Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios on weekends through Dec. 22
By Lou Fancher
Peace, hope, surprise and satisfaction are found in soft, thick wool felt miraculously shaped to resemble sturdy clay vessels. Zest for life, good health and connected community arrive courtesy of exuberantly colorful paintings and ceramics that blend African, European and other global art styles. Desire and mirth find expression in 500 tiny ceramic figurines just 1 to 4 inches in height. Joined in happy marriage with thriving commerce, these objets d’art stir relatable memories in people of every age, race and gender of loved ones, childhood treasures and unforgettable passions.
These and other holiday miracles arrive in the utopian universe offered on weekends through Dec. 22 by the Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios. With the launch Nov. 30 of the 29th annual event, more than 100 artists and crafters invite people to visit studios, workspaces and galleries throughout Berkeley. An entirely free, self-guided tour offers opportunities to purchase art and access to the processes and techniques used by artists selected by multimedia artist and event founder Susan Brooks.
Brooks in an interview says her heart and soul are poured unceasingly into her decades-long career as an artist. Learning sculpting skills from her father as a child and attending New York City’s Parsons School of Design to study graphic design and fashion illustration as a young woman led Brooks to metalsmithing, painting and, during the last two-and-a-half years, working on the Objects of Desire & Mirth series. Aiming to make 1,000 spritely, jolly figures, she finds reward at the halfway point.
“The joy it brings and the connections I make with people are amazing. People immediately tell stories about what the figures mean to them. It’s usually about a loved one: Someone the piece reminds them of or a look on a father’s face they remember, something that charms them. Men love them too. I’ve seen many people kiss them … wonderful interactions.”
Interaction is a foundation in the work and community projects undertaken by artist Sharon Virtue. As an artist, her passions reside in color and light; as an activator, Virtue’s energy funnels into multiple streams all fueled by a belief in creative expression as a superior tool.
“We’re coming to a place where people are open-minded to a creative process as a way of breaking down boundaries,” she says. “Instead of explaining big world problems with words and charts and details, we could create a huge mural together and yes, that might help. Art is a vessel where language is a secondary thing but what comes to the surface is the capacity of being creative in community. Places like the United Nations are starting to see the value. I’m always looking for where we can make a movement, a collaboration where we can make peace happen.”
Community art projects she has led in Haiti, Brazil, Africa, the U.K. and United States have convinced Virtue that art creation leads to physical and mental health balance.
“I’ve worked in extremely diverse communities; economically, geographically, socially. It doesn’t matter your money, skin color or position: if you see your life as lacking, you’ll be only miserable.”
But in the flow of creative “headspace,” Virtue finds people interact spontaneously and find joy. During the open studios, a series of abstract paintings she will be working on are collectively titled “Joie de Vivre.’ Indeed, bright colors burst off the canvas and abstract shapes appear to frolic in the series’ lively compositions. Virtue calls herself an artist of transformation and says, “It’s about bringing light into what in the world right now seems a dreary, dark situation.”
People who want to catch another artist whose work offers beauty, whimsy, intuitive design, imagination and depth will want to hustle to Josie Jurczenia’s tiny 286-square-foot studio. Only open for one more weekend, it’s likely there’ll be a line of people hoping to purchase a set of Talking Bear plates, bowls and mugs or holiday ornaments or an item from her most recent series, “Still Life & Shadow.”
Integrating textiles and clay, the work draws from her expertise and background as design director for Sweet Potatoes, the children’s clothing company she founded after graduating in 1978 from Oakland’s California College of Arts and Crafts.
Solo shows in 2018 and 2019 at Roscoe Gallery in Oakland featured the work Jurczenia makes using paper patterns originally designed for hand-built clay pots, instead applied to thick wool felt that is cut, embroidered, painted and glued together. Placing them like actors on a stage in front of textile backdrops, the resulting “claymate counterparts” are a 2D material transformed into a 3D setting.
“The latest work triggered my imagination,” she says. “I’ve always been (as a clothing designer) commercially driven, focused on trends, what people want. With my last two shows, I was doing it for me, not for a market. To combine textiles and ceramics was thrilling. I didn’t know if the felt pieces would sell, but all of the pieces sold. I thought, ‘wow.’ ”
During open studios Jurczenia will not actively work on a piece of art but prefers to clean up the space, interact with people and “make it beautiful for everyone.”
Brooks says open studios visitors over the years have become increasingly invested and informed. For example, people arrive at jewelers’ studios with family heirlooms they’d like to have made into a new piece, or a collector who has followed an artist for decades will make an annual purchase. Encouraging a new wave of art enthusiasts and finding someone who will coordinate the event when she retires remain central concerns.
“It’s an important event for the artists,” says Brooks. “How do we keep them working? I want to make sure they continue. I’m looking for someone who’ll run it with passion. I think it will be an entrepreneur, not an organization where this might be the first thing cut.”