Saturday, August 25, 2012

Point of Departure

Art benefits music, as generous artists support the Santa Cruz County Symphony

Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 10, 2012

Quinlyn Baine, then 11, sits astride “Buffalocorp” by
Nick Hermes in 2004, part of the Spirit of the Buffalo
 OK Centennial Street art project in Oklahoma City.
In the summer of 2004 my family took a Route 66 road trip from California to Chicago. It was a perfectly timed moment, when my daughters were young enough to experience our adventure with excitement and wonder but old enough to understand and remember a lot of what we saw. Highlights in our half-way-there state, Oklahoma, included a moving visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, honoring those involved in the tragic 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building; our first and only firefly sighting during a late night picnic table dinner at the Tulsa KOA; and cooling off in a public fountain surrounded by life-sized buffalo art in steamy downtown Oklahoma City.

“Spirit of the Buffalo” was an OK centennial project, which engaged a series of artists to decorate large plastic models of buffalo as sidewalk art. It reminded the four of us of a similar project closer to home, when San Jose saw what artists could do with 100 fiberglass sharks in 2001. Apparently the Baines have little respect for the sanctity of public art, because I have photographs of my girls climbing on both a suit-and-tie buffalo in Oklahoma City and a metallic robo shark in downtown San Jose.

My daughter Casey, 6 years old in 2001, poses on Cubist Robo Shark, one of 100 sharks commissioned by the City of San Jose and the Sharks to celebrate the  San Jose Sharks 10th anniversary and be auctioned off for charity. These dazzling creations were scattered throughout downtown San Jose—which our family sought out treasure-hunt style—and the designs ranged from a Chinese dragon, to a “Do you know the way to San Jose?”, to a ’57 Chevy, to a yellow submarine shark. Cubist Robo Shark was created by artists Sean Boyles, Kelly Detweiler and students at Downtown College Preparatory.

But it is fascinating to see the diverse directions artist will go when given an identical starting point. Toni Sutherland gave local artists a similar opportunity last February when she helped organize the “Wet Art” project. Wetsuits from 36 well-known Santa Cruz surfers were the common material for 36 local artists, including Sutherland herself who designed a lovely gown with an embellished wetsuit bodice and lots of billowy tulle netting for the floor-length skirt. The decorated wetsuits were auctioned to benefit local youth organizations.
Toni Sutherland was recruited to design a chair by her
mother—a League member—who also
 provided the yard-sale school chair.
Sutherland is using tulle again to create a chair for the Symphony League’s “A Rare Chair Affair” –a fundraising auction for the Santa Cruz County Symphony. Like her wetsuit gown, her chair was inspired by her self-professed love of all things sea-related, tulle, and hot glue guns. Sutherland painted a vintage elementary school chair with metallic paint and skirted it with netting studded with sewn-in sequins, shells, beads and toy turtles. She also created a handmade companion storybook, “My Little Turtle,” written in four different languages (Spanish, French, Hawaiian and English). “I really like making little books,” she says. “I started making books when I taught as an emergency [bilingual] teacher for Pajaro,” she says. Because five classes all shared one set of books, she says, her students started making their own little textbooks.

Sutherland, a fourth generation local, comes from a long line of swimmers, surfers and ocean enthusiasts. Although she works as an investment advisor and says she’s “not a real artist,” Sutherland has been painting and designing clothing and swimwear for years. “This is my sanity,” she says, pointing to her chair project, which she put together mostly at night, after work. “I wanted to create a special place for a kid. I want it to be very friendly and usable.”

One of the more whimsical chairs created for this year’s
 “A Rare Chair Affair” features live succulents and mosaic
 work by Mary Ann Hobbs.

By contrast, artist Mary Ann Hobbs’s chair functions more as a piece of garden art. Her seahorse-themed chair took the People’s Choice award in last year’s “A Rare Chair Affair.” This year she’s created “Lola,” who she describes as “a bit of a floozy.” Her whimsical garden chair is a reflection of her varied artistic talents, including broken-plate mosaics, floral design, embellished furniture, and home decorating, coupled with her love for thrift-store bargains.

An enthusiastic Symphony supporter who originally got involved with the League through her church, Hobbs does not characterize herself as a classical music expert. “I know zip-a-dee-doo-dah about classical music,” says Hobbs, “so I go to the pre-concert talks by Larry [Granger] to learn more.”

The League’s many fundraising activities have been extremely effective, raising $63,000 for the symphony over the last year alone through its “A Rare Chair Affair,” home tour, golf tournament, Emerald Ball, and many other events.  Hobbs says, “Santa Cruz is so fortunate. A town this size never has a complete symphony orchestra. A lot have folded.”

The Symphony League raises money not only to support the Symphony, but also to create programs for students and their families to experience and better understand classical music. One beneficiary of their school program was Bailey Ellis, who attended a concert at the Mello Center last year with her 5th grade Valencia Elementary School class. “They described all the instruments and played music and it was fun,” says Bailey, an accomplished visual artist who has studied at the Kimberly Hardin Art Studio in Aptos. A few months later, her grandmother suggested creating a chair for the Symphony’s auction.  “My grandmother bought all the art supplies and I did it at her house,” says Bailey. The elegant chair she painted, “Dancing Notes,” is a black chair with large white notes—very appropriate for the Symphony League gala.


I recently came across the photos of our daughters taken in Oklahoma City and San Jose, as my husband and I worked on a going-away gift for our youngest. The daughter on the buffalo, now 19, galloped away to Maryland earlier this year. And tomorrow, the daughter on the shark, 17, will swim away to South Korea. What have I forgotten to tell her, give her, do for her? I’m anticipating sadness, loss, and anxiousness. But of course I also need to trust that they both have the resources to be okay on their own. And have faith that they will fashion the raw materials of their lives into something unique and wonderful.