When I started thinking about running this story about Mendocino’s Art Galleries, my mind wandered over the many ways art is embedded in my life, the crucial importance of artists making art and people having art in their homes and in their general milieu, and the almost magical lore surrounding the village’s emergence as a magnet for artists and art appreciators, which changed everything about life here. We are lucky because art is everywhere here (i.e.: see our September story about Fort Bragg Murals!). We are used to living in the middle of art and we expect it, we swim in it, we are affected by it, and it’s not uncommon to be socially linked to the artists who practice and offer it.
My house is full of art and I’m fortunate to know personally just about every artist who is represented in my rooms. I’ve bought pieces over the years from so many friends, sometimes from someone who needed money right away, and sometimes on sort of an informal “lay-away” plan when I couldn’t come up with the entire amount at the moment. I have serigraphs from Paul Blake that I paid for over many months, fifty dollars-a-month, and it helped him pay for groceries and art supplies and enabled me to own his amazing work that I now get to look at whenever I pass by. I have a ton of Bob Ross’s work, which I never tire of adoring. I even sat for a portrait in the eighties at Bob’s studio. Sometimes it was cold in there, and with the north light hazing in, the jazz on the tape deck, we could shoot the breeze for a couple of hours on a Sunday as he worked away, and I’ll tell you what, that is some way to get to know somebody. Here is the result, right at the bottom of the stairs, my old self in a green coat (that I made in a tailoring class taught by Hanneli Reeves, at the Mendocino Art Center.)
Once I accompanied my younger daughter on a field trip to Fort Ross with her whole middle school class. We were to make dinner and stay overnight. The trip was part of their study of the history of the coast and the Russian landmark was part of their immersive teaching technique. Everyone had to choose a part and dress the part: Hunter-gatherers, Cooks and Gardeners, Native American Scouts, and I think Warriors. All the kids had on their various costumes and the atmosphere in the bus was one of extreme ebullience. When we climbed out in our long granny dresses and headbands and spears and so on, we noticed a great, long table surrounded by lively people who all turned our way as we disembarked. It was some kind of delegation of Russians who were at Fort Ross studying their own history there. A huge man came over to us laughing, and in a voice that matched his enormousness, shouted, “Oh children! What are you all dressed up for?” And they all piped up, “We’re Russians!” The laughter didn’t die down for many minutes.
I remember this because, afterwards, when my daughter’s birthday was coming up, I wanted to give her something special and I called my client-friend Sev Ickes, whose naïve paintings were charming the coast (as they still are) and asked if I could commission a small painting. We both had to stretch: I couldn’t afford Sev’s real rates and she couldn’t really afford to give me such a discount, but somehow we negotiated and she said OK, and I was able to give my daughter an original, vivid Sev Ickes painting for her next birthday. Today, it hangs in the bedroom of my granddaughter, my little girl’s little girl. This is one part of the magic of art: it has meaning and gravitas and history in it.
MENDOCINO BECOMES AN ART COLONY
What interests me very much is the way Mendocino became an art colony in the late 1950s that over sixty years later carries and expands on that legacy. The village in 1957 was a decrepit fishing hamlet teetering toward “ghost town” status when Bill Zacha came up from San Francisco on an outing with some friends. He found it so compelling that, on their way back south, when they stopped for a goodbye picnic overlooking the bay and the village clinging to the headlands, he exclaimed, “I’ve been looking for this town all my life.” When his friend asked him what he meant by that, he said, “I don’t know.” But a few weeks later, no longer bewildered, he was back with a borrowed fifty-dollar down payment on one of the town’s abandoned gabled houses, found a job teaching at the high school, and stunned his wife Jennie with the announcement that they were moving, post haste. With his skill as an architect, he remodeled the old mansion, and is quoted in a 1962 Look Magazine article as saying he didn’t want anything to do with “progress.” “Neon signs, motels, express highways bringing death or disorder or smog—no, sir, you can have them. And modern-type buildings without any feeling of life in them—you can have all that junk too. I like a town that has peace and dignity and beauty, where you can walk down the street and breathe deep and shout, ‘Man! Am I glad I live here!’”
