For over 35 years, every spring Silicon Valley Open Studios has invited the public to come meet local artists, learn about their work, through a self-guided tour of artists' workspaces and other venues.
After pivoting to online-only in 2020, the event, organized by the nonprofit Silicon Valley Visual Arts, brought visitors back to studios last September for a slightly scaled-down fall edition of the event. And now Silicon Valley Open Studios has come back in full force this May. The event kicked off last weekend with tours of coastside artists' studios. The weekend of May 14-15 focuses on Peninsula-based artists while the final weekend, May 21-22, highlights artists in the South Bay, though some studios are open both weekends.
The Palo Alto Weekly spoke with local artists about their work and what visitors can expect during Silicon Valley Open Studios.
Charles S. Boris — Redwood City
Redwood City sculptor Charles S. Boris has been showing his work at Silicon Valley Open Studios since 2018.
He creates furnishings such as benches, tables and desks from reclaimed wood.
"As a designer, I want my stuff to be more than just a functional piece of furniture made out of found pieces of wood. I want it to be a statement — a sculpture," Boris said.
He will be showing in Redwood City with nine other artists, including his fiancée, Carol Sconzert, who creates abstract works in mixed media. They have also shown together at San Francisco galleries.
"We pair my woodwork with her abstract media and it works great," Boris said.
Boris, who has a degree in interior design, began participating in craft shows in upstate New York not long after college and has been working with wood throughout his career. He and a friend ran a small woodworking business in Buffalo, New York.
When Boris moved to the west coast, he had a job setting up trade shows, which helped him fund his art. He sought out reclaimed wood, preferring its weathered appearance to freshly cut lumber.
"I collected some really nice pieces of driftwood, mostly lumber that had been floating around. ... Instead of cutting down wood to make just run-of-the mill factory-style furniture, that's what I got into," Boris said.
Rather than setting out to make a specific piece of furniture, he lets the properties of each piece of wood inspire what he creates.
"The form follows function with what the piece dictates. In my artist's statement I say I strip away the gray layers of material to reveal the natural grain and character of the piece. I try to bring that into the final design, and when that's not possible, I try to incorporate other pieces of material to make it a pleasingly designed work.'"
For his Open Studios show, Boris said that given the spaciousness of the venue, he'll be bringing a variety of pieces, including one specialty: three-legged benches that he has created in cases where the shape of the wood won't allow for four legs.
"I've got small, unique pieces. Everything is one-of-a-kind; you can't repeat it because that's the nature of the wood," he said.
Charles S. Boris is showing May 14-15 at Site #32, at 1900 Broadway, Redwood City.
Flo de Bretagne — Palo Alto
A native of France, Flo de Bretagne has lived in California since 2006. The Palo Alto-based painter has participated in Silicon Valley Open Studios for 14 years.
De Bretagne's work was featured in the De Young Museum fall exhibit in 2020. She has also shown at the Los Gatos Museum, the SFMOMA Artists’ Gallery and gallery shows in New York and Paris.
In college, de Bretagne double-majored in business and tax law, but a health crisis ultimately steered her toward an art career.
"I loved painting, but I thought it was a hobby. So then when I had a health crisis, I realized that I wanted to do something more and bring joy to people with my artwork. That's when I decided to become a full-time artist," de Bretagne said.
She specializes in bright, colorful acrylic paintings that often feature flowers or animals. Her artistic inspiration comes from many sources, she said.
"I love hiking, so every time I go out in nature that is inspiring because many of my paintings depict flowers. Hiking is very inspiring for me. And I also love books. I love reading everything about different cultures," she said.
De Bretagne said she's inspired by the work of artists such as Henri Matisse and David Hockney, as well as French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet.
Her open studio will have the theme "Replenishing Waters," with colorful paintings intended to celebrate life and buoy spirits during dark times, whether it's the continuing war in Ukraine or the ongoing pandemic, de Bretagne said.
"People tell me all the time that my paintings bring a smile to their face. They can expect to see very uplifting art around the themes of water and life."
Flo de Bretagne is showing May 14-15 at Site #393, 756 Garland Drive, Palo Alto.
Robin Dosskey — Mountain View
Robin Dosskey has been painting all her life, but said she had mostly painted when she had "creative spurts" — usually on vacation or during other free time.
"When I retired in 2016, I had the extra time for my art. So that's why my art is now evolving. It's a process and what I've been learning now is I'm no longer afraid of failure. I love the challenge of it. … It's about letting go of fear, which is a great life lesson for all of us," Dosskey said.
The Mountain View-based artist has participated in Silicon Valley Open Studios off and on for about four or five years. Her nature-focused works often incorporate vibrant colors.
"I think in a spiritual sense, I had a huge wake up call in 2019, when my son passed away of a drug overdose. Art has kept me going. It's healing and in this process, I kind of meditate when I'm painting — I think everybody does. I really believe that in a sense, we are like vehicles for creating our world. So I try to make it as heavenly as I can. And I think color is divine. It's healing, it's a light and vibration and color that heals people," she said.
Following her son's death, Dosskey wrote a novella about addiction and recovery that she published on Amazon. She donates the royalties to Adolescent Counseling Services to support young people dealing with addiction.
Dosskey works in a variety of media — oils, watercolors and pastels. Which medium she works with depends on what qualities of a scene she wants to highlight.
"When I look at a scene, I try to find something about the essence of it that I want to bring forward. So I could switch mediums, like I could switch from oil to watercolor, and sometimes pastel depending on what kind of softness, or what kind of texture I'm looking for or what kind of transparency I want to do."
Dosskey, a California native, said that her work focuses on local landscapes, largely to highlight the beauty and fragility of our environment.
