Artists were prompted to create art to show what makes the county theirs. This piece of basketry, by Larry Worley, is woven around a piece of driftwood from the Santa Cruz coast. Photo by Prescott Watson.
Photo by Prescott Watson.
Photo by Prescott Watson.

As the handful of art aficionados and neophytes wandered about the Santa Cruz Art League’s gallery, their silent and thoughtful gazes were only interrupted by the occasional approving smile or audible “cool.” But “cool” simply doesn’t do justice to the Santa Cruz Art League’s first exhibit of the year, “This is Santa Cruz.” In a showroom that includes bizarre sculptures, fused glasswork and more — all contributed by Santa Cruz County artists — you can see not just Santa Cruz art but Santa Cruz defined by its artists.

The free, non-juried, open-submission show spotlights the work of 97 local artists. The exhibit, showcased by the non-profit Santa Cruz Art League, opened to the public Dec. 11. It will remain open until next Thursday.

The pieces, varying in both form and shape, were priced from $75 to $10,000.

“We really got a lot of submissions from the community, many of whom were not members [of the Santa Cruz Art League],” exhibit coordinator Carol Jeneid said.

Waving a hand across the art hanging about the gallery walls, Jeneid smiled, pleased by both the quality and the quantity of art in the exhibit.

“Santa Cruz has such a brilliant art community,” she said. “It’s booming, really. I think the ocean is what draws people in — it provides a sense of place.”

Lining the walls were photos, paintings and sculptures clearly inspired by the natural beauty of the Monterey Bay. The bright, smudged strokes of “It’s Arch of Santa Cruz” and the complex weave of “Shell on Driftwood” are clearly drawn from the wonders — large and small — found along Natural Bridges.

Yet, amid the expected acrylic and oil renditions of recognizable beach spots, wave breaks, and boardwalk stretches, there also appear the weird and wacky forms of creativity one would only expect to encounter in Santa Cruz. One sculpture shelved an assortment of clay heads, mimicries of local speakers who appeared in columns from Good Times. Another piece, a wood carving of a bug-eyed white alien, conveyed the wisdom: “If you can’t impress them with your brilliance, dazzle them with bullshit.”

Cindy Liebenthal, editor of the Santa Cruz Art League’s newsletter, was impressed at both the number and variety of contributions made to the exhibit.

“This exhibit was host to a number of first-time entries and we’ve seen some of their pieces already sold,” she said.

Russell Brutsche, artist behind the futuristic imagery that is “San Lorenzo Rivermouth Circa 2080 A.D.,” said he appreciated not only the opportunity of the exhibition itself but what the Santa Cruz Art League does for the art community in general, noting the classes that the League holds for developing artistic talent.

“I’m a big believer in encouraging children into art and drawing,” he said. “Some people say that you either have ‘it’ or you don’t, but you don’t get ‘it’ if you don’t cultivate ‘it.’ I really like what [the Santa Cruz Art League] does. Its grassroots origins and volunteer ethic allow exhibitions like this one to take place.”

Standing in the gallery’s entryway, an abundance of Santa Cruz creativity behind her, Jeneid said she was pleased about the show’s artistic turnout:

“This exhibition really goes to show how creative the community really is — how we define ourselves.”