A FLASHBACK — The colors are here now; frequently I observe the transformation and imagine you with your easel and palette mixing the vast array of shades from green to brown, red to orange, cinnamon to wheat, blood red to eggplant purple, pumpkin to pumpkin pie, rust to brick. As I crunched through the leaves on the ground this morning, kicking them to stir them up, I imagined walking with you in the crisp cool air, as we did in France. I know that our friendship is something far and away more special, more significant, more far-reaching and consequential than most people ever are privileged to experience.
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A MEMORY — My story, which took place in June 2004, was published in the July 2004 issue of Plein Air Magazine. Below is the unedited version.
The dramatic views of the Sierra Nevadas reprised at Caesars Tahoe in an exhibition and sale of over 200 exquisite plein air paintings set in early twentieth century style frames. While the string quartet lent a decidedly classical air, the paintings were the orchestra, strategically encircling the red carpeted ballroom. Each artist’s display of varying discipline and style seamlessly segued into one another. And as classical music evokes certain moods, these paintings captured some of the High Sierra’s most spectacular moods: exquisite predawn moments along the rocky coastline of Lake Tahoe and lavender mists of purple blossoms scattered in the valleys. Some paintings emulated the dizzying eddies of blue and wavelets of teal from the many waterfalls pooling into the pristine lakes, much like translucent fluorite stones reflecting every fluid indigo vein, every tint of blue and yellow and strata of deep rich color. This was an exhibit of drama and depth.
At Lake Tahoe Nevada, on June 18, 2004, the air was warm and yet the mountains looming beyond the cityscape still had patches of snow catching every flirty wink of light. Singer and avid watercolorist, Tony Bennett, arrived at the hotel shortly before the air began to cool and the setting sun shimmered to a velvety red. As Mr. Bennett was escorted past the plein air painter’s hospitality suite, his escort began to explain about the visiting artists, but Bennett stopped her because he knew exactly who they were.
It was a performance by Mr. Bennett that kicked off the 19th Annual Plein Air Painters of America Exhibition & Sale, hosted by Caesers Tahoe. "In the room tonight are the top painters in America,” Bennett said while pausing in the middle of his concert, “Unlike those who paint from photographs, these painters are the most honest painters in America ... because they paint outdoors on location, thus capturing the subtle colors and light that you cannot see in a photograph. I painted with them and have made many new friends. "Among those he painted with, was Kevin Macpherson of Taos New Mexico. Bennett and Macpherson exchanged portraits they painted of one another.
Mr. Bennett also visited many of the artists’ suites to view their paintings. “It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” explained John Cosby, a guest artist with the Plein Air Painters of America, who sold a painting to Bennett.
Unlike Catalina Island, where the PAPA Exhibition & Sale had taken place over the previous 18 years, the Lake Tahoe region, where the plein air painters converged to paint for two weeks prior to the show, is an expansive 22 miles long and 12 miles wide of dramatic snow-capped mountain views, waterfalls and of course, the beautiful and pristine lake. Denise Burns, founder of the Plein Air Painters of America, with Roy Rose, art collector and grand nephew of California Impressionist, Guy Rose, brought together twenty artists to participate in the first Annual Plein Air Painters Festival on Catalina Island in 1986. With a similar vision and passion, Mark Rittorno, president of Caesars Tahoe and an avid plein air painter, had a mission: to bring the Plein Air Painters of America to the Sierra Nevada. “One day I'd love to see our community become a center of fine art and a destination for art lovers,” said Mark Rittorno, “This is the first step in that direction. Maybe this will also help our local residents and others understand that Caesars Tahoe is something more than a casino and has the greater good of the community at heart.”
Joining the PAPA Signature members this year were guest artists: John Cosby, Glenna Hartmann, Peggi Kroll Roberts, Chris Blossom, Lorenzo Chavez, Gerald Fritzler, and Don Demers. New signature members are Ray Roberts and Skip Whitcomb. The morning of June 19, 2004, a paint-out with all 35 painters, took place at Zephyr Cove. It was here that the public was able to witness them painting the fathomless cobalt blue and shimmering turquoise green waters, the dramatic mountain rising beyond the lake, sun drenched models on the beach and nearby cabins in the woods. It was the second scheduled event after Tony Bennett’s Live Concert. The elegant Gala Dinner & Sale was the third event.
Later that day, from 6 to 10 pm, collectors and guests enjoyed an elegant sit-down dinner and complimentary wine with the artists in the ballroom of Caesars Tahoe. At 9 pm the doors opened to the public. Paintings were sold off the easels with ease.
The final event was the Champagne Sale from 10:30 am to 1 pm the following morning, where a new show opened in the ballroom. Some easels were nearly bare, while others displayed a few new pieces to cover the empty spaces. The champagne flowed freely, gourmet coffee and pastries were served and there were smiles and laughter all around. This event emphatically proved the point: music and art co-exist beautifully.
