Dan L. Smith
Straight ahead is the main gallery, which has the principal exhibit. When I was there, this was Ira Yeager, Figurative Painting, featuring highlights of Yeager's career, from the early years with the Bay Area Figurative Group to the present. Yeager's stature is not quite that of fellow students and friends Joan Brown and Manuel Neri, but his style shows the same devotion to thick, gushy paint, and he is very widely collected in Northern California, especially in the wine country where he lives.

Large photo of Ira Yeager at the entrance to his exhibit
iPad snapshot by Jan
Painting by Ira Yeager
Photo by Dan L. Smith
Tucked into a hallway was a very small show called The Legendary Joe Price, featuring serigraphs from their permanent collection. Serigraphy is an extremely complex form of screen printing; Price is said to use an average of seventy screens, which gives the works remarkable depth.

When you have seen the museum exhibits, your art experience is only half-complete. The Museum has extended its importance as an art destination by establishing the Peninsula Art Institute, which consists primarily of twenty-eight studios for professional artists. From the museum, you pass right into a hallway lined with studios. Now begins your exploration. The quest is to find the artists in residence who have their studios open for visitors that day.

The nicest studio, and the one that is most likely to be open, is that of sculptor Ruth Waters, who founded both the museum and the institute. Ruth has a large space, divided into an attractive showroom and a workroom that doubles as a classroom. Just the privilege of discovering Ruth's sculpture alone is sufficient reason to come here.

Ruth Waters in her showroom
Photo by Dan L. Smith
None of the other sculptors were working when I was there, but Ruth couldn't resist showing myself and two other visitors the studio of Nancy Woods, who makes "Painted Furniture and Stuff." Nancy restores old furniture and paints it with bright, humorous designs, often with references to art history.

The painters' studios are on the other side of the courtyard. While the sculptors are tucked into studios with no natural light (but plenty of artificial light), the painters' studios all have nice big windows, some more than others. Not many painters were working when I visited, but the halls were lined with their work, and I got some tantalizing peeks into dim workspaces through the windows in the doors. I also enjoyed a small but tasteful gallery presenting a sample of works by resident artists; the level of quality maintained at the institute is quite high.

Then Ruth ran into Linda Salter. They had some institute business to discuss, so we went back to her studio for a chat. The thing that surprised me about Linda was that she works in two styles that are apparently in total contrast. Her first job after receiving a bachelor's degree in philosophy was teaching English as a second language at the University of Taiwan. While there, she learned to do remarkably authentic brush paintings in the Chinese style. Linda thinks of herself mainly as a portrait artist, working in either pastels or oils, but every now and then, she sets aside her "serious" work and channels an ancient Chinese scroll-painter instead. Because Linda is fluent in Mandarin, and Ruth learned quite a few phrases while traveling in China, the two of them had a very humorous conversation about the pitfalls of getting the tones wrong when you are speaking that language. This kind of interchange helps the visitor understand where an artist is coming from and enriches your understanding of art and artists in a way that no formal class can. Much of the institute's educational function takes place in this informal manner.
Nile Boatman by Linda Salter
Photo from Linda Salter's website
Scroll painting by Linda Salter
iPad snapshot by Jan
Another artist whose studio door was open was Wayne Wichern, who makes fashion hats. I had never met a milliner before. A very personable fellow, Wayne answered all my ignorant questions with good-humored patience. Wayne has two large spaces; one apparently for storage. Two walls of the large room where he was working are lined with hat blocks; he has about a thousand. Blocks function like molds for the hat material, and each shape of hat requires a different block, but Wayne's collection has grown beyond functionality to include historical examples. I loved being in the clutter of sewing machines of different vintages and hat racks bearing colorful creations, with the all-important ironing-board right in the middle. Wayne's most recent creation is a yellow concoction of flowers and feathers that was ordered for the next Kentucky Derby. I'll bet you didn't know people ordered custom hats for major racing meets; anyway, I didn't.

Hat for Kentucky Derby by Wayne Wichern
Photo by Dan L. Smith
Venturing upstairs, where I noticed strategically placed clean-up sinks with special drains for paint and a pleasant break room with a small kitchen, we found landscape painter Kevyn Warnock in her studio. Ruth seemed to have business to discuss with everyone we met, but I didn't pay attention to the conversation because I was interested in a small display about the painting process. Kevyn loves to paint outdoors, but sometimes she uses photos for reference. In her display she had two photos on a counter showing two adjacent views of the coast; it looked like Santa Cruz to me.  On the wall behind them were the paintings that matched the photos. This was a clear demonstration of how the artist's hand brings out the aesthetic qualities in a scene.

Paintings and reference photos by Kevyn Karnock
iPad photo by Jan
When my tour was complete, Ruth and I had a chat to wrap things up. The museum and institute have only been open a few weeks. A technician was setting up their wi-fi; books were waiting to be shelved in the library. The Grand Opening on March 16 was packed with art lovers, so you can see that you better get with it! Just think, if you go during Silicon Valley Open Studios, May 4 & 5, most of the twenty-eight artists' studios will be open. Talk about your one-stop shopping!

One final note: Just across El Camino Real from the museum is a strip mall with a Starbucks and other cafés where you could complete your date with a snack. So call up your art buddies and make a date today!

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