Cheshire Cats, Mad Hatters, and White Rabbits featured at <em>Go Ask Alice</em> art show.

GET INTO THE SPIRIT: We’ve passed the mid-December mark, so it’s official: The holiday season is upon us. For some, that means hitting the mall for last-minute gifts, meeting friends for one last lunch in 2009, and splurging on sugary coffees (’cause it’s cold outside). The real gift of this season, though, is the reminder to shift our focus back to our values, to connect with the people we love, and to remember what brings our lives meaning.

Whether you’re buying or just browsing, Santa Barbara’s galleries and exhibition spaces are a great place to escape the elements and tap into the spirit of appreciation, connection, and renewal. C Gallery (466 Bell St., Los Alamos) owner Connie Rohde knows a thing or two about bringing people together through art. In addition to exhibiting work in her gallery, she hosts a variety of art classes, workshops, and concerts. Now through January 13, stop in to see large-scale abstract works by Lawrence Abrahamsen, who uses metal powder to achieve subtly shimmering strata, and Dara Mark, who paints on layers of Dura-Lar to give her works shifting, opalescent depth.

SPLURGE A LITTLE: If checking off items on your gift list is a top priority, you’ll want to head to Paul Cumes Fine Art (131 E. Anapamu St.), where you’ll find a quirky collection of handmade dolls and plush toys based on the theme of Alice in Wonderland. Cimmi Cumes’s handmade hamster+HIPPO ballerinas with their tutus and blond ringlets are sweet delights, while some of the other pieces, like Plushroom Soup’s “Go Ask Alice Foursome,” are decidedly more sinister. The dolls are on display through January 7. While you’re there, make sure to take a peek at the paintings hanging at the other end of the gallery; Paul Cumes’s Santa Barbara landscapes capture familiar landmarks and vistas in bold strokes and vivid colors.

Up the road at the Goleta Valley Library (500 N. Fairview Ave.) through January 8, you’ll find Picasso for Peanuts, the Goleta Valley Art Association’s annual holiday show consisting of original works of art priced at $300 or less.

Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Brad Nack’s reindeer paintings. You’ll find those inimitable, antlered characters hanging at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club (2375 Foothill Rd.) now through January 5. Nack fans might also appreciate the work of Andy Johnson, whose December 19 art show runs from noon-7 p.m. at the Royal Court (226 E. Mountain Dr.), and includes 100 of his newest sculptures, plus music and refreshments.

"Cow" by James Jasper at Arts Fund.

SLOW DOWN, LOOK AROUND: The truth is, art enriches our lives, whether we hang it on our own walls or simply appreciate it in passing. For a feel-good afternoon, grab a friend and swing by the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara (229 E. Victoria St.), where you’ll find the results of the 20th annual Kids Draw Architecture program. Some of the city’s gems-including La Cumbre Junior High School and McKinley Elementary-are given new vitality in detailed pencil sketches. Jagged zigzags give bell towers a jaunty quality, and floors slope in wonderfully vertiginous ways. Keri Parsons, age 10, examines closely the lines and patterns of Spanish tiles and hanging lanterns, making us look again at what we thought we knew. The show stays up through January 15.

From there, head down to the Arts Fund (205-C Santa Barbara St.), where now through January 22 you’ll find Another View, a show of works by 12 adult artists with developmental disabilities. A collaboration with the Alpha Resource Center, this exhibit showcases works like James Jasper’s “Cow,” an image with iconic impact that could almost populate Picasso’s “Guernica.” It’s a wonderland, all right.


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