For years, Bill had dreamt of establishing an art center and that dream followed him to Mendocino. When he learned that some investors had plans to build a trailer park on the one-acre former Preston estate, where portions of the 1955 film East of Eden had been filmed and which subsequently had been badly damaged in a fire, Zacha borrowed another fifty dollars for a down payment on the $5,500 estate and beat them to it. In 1959, he founded the Mendocino Art Center there and began the process of restoring the buildings and bringing in teachers.
Although he seemed to learn by doing—expressed thus: “How does one go about starting an art center? I just rummaged around. I don’t know. I was just going to start an art center”—work proceeded quickly with the help of many volunteer helpers, and the Art Center almost immediately started offering classes. In September 1959, it threw its first Art Center Fair and over a thousand people showed up. Jennie Zacha instituted fundraising events like her famed Jennie’s Hot Wild Blackberry Sundaes and sold handmade wreaths (“Shipped with a gift card, $3.00”) constructed by helpers at Christmastime.
The charismatic pair were like modern-day Pied Pipers. Friends trailed Bill and Jennie northward with an almost evangelical fervor. Bringing their talents as artists and teachers, muscle for incessant work parties, and much needed money for the remodeling work, they had fallen under the dazzling spell of Bill’s vision: the promise of what the town could be and did become. Many, many of the artists, like the prolific Dorr Bothwell, decided to move here permanently, adding ever more talent to the burgeoning gene pool of iconoclastic immigrants, and with all that art production going on, galleries were not far behind. Where there are galleries, there must be art customers, and they naturally followed, too, leading to the need for more places for tourists to stay, like the many charming inns and bed-and-breakfast places that sprang up. The streets seemed to be practically lined with galleries in those early days. And of course, it wasn’t just painters and sculptors who settled here, musicians, writers, poets, photographers, weavers, theater people, calligraphers, and craftspeople of every stripe found the allure of the place and the energy of it irresistible, adding to the bubbling cauldron of creativity the rebirthed village adopted. A detailed description of the Art Center’s beginnings can be found in the book, Mendocino Art Center, A 50 Year Retrospective, by Bruce Levine, available on Amazon.com and Ebay.com.
Ceramic artist Anne Barham came to town in the early 1970s, rented a room in an old house across from the Presbyterian church, and got a job working with Sasha Makovkin in the ceramics studio at the Art Center. She remembers: “In the early seventies, Mendocino was a quiet, sleepy town…Not a tourist town at all. Pretty much everything centered around Mendosa’s, the grocery store, The Seagull Restaurant and Cellar Bar, and the Mendocino Art Center. There was also Homer’s Market, Dick’s Place, the Pyewacket, a coffee house that later became The Moosse Café, and today is Trillium Cafe. The Mendocino Hotel was one of the few places you could stay if you were visiting the area and it served as the Greyhound bus station, too. Many of the streets in town were not paved.”
Bill and Jennie’s daughter Lucia grew up at the Art Center and remembers those Makovkin potter’s wheels. She and her best friend would get on them and, holding on tight, would push themselves into a dizzy spin. She says she’s amazed they didn’t fracture something because “we were going fast.” She clarifies a misconception, too: “These people were not Beatniks but post-war individuals who were looking for a life other than Mockingbird Hill. There was one ‘Beatnik’ party where they put on costumes and played bongo drums and guitars. Sam Costa, the local sheriff, got wind of the party and arrived, ready to bust them. It was explained that they were in costume and just pretending, so Sam left without incident. There was a contingent of locals who didn’t like ‘Beatniks,’ though, and harassed them whenever possible. One young man, who shall go unnamed, put sugar and gravel in the gas tank of my father’s brand new 1963 Studebaker Avanti, nearly destroying the engine.”