A MEMORY — It was May 8th, 2004. The first look at the plein air paintings of the Sea to Shining Sea Exhibition at the Haggin Museum leaves one speechless. Only with closer inspection does one begin to take note of the process of each painter and how this collection is a melting pot of distinguished flavors: some loose and painterly, others tight and realistic; some modern, some classical. Some were complex with color, yet others quite tonalistic. But all characteristic in their own way, with a unique vision- depicting scenes of individual relevance with their own regional style of painting. Here we have a seamless blend of the talent and mastery from across the nation that has undoubtedly made this exhibition a success. Behind each painting should be a label: “Warning, not suitable for pre-fab homes, office cubicles or rooms at Motel 6. Hangs equally well on a neutral white wall or one painted with Ralph Lauren Suede Finish.”
I had arrived Stockton earlier that day with my studio-mate, Camille Przewodek. She had been graciously introducing me to those I hadn’t had the opportunity of meeting until now. These introductions continued throughout the afternoon and into the evening. And in the occasional lapses away from my trusted side-kick, I had intrepidly introduced myself to such well-knowns as Albert Handell and Clyde Aspevig, using my safe, quiet demeanor, while anonymously calling myself, “Carole” (only later to reveal myself as a devoted plein air student). I would receive some brilliant reply such as, “aren’t we all”, and finally I would add, “Oh yes, can I take your picture for Plein Air Magazine?”
The day started before the sun. Camille and I reached downtown Stockton at around 8:30 am, just in time to mingle with a few painters prior to their setting up easels for a three-hour paint-out. As we took a few minutes to sip on our much-needed espressos, I noticed how Stockton is beginning to stick out like a colorful thumb. The architecture surrounding the newly revitalized downtown was structurally varied and full of color.
It certainly must have inspired John Budicin when he chose to paint the beautiful Hotel Stockton and a row of buildings fronted by spirally palm trees from the waterway; and Kenn Backhaus, Marika Wolfe and Phil Sandusky, as they painted the majestic fountain and the commanding architecture that surrounded them. Charles Waldman even painted standing in the center divide along Weber Avenue! On the other end of the spectrum, Jean LeGassick, John Cosby, Joe Paquet, Nancy Bush and Michael Godfrey chose to paint the heap of rusting corrugated steel buildings lining the waterway.
Among the other painters we saw painting along the levee were Billyo O'Donnell, Eric Michaels, Gil Dellinger, Glenna Hartmann, Peter Adams, and Ron Rencher. Clark Mitchell stayed close by in the square. Jason Bouldin painted the palms from a shady locale on a side street. And Bill Hook painted near Weber Point not far from Lucinda Kasser. At noon, the artists gathered in the square to display their works and offer them for sale to the public. That’s when I noticed Mary Whyte’s charming little watercolor that she produced in front of the bus station. “Where’s the bus station?” I asked myself. Okay, so some painters go a bit off the beaten path during these paint-outs, so I’m sure I missed a couple of them.
Many of the paintings created in this nine-to-noon time slot, with their deceptive simplicity, expressed the painter’s keen eye for the interesting shapes of the Stockton scape — many comprising the fewest brush strokes — that provide depth, texture and color. Among the several that didn’t paint, some showed up for the sake of camaraderie. I noticed that among them were Matt Smith, Skip Whitcomb, Clyde Aspevig and Carol Guzman, who came to see what works were created among their peers. Ray Roberts made an appearance before the paint-out and he and wife, Peggi Kroll Roberts, met up with everyone later at the opening.
That night at the Haggin, the painters at the opening displayed their own outward uniqueness much like the paintings themselves. From rugged to refined, casual to dressy, subtle to bold, they blurred the lines of categorization. While waiting for Peter Adams to finish signing my copy of From Sea to Shining Sea: A Reflection of America, I mused that about the same time people stopped trying to make me dress better, listen to good music and drink something other than domestic beer, I found that I actually liked Vivaldi, fine wine, and wearing satin. This was an occasion that myself, the painters, guests, and collectors could cozy up to, for at the Haggin Museum this fine spring evening, the only thing missing was Vivaldi himself.
Among those that I didn’t mention but participated in this exhibition are: Christopher Blossom, Scott Burdick, Marcia Burtt, William Davis, Donald Demers, M. Stephen Doherty, Gregory Hull, Wilson Hurley, William Scott Jennings, T. Allen Lawson, Denise Lisiecki, Kevin Macpherson, Joseph McGurl, Ned Mueller, Ralph Oberg, Peggy Root, George Strickland, Karen Vernon, and Curt Walters.