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Madrone Arts takes root in Pescadero

Eleven women (and one man) form new cooperative and gallery

By Peter Tokofsky

Apr 10, 2024 Updated Apr 15, 2024

In 1971, art historian Linda Nochlin published an influential and celebrated essay with the title, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” The answer, Nochlin argued, was not that women lack artistic ability, or that great women artists have simply been overlooked and omitted from museums and exhibitions for centuries. Instead, Nochlin wrote, the explanation lies in the biases of art institutions and limited educational opportunities offered to women with artistic talent and potential. Historically, women lacked access to art schools, were rarely encouraged to cultivate their artistic abilities, and could not participate in salons featuring the latest work by leading artists. Professions in the arts often passed from father to son, as was the case for Picasso. A new gallery and artist collective in Pescadero will help reverse this art historical legacy. Eleven of the 12 artists who make up Madrone Arts, a new community-based art gallery that opened late last year, are women. Their mission is to support each other and community by exhibiting their own work and selected guest artists, and by providing educational workshops and presentations. Although the artists in the collective do not define Madrone as a “women’s art space,” and the gallery’s mission and selection of artists is not restricted by gender in any way, aspects of the endeavor offer a response to issues Nochlin raised. “I’m still uncomfortable calling myself an artist,” Martha Tingle, one of the founding members, said recently. Only after retiring from a career in medical research management and raising two children could Tingle devote enough time to her lifelong interest in ceramics to think about what it means to be an artist. “You can’t support a family off of pottery,” she said. Deborah Webster who, along with Delma Soult, helped get Madrone Arts off the ground, said that many of the artists on the Coastside didn’t have the time or know-how to break into the cutthroat world of art galleries. “Some of our members had never shown their work beyond local fairs,” Webster noted. “For many, art is a second career.” For years, Webster and Soult discussed the idea of creating a space that could provide more exposure for artists in the area and help them move from local art fairs into the wider art world. The idea finally became a reality last fall when the former “Made in Pescadero” space in the heart of town became available. After securing the lease, Webster and Soult compiled a list of local artists they would invite to join the new group. An initial group of 12 artists convened to make plans for the new space. Discussions of what to name the new venture reflected the possibility that they would define themselves as a women’s organization. Some early suggestions highlighted the preponderance of women in the group, but one member proposed naming it after the madrone, a family of trees that includes species indigenous along part of North America’s West Coast. “In a revealing recent study,” an email circulated among the group explained, “the madrona has been identified as the ‘hub’ of a network of mycorrhizal fungi shared with trees nearby.” Other qualities of the tree also spoke to the group’s mission. The roots of the madrone recover from disturbances, enabling it to play a definitive role in sustaining a diverse network of fungus that is necessary for forest regeneration and the maintenance of ecosystem diversity. The tree’s roots, the email continued, “provide access to nutrients and water for both the madrona and its neighbors.” Looking back at the formation of the collective, member artist Kim Hussey said it was an easy decision to accept the invitation to join. “I was basically propelled along by their energies! The opportunity came at a time when I needed a kick start in my artwork. And Pescadero is a supportive, creative community." Retired filmmaker William Bishop, the lone man in the collective, agreed that “the intelligence, talent, energy, and wit of the members” stands out more than questions of gender. In addition to providing a space to show work, Madrone hosts workshops for community members to expand their skills and talks by guest artists to help maintain the artistic ecosystem. On a recent Saturday, while Webster and Tingle discussed the nurturing role of their artistic community, Paola Vazquez Hernandez walked into Madrone Arts. The Pescadero native, now a University of California, Davis student, got a boost to her own artistic ambitions by working as a studio assistant for Susan Friedman, whose latest work is now on view in the gallery. The three women scrolled through Hernandez’s Instagram feed to see her latest creations, clearly buoyed by the inter-generational community. “It’s more because we’re artists leading with our hearts,” Tingle said, “than being about gender.”

Local artists open new gallery in Pescadero

Space can become community hub

By Peter Tokofsky

Dec 13, 2023 Updated Dec 15, 2023

The former Made in Pescadero showroom on Stage Road re-opened over the weekend in its new incarnation as Madrone Arts. The revived exhibition and gathering space grew out of years of conversation among a group of artists seeking to create new opportunities to show work and connect with their community. ​The artists formed a cooperative, rented the space from furniture-maker Ken Periat and now plan to organize workshops as well as four exhibitions each year. Deborah Webster and Delma Soult, two of the founding members of Madrone Arts, said they have talked about forming an artist co-op for a few years. After curating the annual show for the South Coast Artists’ Alliance in the I.D.E.S. Hall at the Pescadero Arts and Fun Festival, the duo felt the need for a permanent space to bring local artists together. Soult, who is director of finance and administration at Pie Ranch when she’s not painting, drafted a business plan for a new organization. She and Webster shared the idea with a list of local artists, hoping that 10 of them would sign on. The response exceeded expectations and they ended up with 12 founding members. Webster said the group put blood, sweat and tears into renovating the space that opened more than a century ago as a strawflower processing plant. With fresh paint and other new details on the interior, the lofty structure that has been home to a hardware store, salon and plumbers’ office before becoming Made in Pescadero is ready for its new identity. It seems to be working. Webster sold two works within hours of the doors opening. Soraya Orumchian, a realtor based in Half Moon Bay who is friends with members of the group, suggested that they should have a neutral party curate the first installation in the refurbished gallery. The artists agreed and immediately recruited Orumchian herself to do it. Orumchian’s design for the space helps the art shine. A variety of two-dimensional works, including Soult’s surrealistic “Emerging Feminine” series of oil paintings, are artfully grouped on the fresh white walls. Like others in the collective, Soult has considered herself an artist since childhood but only became more serious about the pursuit later in life. Unique slabs of repurposed wood atop vintage sawhorses provide a platform for work by artists such as Martha Tingle, who a few years ago dusted off the pottery wheel she bought in college and got more serious about ceramics. She uses micaceous clay that links her art to Native American ceramics in the Southwest as well as to culinary traditions around the world because the stable clay is often used for cooking. Another table nearby features the work of glass artist Barbara Grauke, who captured an aquatic spirit with the blue-green vessels on display. Until now Grauke has mostly sold her work at art fairs. She acknowledged that a gallery in Pescadero faces challenges getting customers but was delighted with how great the space looks. The tabletop displays create more intimate sections in the gallery, helping break up the cavernous space. A second, smaller room behind the main gallery, called the Annex, features a selection of work by Bay Area artists who are not members of the co-op. “It has been a wonderful trajectory for the group,” said Lynnette Vega, who was unable to attend the opening. “We all want it to work.” Many of the people who gathered for the inaugural exhibition expressed their hopes that Madrone Arts will become a hub for a variety of local events. The group already has workshops scheduled to take place in the Annex in January. For now, the new gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends at 216 Stage Road. It will also be open occasionally on Fridays and Mondays.

A crowd of art lovers turned out for the opening of Madrone Arts in Pescadero, ©halfmoonbayreview2023
A crowd of art lovers turned out for the opening of Madrone Arts in Pescadero. It came to fruition after conversations among many in the South Coast arts community.

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