Open Studios sheds light on the process behind the artist’s work. Kaia Cornell has transformed her garage into a workspace where she can work on her latest jewelry pieces. Photo by Molly Solomon.
Local ceramicist Jeannine Calcagno Niehaus displays her work in her backyard. Niehaus has a strong Japanese influence that complements her simple style. Photo by Molly Solomon.
Photo by Molly Solomon.
Photo by Molly Solomon.

Ed Penniman is a jack of all trades. Painting, writing, sculpting — you name it, and he does it. Having been a part of Open Studios for 20 years, the native Santa Cruzan finds the spontaneity of the event appealing.

“Really what’s happening is we’re exposing a large part of the public sector to art by accident,” Penniman said.

Scattered throughout Santa Cruz, 300 artists open their homes and personal studios in order to share, discuss and sell their work. The range of work displayed in each home is expansive and exhibits the artists’ own interests and history, from lithography to metal work to mixed media paintings. The event, Open Studios, gives local artists a chance to market their works and a way for the public to see the thought, time and labor put into a piece of art.

Ann Ostermann, who works with the Cultural Council to curate the Open Studios Preview Exhibit, sees the event as a way to create an interpersonal relationship with the artist.

“It’s really a unique thing … you kind of get a story, a story about them, or a story about what inspired the work,” Ostermann said. “It’s very nice to have that sense of connection with the person who made the art you purchased.”

Mixed media painter Jeanne Rosen Sofen enjoys seeing individuals return to her studio year after year.

“That’s tremendously satisfying to know that my work touches people like that,” she said.

The relationship that builds between artists and those who appreciate their work is only one aspect of Open Studios. Another is to “educate the public on the artistic process,” Ostermann said.

The viewable homes and studios throughout the area are marked by neon green signs on the road and artists engaging in their work, showing brief demonstrations and discussing their methods.

Jeannine Calcagno Niehaus sits in her studio at a pottery wheel, explaining to a mother and son how she works.

Niehaus enjoys working in pottery because she likes “making useful things and making beautiful things,” and “throwing on the wheel is therapeutic,” she said.

Niehaus’ work is inspired by “nature” and she has “a natural inclination towards botanical things.”

In the same way that Niehaus is seen in her element, working at a wheel, jewelry craftsman Kaia Cornell is seen working on metal.

What drew Cornell to jewelry making was “the substance of metal,” she said.

“I like metal,” Cornell said. “I like working with moving metal, you know, heating it and melting it. That’s probably my biggest draw [to making jewelry].”

Cornell, like Niehaus, is also inspired by elements of nature.

“Bamboo is a huge thing, and Asian influences in terms of aesthetic, simplicity and balance,” Cornell said, “but I’ve taken it more abstract in my recent line.”

When reflecting upon Open Studios, from 20 years ago to now, Penniman said that the consumer appeal of art is lower than during the roaring ’90s, considering that “cash is a limited commodity” in this economy.

“Art is very low on the feeding scale on what someone needs,” Penniman said.

Nonetheless, even if sales are no longer booming, Open Studios allows the public a window into the Santa Cruz art community, while giving artists an opportunity to share their work and its purpose.

“For me, with painting, if I can give an individual a sense of stewardship and valuing the world we live in through my art,” Penniman said, “that’s a bonus.”