More reminiscences from Anne Barham: “The Art Center was a very vibrant, exciting place in those days. Bill Zacha would often be sitting in the gallery smoking his pipe with his cocker spaniel at his feet. His wife Jennie, a clothing designer, would come and go, always dressed in colorful, striking outfits. Every Friday night there were silent movies in the front gallery with Carl Shrager playing the piano. There was also a wonderful children’s art program taught by Miriam Rice and Pamela Hahn, which was very convenient for families who came to the Center to take classes from far away.” Lucia mentioned, in that regard, that she “holds the record for attendance at Miriam Rice and Pam Hahn’s children’s art classes.”
Anne Barham also remembers some of the artists who taught and were very involved with the Art Center: “Of course, Sasha Makovkin and his wife Susan who ran the ceramic’s program. Lolli Jacobsen was the textile and weaving program coordinator. Monica Hannasch and Hanneli Reeves were also textile artists who taught and worked there. In the area of fine arts, there were Hilda Pertha, Dorr Bothwell, Helen Reynolds, Anne Foote, Bill Zacha, Fran Moyer, Charles Stevenson, Bob Ross, and Miriam and Ray Rice. I can’t forget Jim Bertram, the calligraphic painter who had his studio on Main Street and would volunteer at the grammar school teaching art to young kids for many years. N’ima Leveton ran a printmaking shop and taught classes up Little Lake Road and later helped to found Partners Gallery. Warren Zimmer, a wonderful watercolor artist, owned the most beautiful gallery in Odd Fellows Hall called Gallery Fair, which later became the William Zimmer Gallery when his son Bill took it over. Later, in the early 2000s, Flockworks put on wonderful group shows there for many years, and recently the Highlight Gallery has taken over the lofty space. There was the Wildlife Gallery featuring the work of J.D. Mayhew, William Daly, and Ken Michaelson, who won the 1979–1980 Federal Duck Stamp contest, and stained-glass artists, like Leone McNeil Zimmer, who left her mark in the windows of the Mendocino Presbyterian Church and in many local homes. I remember the Don Burleson Gallery, too, in the Beacon Building, which was managed by Kate Lee and featured the work of many landscape and seascape artists, such as E. John Robinson and Olaf Palm and many others. The tall red building at the southern entrance to town housed the Ruth Carlson Studio Gallery, which featured a variety of local artists, such as Marsha Mello and Sev Ickes.”
When Carlson retired, she sold it to Georgia Ann Gregory, and after Georgia Ann closed the gallery, it became the Mendocino Garden Shop. Susan Cimmiyotti’s lovely Panache Gallery closed its doors January 2020 after thirty-five years in business, first housed in the Albion at Kasten Streets building where the Artists Co-Op of Mendocino gallery is now, then later moved to Main Street. Ed O’Brien’s Compass Rose handmade leather goods shop is the longest standing craft business in Mendocino. He’s appreciated for knowing “everything” about the village businesses, was fire chief for many years, and was nicknamed “The Mayor” by some. Barham recalls those days as “truly an amazing time to live here.”
MENDOCINO’S ART GALLERIES TODAY
The list of places to see and buy art in Mendocino is long and storied. Each building could fill a novel with tales of its many incarnations and how it evolved, and if you are interested, even if you are “just a local,” it’s fun to go gallery hopping and talk to the owners. They are proud of their histories and only too happy to tell their tales. In this article, there is room only for a short profile of a few of them, but there are so many other places that carry crafts and artful things among the other merchandise they offer. Walking the streets and byways of the village will reveal the full abundance of artistic accomplishment.