"I paint scenes to make people appreciate our coastline and our Baylands and our marshlands and the ocean. We have this beautiful, California wilderness here, and I just want people to appreciate that and respect it and try to protect it.
She does a mix of outdoor and studio painting — mostly venturing out for plein-air work in the summertime. Dosskey goes hiking weekly and takes hundreds of photographs of potential subjects. Among her favorite spots for such outings is the Baylands, which is near her home.
"I'm just amazed on any day, how different the colors are. I was out there yesterday and for the first time the mustard's blooming and it's this yellowish green. You won't see that for the rest of the year. Then the way the light hits the water — the different types of patterns it makes it's just it's really amazing," she said.
Her open studio will feature paintings of various sizes, as well as greeting cards that she makes herself. Dosskey said she donates proceeds from the greeting cards to environmental nonprofits, such as the Environmental Defense Fund.
Robin Dosskey is showing May 21-22 at Site # 264, 1525 Canna Court, Mountain View.
Patt Sheldon — Redwood City
Jewelry and textile artist Patt Sheldon has participated in Silicon Valley Open Studios off and on over the past few years, with this spring's event marking her fourth time. She works in a variety of media, primarily handcrafted jewelry and dyeing, weaving, knitting and felting textiles.
Sheldon was working as a middle school language arts teacher when a move to the San Mateo County coast spurred her to take up what she jokingly calls "indoor sports" due to the region's frequent summertime fog and cool weather.
"I started knitting, because it gave me something I could do when it was foggy, and then I started weaving. I took an early retirement and the year I retired, I took a class on knitting with wire. It was knitting necklaces — jewelry," she said.
Sheldon lives in El Granada, near Half Moon Bay, but will be participating in a Redwood City-based event with nine other artists on May 14-15.
Life along the coast not only led Sheldon to creating art in various media, but it also ultimately led her to form a group of local artists, as she looked to combat the isolated environment that artists often work in — very different from Sheldon's time as a teacher. She founded the artists' group, Colony of Coastside Artists, in 2010, which brings artists together to share and discuss their work.
Sheldon continues to work in diverse media, exploring a variety of textile and jewelry-making techniques.
"I love trying new things. I think as a teacher, I was a lifelong learner, and I still enjoy reading and I still enjoy learning new things. I'll always try something new," she said.
One technique she frequently uses in her textile work is ice dyeing, which involves placing ice over natural fabrics that have been prepped with a fixative. Over the ice, Sheldon sprinkles various colors of powdered dye, which colors the fabric as the ice melts.
The unpredictable process produces unique patterns.
"I have to be very flexible and very open-minded about it because I'm not going to get exactly what I think I'm going to get," she said.
For her jewelry, Sheldon currently is creating pieces using kumihimo, a Japanese braiding technique, to create necklaces and bracelets. She has recently started weaving gemstones into these designs.
Visitors to Sheldon's open studio can find a variety of garments and accessories, including jackets and ponchos, scarves, hats and gloves, as well as jewelry.
"Well, what I love most about this is seeing people's faces when they try something on or when they see my work. They have to love color. My booth is anything but beige — it's very colorful. People try something on and they feel good in it and it feels vibrant and they feel better. It's sort of an inner happiness that they get from trying it on."
Patt Sheldon is showing May 14-15 at Site #32, at 1900 Broadway, Redwood City.
LaRhee Webster — Palo Alto
Art has been a constant throughout LaRhee Webster's life. She worked in marketing and advertising as a graphic designer and illustrator. After retiring, she shifted her focus to painting.
"This is kind of an extension of art that I've always done," Webster said.
She worked with watercolors and acrylic paints before finding that oils were her preferred medium. She has been participating in Silicon Valley Open Studios for eight years.
Webster, now based in Palo Alto, grew up on her family's farm in the foothills near San Jose, where she cultivated an appreciation for nature. Now she channels that love of natural beauty into oil paintings that capture rural spots in the Bay Area and throughout California. Though local landscapes are a specialty, she also paints still-lifes and some abstract works.
"I paint the places I like to be and the things I love. So it's mostly California landscapes and the things I love can be still lifes of fruit and food and some figures. Like any artist, I explore different techniques and different styles. I have a couple of abstracts and some that are extremely realistic. So it's quite a range," she said.
Prior to the pandemic, Webster belonged to a plein air painting group and divided her time between painting in her studio and painting outdoors with the group. The group hasn't been meeting since the pandemic started and she has mostly moved her work to the studio. A major advantage of painting in a studio, she noted, is climate control and no wind blowing bits of dirt or sand — or bugs — into a painting.
"The smaller the painting, the bigger the bug," Webster said with a laugh. "With Monet, they discovered bugs stuck in his paintings because he painted outdoors a lot. That's just part of the territory."
At her open studio, Webster will be showing paintings in a range of sizes, as well as notecards. Her studio site will also host three other artists.
Something she said she particularly enjoys about the experience is speaking with the wide range of people who drop by, everyone from neighbors to fellow artists.
"People seem to want to know how you paint, what's the story behind it. Of course, I'm more than happy to share all that with everybody," she said.
"One of the things that is really fun is that I like to encourage people to paint. And it's interesting, I've discovered that this is kind of a thing: People like to show me their kids' artwork on their phones. So of course, I like to encourage them to encourage their kids to paint. Painting can happen on so many different levels."
LaRhee Webster is showing May 14-15 at Site #290, 2510 Greer Road, Palo Alto.
Silicon Valley Open Studios takes place May 14-15 and May 21-22, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at various sites throughout the Peninsula and South Bay. Find maps of participating artists and more information at svos.org.