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May 13, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 13, 2005

Comrades in art Comrades in art (May 13, 2005)

Local painter, sculptor join forces for Open Studios

by Marge Speidel

One paints, the other sculpts. The personalities of the two women differ as much as their art: JoAnne Horsfall Beasley is ebullient and animated, while Bonnie Hagstrum is soft-spoken.

Nevertheless, they have much in common: both were educated in art, have traveled abroad extensively and raised families, and shown and sold their work broadly.

This weekend, the longtime friends will continue a six-year tradition of showing their work together at the 2005 Silicon Valley Open Studios.

"Anything I do with her is enjoyable and fun, and our art meshes well," Hagstrum said.

Beasley's Bryant Street home will provide the perfect setting for the joint show. Visitors enter through a garden gate to see Hagstrum's abstract stone sculptures on pedestals in an outdoor courtyard. Beasley's richly colored paintings line the walls of her home and fill a separate studio off the courtyard.

The two women met originally though Hagstrum's daughter, who worked in the same Stanford department where Beasley's husband taught. (Mac Beasley is now a professor of applied physics there.) They became friends when Hagstrum moved from New Jersey in 1994.

For five years after arriving here Hagstrum worked with a group of artists in Belmont. Now she works outdoors at her Menlo Park home or in a nearby studio. Collectors from Boston, Dallas, Memphis, New York and San Francisco, and nearby cities have added her pieces to their collections.

Three slabs of African wonder stone are the basis of "This Place," a horizontally-shaped sculpture in this weekend's show.

"None of them was large enough to make a statement, so I decided to put them together, using angles rather than a rounded form," Hagstrum said. "When you chop into it you have to be aware how the stone is reacting. I used hand tools because using power tools was too risky."

"Mayan Abstract," made of soft red Persian marble with veins of yellow travertine, is a personal interpretation inspired by a show on Mayan stonework at New York's Metropolitan Museum. The marble, acquired from one of her trips to Italy, was part of a big boulder and proved problematic.

"I asked for a piece of it, but I didn't get to choose which piece," she said. She was shocked when it arrived: It had been exposed to the elements and had a buildup of lichen. She took rasps and files to it, working carefully because she wasn't sure how deep the buildup went. Now when she touches a wet cloth to it, colors of gunmetal gray and sandy beige emerge, meaning she can begin work. Out comes her assortment of tools, ranging from iron hammers and chisels to sandpaper.

Beasley is best known for her highly distinctive oil pastels of Northern California's Trinity Alps area.

"We discovered it shortly after coming to Palo Alto in 1974," she said. "It's like the Sierras, but with fewer people and a more cozy feeling. The mountains, forest and rivers have been the subject of both paintings and family vacations ever since. We've now built a home there and often make the 6- or 7-hour trip just to spend a short time."

Asked to describe her work, Beasley said, "I guess I'd say impressionist-expressionist. The huge number of strokes on each painting and the nature subjects might be interpreted as impressionistic. My husband has commented, 'Why use just one mark when 40,000 will do!' The expressionist part is when I go off into unusual colors. What would normally be green might be purple."

Both Beasley and her husband enjoy fly-fishing on the Trinity River. "I take my camera and get pictures of the river," Beasley said. "I've done more than 75 paintings of Cherry Flat, a turn in the river that is special to me. The photos I take on walks, hikes or scouting trips often start me on a particular vision that can only be thought out in my studio."

Some works consist of many smaller sheets joined together with an adhesive and bound to rag board. Using multiple sheets allows Beasley to concentrate on an unusual detail as she sits before the work, as opposed to standing in front of a larger piece. A current work in progress shaped like a cross has five separate segments.

Beasley's imagination takes her in different directions.

"For years I've been involved with the natural objects I find on walks: leaves, pods, cones, greenery -- anything that catches my eye. First I used traditional media such as oil or watercolors. Now I'm excited about digital scanning and archival inks and papers. I compose the images in Photoshop and print them in my studio. The digital scanner sees everything ."

Beasley pointed to photos of single roses with beautifully nuanced detail, the very edges of the petals defined in white.

As a sculptor, Hagstrum's focus is on stone: finding it, getting it shipped to her home, thinking about what she wants to do with it, and finally, applying tools to its surface.

"Sometimes you know when you pick out the stone," Hagstrum said. "Sometimes the first idea isn't right and you have to get another one. At times it's a drawn-out affair; other times the sculpture goes quickly."

Searching for stones -- marble, alabaster, steatite and others -- is an ongoing quest. Hagstrum has chosen many from a shop in New York City, and from trips to Pietrasanta, Italy, where stone is abundant.

"Sometimes you just see it by the roadside. I would start sculptures there and when they sent them to New York City (where she had a studio), they would pack smaller pieces in, to make a tighter fit. It was always a surprise what would show up."

One piece of travertine marble currently located on her worktable was one of those fragments.

A critic once said of her work that the sculptures did not have a look that marked the work as hers. It may have been a compliment.

"The pieces I work with are not the same size, shape or kind of stone and they don't have any relationship to my other pieces, so it's something different each time. I create to fit the stone," Hagstrum said.

What: Silicon Valley Open Studios

Where: Northern Santa Clara County, including Palo Alto, Stanford, Mountain View, Los Altos, Saratoga, Sunnyvale and Monte Sereno. Joanne Horsfall Beasley and Bonnie Hagstrum will host a joint show at 125 Bryant St. in Palo Alto.

When: Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Admission is free.

Info: Visit

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