owned by Sharon and Jan Peterson
Sharon and Jan met the first owners of Highlight Gallery, Clyde and Tigerlily Jones, in 1978 at a Mendocino Art Center art-and-craft fair, where the pair were showing their “Ocean Impression” natural sand paintings. They were living ‘back-to-the-land’ in Redwood Valley at that time. The Joneses were looking for artwork to exhibit with a handmade furniture show at the Todd Farmhouse Antiques and Museum in Fort Bragg, and the sand paintings were a fit, and are still shown at the gallery to this day. “That chance encounter was one of those turning points in one’s life,” Sharon muses. She started working at Highlight in 1997, and in 2005, when Clyde was trying to sell the gallery, Sharon remembers, “No buyer was emerging, and I realized, at the last hour, that the ‘someone’ they were waiting for was me.” The eclectic gallery was too important to lose, for the artists, the community, and visitors, Sharon says, and when friends, fans, and artists stepped up with moral and financial support to help make it happen, she and Jan bought it. She adds with more than a touch of pride that they paid everyone back, and today continue to feature the work of many fine woodworkers, along with over two hundred diverse artists inside Odd Fellows Hall where Highlight moved last year. Each May, exciting new work of students and teachers from the Krenov School of Fine Wood Working is unveiled, kicking off the exhibit with a gala opening.
The Artists’ Co-op of Mendocino, Inc.
The Artists’ Co-op of Mendocino, Inc., next door to the Highlight Gallery, is the second oldest arts institution in the town of Mendocino. Formed in 1988, a group of local artists wanted to provide a permanent professional environment for the display and sale of their art. The Co-op had twelve founding members who created a corporation where each member was also on the Board of Directors. All member/directors had one vote. Bylaws were drafted and Warren Zimmer was elected as their first president.
The Co-op is run by the artists themselves. Each artist takes a turn gallery sitting, greeting the public and making sales, sometimes between painting or drawing while on their shifts! They pay a fee to the organization based on the amount of wall space they use. Locations are based on seniority, and when a member moves on, space becomes available for new members or occasional guests.
The Co-op has been at their current location at the corner of Kasten and Albion Streets since 2012, following the Panache and Temptations galleries that preceded in that building. There is a variety of three-dimensional as well as two-dimensional work. Pre-pandemic, the Co-op hosted lively Second Saturday receptions, with the members bringing appetizers and wine to share with the community. The gallery currently stays open late on Second Saturday, but they have not resumed serving refreshments.
10400 Kasten Street 707.937.2217 www.artcoopmendocino.com
owned by William de la Mare, BFA, JD, LLM
Water Gallery exhibits fine art photography of water (including a major study of ocean waves bursting on the rocks of the Mendocino Headlands), sculpture carved from locally collected driftwood, porcelain bowls inspired by seashells, ink works inspired by fluid dynamics, pencil works depicting intersecting dimensions, and a literary work in prose and verse: Archetypes—the Trilogy—Life, Death, and Birth. Archetypes is a thousand-page consideration of the meaning of life. In recent years, William has concentrated on photographing water’s various forms—snow, ice, rain, stream, sea, mist, steam, fog, cloud—and, for two years now, the Pacific Ocean from the Mendocino Headlands.
He says, “These water photographs reference elemental life—they are about contemplation. What I see when I look at the waves is how they are constant and forceful, relentless—how they flow and clash. In certain light, they are spectacular in their beauty, lighting up with greens and blues, or with pure, colorless-crystal transparency. They roll and slide, pirouette together in spouts, fold over one and other, push up into the air and glisten in beads of refracted light.
“Water is necessary to every form of life we know, from the macro to the microscopic, so, for me, the work is not just about communing with the beauty of water. It is also about showing that we should not take water for granted. It is too easy to look at the ocean and not see it, to look at a glass of fresh, clean water and not see it. As a matter of practical fact, water is everything to us. For that reason, we should take the time to appreciate it. And to let its influence better guide our decisions.”
