Many of the beauties of Santa Barbara-the landscape, the architecture, the public art-are out where everyone can see. But beneath the visible surface of community space runs another, more eccentric vein of hidden treasure in the form of the many extraordinary artists’ studios that stretch from Carpinteria through Santa Barbara all the way to Goleta. This weekend, as part of the Santa Barbara Studio Artists 8th Annual Open Studio Tour, it will be possible for the public to enter as many as 44 of these fascinating private spaces, meet the artists, and observe their work in its native habitat, the studio.

Photage artist Marlene Struss on her studio ladder looking down at her photage work.
Courtesy Photo

To get an idea of this year’s event, which runs all afternoon on Saturday, September 5, and Sunday, September 6, I went on a mini-tour of three of the studios included. The artists I met work in three different mediums and express diverse sensibilities, but they have a common interest in meeting the public and talking about their works and process. It was fun to see where the art is created, and in each location I felt I had experienced something important about the artist that could be learned in no other place.

Working with a wide variety of found and crafted materials, including Venetian glass smalti, Betsy Gallery creates exquisitely crafted mosaics, the subjects of which range in tone from lighthearted to deeply historical and sharply political. Her studio is compact, yet somehow also rambling; the perfect secret spot for an artist engaged in this spectacular international alchemy of the postmodern mosaic.

Nearby on Milpas Street, yet also always far afield, Karen Fedderson paints landscapes that reflect her vigorous plein air practice, which takes her to some of the most remote locations in the California wilderness. These are mostly big, naturalistic pictures of specific spots at equally specific times. She has captured Hendry’s Beach, not just at any time, but recognizably right at midday, and is now showing a poignant picture of early morning in Mission Canyon that was done just before the Jesusita Fire. Fedderson’s studio is thus an adjunct to a larger studio; one where sometimes, Fedderson said, “If the tide comes in, you’ve got to swim for it.”

Visiting Marlene Struss and learning about her “photage” collage process was like getting a glimpse inside the mind of a novelist. Struss works with a material-specifically paper torn from magazines-that at first suggests the scrappy, inky aesthetic of Dada and Cubism, but through her intense, meditative process, Struss has discovered instead an abstract poetry. For a closer look at these, and all the other wonderful artists on the Open Studio Tour, pick up your map and ticket at Divine Inspiration Gallery, 1528 State Street, between 6 and 9 p.m. on Friday, September 4.


The Santa Barbara Studio Artists Tour takes place this Saturday, September 5, and Sunday, September 6, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, visit


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