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Opening their doors and selves

October, 2003 – 
Laura Wesley, 

“I’ve been on a journey,” says stone sculptor Brian Grossman at his carving station in the warehouse studio he shares with three other artists.

We’re busy cruising the second weekend of Open Studios, a Boulder-based art-awareness event in which, this year, 135 Boulder artists open their private creative dens to the general public.

Surrounded by tools and breathtakingly beautiful stone sculptures, Grossman tells the story of his life and art. They are inextricably entwined. He explains how creative art helped him overcome haunting childhood memories of severe physical and sexual abuse and stay motivated despite the physical limitations of multiple sclerosis.

“For years I hid in my artwork but it also kept me alive,” says Grossman. “Literally, being creative is the reason I am still here today.”

Getting to know not only Grossman’s art but also his personal story is the beauty of Open Studios’ interactive nature. The event is committed to providing people with an intimate glimpse of artists’ individual techniques and unique personalities. The Open Studios weekends, traditionally held in early October, offer a learning experience that is “friendly and accommodating,” according to founder and executive director Gary Zeff.

“The idea is to see the art where it’s made and meet the artist, which you can’t always do in a gallery,” says Zeff. “It’s an unusual opportunity for both the artists and the public.”

Its popularity has grown each year. Zeff reports that Open Studios recorded a total of more than 67,000 visits last year, and he expects the upward trend to continue in this, its ninth year. The event has grown tremendously since 1994, when only 84 artists participated and had fewer than 10,000 studio visits.

“It’s fascinating to see how they choose to be artistic – there’s no two alike,” said Boulder resident Maggie Luck in Zeff’s home basement woodturning shop. “Last weekend, some of the artists we met, I realized, ‘Hey, your kids are in school with my kids.’ So they’re just parents in the community as well and now I see this is what they do.”

The interface between artists and community is wonderful, but the true mission of this non-profit organization is really art education. Each artist pays a small fee that, along with corporate and government grants, makes the event possible. Another stipulation is that artists must include an educational and, if possible, hands-on component in their studio so that visitors can learn directly about art. Zeff, inspired by the example of several California communities, is proud of Open Studios’ success in Boulder. He also mentioned that, while other communities like Longmont, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and more have organized similar weekends, Boulder’s is still the biggest and best.

Painter Dawn Howkinson Siebel describes Open Studios as a vehicle that “makes visible what is invisible.” In years prior to being a participating artist, Siebel visited many studios, often taking her friends’ children with her.

“When I was a kid I never saw a single role model of a working visual artist,” said Siebel. “It’s very important.”

Open Studios offers quite a diversity of educational opportunities that are mutually beneficial to both artists and the public. Stone sculptor Scott Rodwin offered sandpaper to visitors, and they helped work on his current piece of Colorado alabaster.

“If seeing this makes people want to pull out their old potting wheel or pick up that paint brush, it’s worth it,” said Rodwin. “Even if I don’t sell anything, I still consider this a successful weekend.”

There is a downside – it simply is not possible to see everything in one or two weekends, which was the only complaint of most visitors. Having so many choices is a bit overwhelming; there’s glassblowing, ceramics, woodwork, painting, jewelry, and more.

The key to a satisfying tour is to prepare, so here’s what to remember for next year. Visit the exhibit in the Boulder Public Library; it’s up several weeks ahead of time and each artist has one piece displayed. You can pick your favorites and plan your tour route. The event is free, so go to as many studios on as many days as you like.

Also, if you’re looking to purchase some fine art, take the chance to familiarize yourself with an artist and their work. Art galleries take about 50 percent of each sale, so prices are often marked up to compensate. You may be able to take advantage of special Open Studios sales some artists offer. Purchasing directly from an artist on one of these weekends is sure to be a much more enjoyable and affordable experience.

All in all, Open Studios has something for everyone. So, put it on your calendar for next fall and check it out.

Copyright © 2003, Colorado Daily

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