Peeking Inside North Coast Open Studios


The interior of Joan Gold's dazzlingly patterned Eureka studio, where works in progress hang on the walls. Photo by Gabrielle Gopinath

The interior of Joan Gold's dazzlingly patterned Eureka studio, where works in progress hang on the walls. Photo by Gabrielle Gopinath

It's the 20th anniversary of North Coast Open Studios and Monica Topping, the event's hardworking organizer, is in a hurry. NCOS has 17 first-time participants this year, she says, as well as an impressive roster of "charter artists" — those who have exhibited since the inaugural North Coast Open Studios event two decades ago. "We try to have between 10 and 20 percent new artists in any given year," she says. "We try to include youth art, as well as art made by new and upcoming artists — not all of whom are necessarily young. A lot of times new artists are people who have been making art for years, who finally decided to take the opportunity to bring their work into the public eye."

Topping works for months ahead of time to make the event run smoothly but once the event gets under way, "it's no longer mine," she says. "It becomes the artists'. And I love that transformation that happens. I just get to show up, take pictures and say hi. Every year I try to visit as many artists as I can." She emphasized the diversity and variety of work on display, as well as the different ways for viewers to approach the event. Those looking to win a gift certificate by playing the event's popular bingo card will maximize that diversity. Those with a particular interest in a certain medium could specialize "and just do two weekends of ceramics," while a trip organized around the theme of place could result in "a special trip to see art being made in your neighborhood."

Likewise, artists approach the event in different ways. Charter member Alan Sanborn first showed his watercolor landscapes in the inaugural North Coast Open Studios event 20 years ago. He has been hosting open studio events on June weekends most years since, so much so that he is able to quip, "I've never even seen North Coast Open Studios!" In Sanborn's Arcata home studio, light-filled watercolor renderings of sites like Agate Beach and the Russian River crowd the walls, seeming to bloom in the ample natural light. He remembers that the event's early years "started out pretty low-key and small. But probably by the third year, I guess that takes us back to the Clinton years, the economy was booming. For two years in a row, I sold everything on the walls." he says, beaming at the recollection. Though sales have dwindled since what Sanborn remembers as their peak, he relishes the experience as much now as he did then. While making sales is nice, he says, "we do it primarily to show our work to the community, to make contact with the audience. To show that there is a cultural interest out there."

Across town in her Eureka studio, veteran painter Joan Gold's abstract works occupy every inch of available studio wall. Gold, who is preparing for a solo show at Black Faun Gallery in November, explained that she often works simultaneously on multiple paintings this way. Entering her studio feels like stepping into a kaleidoscope. Paintings at every scale and stage of completion surround you, dashed and patterned with vibrating matrices in azure, turquoise, hot pink, tomato red and parakeet green, layering on top of other paintings for a retinal experience that's nothing short of dazzling.

On the other side of Humboldt Bay, ceramicist and second-time Open Studios participant Jen Rand was at the Samoa Women's Club, showing a graceful range of high-fired stoneware on an oceanfront veranda. Many of her pieces are ornamented with a rhizomatic design that recalled tree branches or roots. She was happy to talk about process: "I start with a dark clay called Black Mountain and then I put on a liquid porcelain slip, and then a glaze on top of that." The process of firing at high temperatures, she says, allows each piece's ultimate appearance to be shaped by chance.

At the same venue, artist and designer Annette Makino is showing a selection of her popular greeting cards featuring Japanese-inflected watercolors and haiku. She describes the event as "a chance to connect directly with people. I am creating for the market," she explains, "and I sell a lot in stores and online. But in those venues, you don't get that sense of direct connection with the members of your audience like you do here."

"People have come up to me in the past (at North Coast Open Studios) and told me about a particular piece, describing why it has been meaningful to them," Makino recalls. "One time a woman told me that she had been having a fight with her sister and she sent her one of my cards, hoping to make peace, and in fact they were able to be reconciled. And, of course, I was happy to hear that. For me, laboring in my studio, the work doesn't really get reconciled until it goes out there in the world."

The 20th annual North Coast Open Studios event runs June 1-3 and June 9-10 at locations from Trinidad to Scotia. The free schedule is available in newsstands and at

Gabrielle Gopinath is an art writer, critic and curator based in Arcata. 

Open Studios: Five artists to showcase work at Samoa “hot spot”

“Dream Big” is painted in Japanese watercolors and sumi ink by Annette Makino.

“Dream Big” is painted in Japanese watercolors and sumi ink by Annette Makino.

Eureka, California
May 18, 2018

Five artists will gather to share their work with the public at the Samoa Women’s Club in Samoa for the first weekend of North Coast Open Studios.

Working in silk, clay, paper, and more, this diverse group of artists will show their work on Saturday and Sunday, June 2-3, from 10 to 5. There is also a special preview on Friday, June 1 from 6-9.

The artists at the Samoa “hot spot” include silk painter Tina Gleave, Japanese watercolor artist Annette Makino, ceramicist Jennifer Rand, milliner Amy Fowler and watercolor painter Araya Shon. 

At the Samoa Women’s Club, the artists will show their work, discuss their inspirations and demonstrate their tools and techniques. They will offer original paintings for sale as well as art prints, silk clothing, one-of-a-kind hats, greeting cards, jewelry, ceramics and more.

“Open Studios is always a fun time to connect with art appreciators and local friends,” said Gleave. “This event is all about sharing art and meeting new people, which makes me appreciate my community and all it has to offer.”

Gleave is a fine art silk painter who received her Master's Status from Silk Painters International last year. She makes her silk paintings into wearable art silk prints and currently sells her fashions across the nation in museums, galleries, boutiques and national retailers. 

Makino said, “My art fully comes alive only once it is shared with others. Open Studios is a wonderful opportunity to connect with my customers one-on-one and hear stories of how my art impacts people.” 

Using Japanese watercolors and sumi ink, Makino combines her joyful paintings with original haiku and other words. Besides paintings, she will offer cards and prints of her art.

Rand enrolled in a beginning ceramics class while working on her M.A. in literature at Humboldt State University—and quickly found herself hooked. She spent several more years taking ceramics classes, as well as a semester on exchange studying ceramics at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany. 

Rand finds the ceramic medium a fascinating and unpredictable process that never fails to excite her imagination.  

Fowler is a milliner who has had her women’s fashion headwear published and shown locally and internationally. She designs her creations under the name Millinery by Amy Fowler, and is also the owner/operator of the online millinery supply business Humboldt Haberdashery.

Fowler uses a variety of classic and modern materials to construct her head pieces, and enjoys incorporating a variety of techniques in her designs. Her pieces are hand blocked and sewn, and all of the flowers and trims are handmade specifically for each piece.

Araya Shon has been painting with watercolors since she was five years old, and especially loves to paint flowers. She is currently in the eighth grade at Fieldbrook School.

The historic Samoa Women's Club, which looks out onto the dunes, is rarely open to the public. The house is located between Arcata and Eureka at 115 Rideout Avenue in Samoa, a four-minute drive from the Samoa Bridge. 

Directions are as follows: From Samoa Boulevard, turn left onto Cookhouse Road. Turn right onto Vance Avenue, and then take the first right onto Rideout Avenue.

Refreshments will be served at this family-friendly event and there will be free raffles for art. The building is wheelchair accessible.

Now in its 20th year, North Coast Open Studios is a showcase of Humboldt County artists and their work. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information about the Samoa Women’s Club event, call (888) 508-5228.