The Water Tower (next to Frankie’s) 44969 Ukiah Street email@example.com
LANSING STREET GALLERY
Lansing Street Gallery is the newest addition to the storied history of art galleries in Mendocino village. Recently remodeled, the owners, Michael Doten and Alecia Ward, enjoy filling the clean, bright space with contemporary fine art. Boasting an anchor group of local Mendocino and Fort Bragg artists and expanding to include northern California and Bay Area artists—and occasionally those more internationally renowned—Lansing Street Gallery has quickly become a vibrant hub and a tight-knit artist community. The owners and staff work hard to bring in new exhibits nearly every month, hosting launch parties and Second Saturday events to fete the artists. The gallery features abstract and figurative oil paintings, plein air work, exceptional ceramic arts, and both fine woodworking and live-edge furnishings, and sometimes stained glass and jewelry, or whimsical sculpture and metal arts. They pride themselves on having a diverse and inclusive group of artists and making art accessible. They also love to share their knowledge of the Mendocino Coast, freely providing recommendations on lodging, hiking trails, and food and wine.
10466 Lansing Street (next to The Study Club) Thursday–Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 707.937.6030 www.lansingstreetgallery.com
owned by twelve artist/partners
A group of twelve local artists came together twenty-two years ago to establish Partners Gallery here on the northern California coast. They have had gallery spaces in Little River and Fort Bragg and are now celebrating one year in the historic Beacon Building on Ukiah Street in Mendocino, built in 1872 as a bank that later housed the Mendocino Beacon newspaper office. They manage the gallery, show their own work, and on occasion the artwork of others, and in the mysterious old bank vault they sell work by local jewelers. You can read about all of the individual partners in Real Estate Magazine, November 19, 2021 issue, online at www.realestatemendocino.com.
45062 Ukiah Street 707-962-0233 Open Thursday–Monday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
owned by Lynne Prentice
Lynne Prentice moved to the coast almost thirty years ago to transition from a career as a freelance illustrator into fine art. At about the same time, her retired father volunteered to cut frames for her from his garage in Irish Beach. She started by selling her framed work at arts and crafts shows where she met local artist, Edward Gordon during a holiday art fair at the Mendocino Art Center. He asked if they would be interested in handling his framing, but it didn’t take long to realize the kitchen table was no longer big enough to handle the volume of work he needed framed, and she opened “Artshack,” in Fort Bragg, then five years later moved the business to a larger building on Highway 1 in Fort Bragg, adding the gallery to the existing frame shop. Three weeks after the grand opening, Lynne’s father, Thayer Prentice, at sixty-five, suddenly passed away. Faced with many challenges and filled with grief, she almost called it quits, but many people offered their skills and kindness and helped to keep things going while she managed to get her feet under her again. Once back on solid ground and forever grateful for all the support, she renamed the business after her dad, Prentice Gallery, and moved it into the original Zacha’s Bay Window Gallery building, in Mendocino. Later, they moved “uptown” to their current home across from the Ford House. Prentice Gallery, Fine Art and Custom Picture Framing occupies three buildings on the same property, surrounded by beautiful gardens with spectacular ocean views. It features works by approximately forty-five local artists, is home to Gordon Publications, and provides custom framing. Assisted by David Linkhart, her long-time framer, Julie Higgins, and Linda Shearin—all accomplished painters—Lynne is still able to have time for her own painting.
45050 Main Street 707.937.5205 www.prenticefineart.com
Think about art—enjoying it, making it, living with it, buying it, and giving it. When you look at something and it affects you deep in your soul and you can’t stop thinking about it and you make the move to buy or trade or somehow get it into your life, that is the “exchange,” that is a certain cosmic meeting. Its preciousness grows over generations, the thing itself and the meaning in the meeting. The galleries that represent the enormous population of artists here on the coast need us to think like this. Give art. Art lasts. When you see something that gives you an emotional hit that practically drops you to your knees, see what can be done to get it. Maybe you already have more art than you have walls. That’s ok. Rotate! Maybe your grandchildren are very young. They will grow up knowing art is a vital part of life. Maybe it’s way out of your price range: with some effort, gallery owners and artists are often able to dicker. Go ahead and ask. It won’t insult anyone. We all can’t do without each other…and wouldn’t want to! REM