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Teens Work Closely with Master Artists in Arts Fund Program

The Art of Mentorship


Gourds fill a blue glass bowl, spilling out onto the table. A red bowling pin perches nearby. Behind a row of easels facing the scene, teenaged apprentice artists make minute adjustments to their still life paintings. One is using tracing paper to alter the outline of the pin by millimeters. Another applies a thin, transparent layer of cadmium yellow, brightening a too-green gourd. A third adds the tiniest highlight to one of the bumps on the gourds. Most are working so close to their canvasses that they need maulsticks braced against their easels to keep their hands steady. In another week or two, after 10 weeks of working on the same piece for as many as four hours per week, they will be finished with their paintings. This is not a scene out of a Flemish miniature. This is Pamela Larrson-Toscher’s Montecito studio, one of the settings for this year’s Arts Mentorship Program, hosted by the Arts Fund.

During the course of the program, Larrson-Toscher’s students have gained a real appreciation of what it is like to be a professional artist. The students have visited galleries and framers. They’ve also spent a lot of time talking-about how Larrson-Toscher sells her own work, what her work schedule is like, and how she makes contacts. At the end of the mentorship, they will see their own work on display-and for sale-in the Arts Fund Gallery. Although none of these students are headed for art school immediately (some have strongly considered it), they now see art as a viable career, and are grateful for a set of skills they can imagine themselves using in the future.

Students of Rafael Perea de la Cabada (from left to right): Lauren Parsons, Rosalee Pfeffer, Mireya Avila, Alexis Keramaris, and Einar Birnir.

The Arts Mentorship Program, now in its 13th year, builds on the Arts Fund’s more than 20-year history of encouraging the arts in Santa Barbara County. Through this program, which pays a small stipend to the Master Artists and is free to students, the Arts Fund shows itself to be particularly adept at creating relationships between artists of different generations. When asked why they returned to the studio week after week, Larrson-Toscher’s students all chimed in spontaneous unison, “Because we love Pamela.” A number of the artists who are mentors now-photographer Nell Campbell, painter Rafael Perea de la Cabada, and artist Colin Gray-were supported by Individual Artist Awards from the Arts Fund earlier in their careers. Larrson-Toscher, like others, was inspired to become a mentor because she herself had benefited from a relationship with a mentor when she was a teen. She said, “It made all the difference for me, having someone who was actually a working artist play that role in my life.”

The effectiveness of the program shows in the works the students produce. In the first exhibition devoted to the program (currently on display), five students who worked with Nell Campbell-some of whom had never taken a photography class or worked in a darkroom-show themselves to be more than adept at shooting a range of subjects in a variety of styles. Christopher McDermut demonstrates a wicked control of focus in “San Francisco Steps,” an urban still life; Lily Trotter captures a fabulous ying-yang cloud of smoke, hitting the contrast just right in “L.A. Wildfire”; and Lyndsey Harrington produces everything from elusive shadow-covered form to crisp texture in “Panda the Rabbit.” In “Agave,” David Herschorn pulls off those silvery tones that connoisseurs of photography so love, and Keenan Hunt takes on the exposure challenge of shooting bright lights outside at night.

Also on display are paintings by students who apprenticed with Perea de la Cabada, which are no less impressive. “Triptych,” a deft fusion of styles by Mireya Avila (whose work is pictured above), could hold its own in any gallery in town. Alexis Keramaris’s works mine a deep, surrealist vein, and Einar Birnir makes Tamayo’s idiom entirely his own in “Self Portrait.” Rosalee Pfeffer plays with a recurring pop-art theme throughout her works, while Lauren Parsons evinces such versatility that her works could have been created by three different artists.

Works in the second show, opening July 5, will be equally worth a perusal. The works now in progress at Larrson-Toscher’s studio balance primary and secondary colors with careful handling of light and shadow. Look in particular for virtuosic renditions of the shadow cast by light passing through a transparent but colored object, and the modeling of a cylindrical object under intense light. Ann Litchfield’s students have been mastering the art of watercolor, and Ron Robertson’s students are hard at work creating fantastical assemblage, no doubt inspired in part by their working space-Robertson’s studio-which one visitor described as “Art From Scrap on steroids.” As Anne Dowling, director of the Arts Fund, said, “The students and the mentors both get a lot out of it. Some of the mentors do their own work along with the kids. They end up having a wonderful synergy.”

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Works from the Arts Mentorship Program will be on display at the Arts Fund Gallery in two shows: now through June 23, and July 5-27. The opening of the second show will be held on July 5, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. For more information, visit artsfundsb.org or call 965-7321.

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