First Friday Santa Cruz

On the Road to Open Studios

On the Road to Open Studios

by Bree Karpavage

The roads were diverse and the artists were many as we ventured out on the North County Open Studios Art Tour last Sunday. Meandering through the traffic of Downtown, Midtown and the Westside, the wild open road of the north coast and the switchbacks of the Santa Cruz Mountains we found ourselves visiting a handful of Open Studio spaces, many with several artists exhibiting.

The artists in Santa Cruz county are as diverse as the landscape. Each exists in their own little micro-climate of creativity and perspective. Each with a story to tell not only through their artwork and demonstrations but also through story telling about their process, history and life. The Open Studios Art Tour offers an intimate art purveying experience. When you step out of your car at the foot of the handwritten green signs, you step into unique spaces of pure creative magic.

Spaces like the home and studio of mosaic artist Beth Purcell in Midtown. Beth has been participating in Open Studios for 20 years, a self taught, working artist for over two decades. Upon arriving we were instantly greeted with mosaic work on the sidewalk, gate, pathways and walls of every building, interlaced with native flowers blooming in every corner. Beth’s colorful mosaics are both eye and heart candy…joyful and expressive. Her studio is the same with a stunning wall of shelves stacked with dishes, her work bench adorned with inspirational treasures and walls filled with finished favorites. 

Mosaic Artist Beth Purcell in her Midtown Studio.

Beth shared her outside space with two local jewelry artists, Musi Hunt and Albion Smith. His first show in four years, Albion crafts one of a kind jewelry and containers using sterling silver, 18K gold and precious gemstones. A long time resident of Bonny Doon, he educated us about his process, the fluctuating prices of fine metals, and the back story on how he acquired his unique collection of tools. The conversation moved into his insight on the burn scar, its effect on the earth, his over abundant garden and his wife’s food preservation goals. The engagement was nothing but pure magic.

Albion Smith shows his sterling silver & 18K gold container.

Our journey continued to the home and studios of father and son Will and Jasper Marino. We chatted first with wife and mom, Mary about Will’s innovative work with recycled dart boards and had pleasant conversation about the garden, a true work of art in itself. Jasper was busy working on his potter’s wheel, turning small bowls one right after the other while he engaged the crowd with stories of his childhood and memories of Open Studios as a kid. Jasper’s ceramics are primarily functional bowls and cups, some with intricate carving and painting. He can often be found at the Live Oak Farmers Market selling his work.

Open Studios artist Jasper Marino demonstrates on his wheel.

Next stops, the Tannery Arts Center, holding space for more than nine artists participating in Open Studios this year including Sarah Bianco (Painting), Noelle Correia (Mixed Media), Lynne Todaro (Assemblage) and Bev Zerbib-Berda (Ceramics) and the Westside to a hidden gem, Mission Industrial Studios that provides over 20 artists and makers with studio space. Artists like Susana Arias and Jenni Ward, both ceramic sculptors. Jenni’s work in porcelain is inspired by patterns in nature, particularly shells and bones. Her studio features a beautiful blue installation wall of pieces in her “bone” series completing a circle, reminiscent of the ocean and coral. Her blend of environmental science and art presents a spectacular display of three dimensional work.

Installation in Jenni Ward’s studio on the Westside.

We found ourselves next heading down the winding coastal 1 and up to Bonny Doon to visit the eccentric property/studio of Mattie Leeds. His property has become an Open Studios favorite over the years and as soon as you park you instantly see why. His land with walkways of mosaics invites you into a magical wonderland of creative expression packed with gigantic vessels, sculpture and over the top assemblage. Influenced by Chinese arts, Mattie’s work includes colorful, surreal imagery of monsters and human figures using Chinese style brush strokes. His studio is home to perhaps the largest kiln in Santa Cruz that fires pieces up to 8 feet tall. Beyond impressive, Mattie’s sculptural paradise in the mountains is a must see.

And Open Studios is a must do for any art enthusiast. It presents a unique opportunity to see the artist’s workspace and what inspires them, a chance to ask questions and engage with them, an opportunity to buy their work directly and perhaps above all else to feel into the magic of their creative genius.

“It’s a good world

After all

Ripe Persimmon”

-Haiku by Albion Smith

Open Studios runs for three weekends in October with the final weekend coming up on October 16-17. Visit for more information or grab a guidebook from your favorite spot in town and get out to support the arts!

Sculpture garden at Mattie Leed’s Open Studio in Bonny Doon.

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