I recently took a trip to San Francisco with the intention of visiting my favorite café to do some research for this installation of Java Jabber. When I reached the busy corner of Lincoln and 9th Avenues I found that Pacific Catch had replaced my beloved Canvas Gallery.

     The 4,000-square-foot Canvas Gallery across from Golden Gate Park had opened in 2000 to a constant flow of customers. Free Internet access, excellent coffee, delicious pastries, a deli and full bar drew in medical students and moms, artists and singles looking for connections. While a café in San Francisco displaying local artists was nothing new, Canvas Gallery was a full-service art gallery that boasted a very hip café. Professionally trained curators assisted both seasoned and novice collectors. The open, dual-purpose space shared art in a non-intimidating setting. In spite of their seemingly endless stream of customers, the Canvas Gallery struggled to make the rent, and a chain restaurant now occupies the space. Writing this I am saddened by the passing of a great hang out, and my sadness is amplified because one of the last times I was there, they were displaying work by my friend Tom Fowler, who has also passed on.

     Tom was the one who encouraged me to submit my photographs to the Morning Dew Café for a month-long exhibit. I remember the sense of excitement I felt as I hung six photos and my bio on the wall above the long banquette. I would stop in on my way to a class nearby and see someone looking at the pictures I’d taken on a life-changing trip; and it felt like I’d made a connection.

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     On the flip side, seeing artists on display gives me a sense of familiarity and intimacy; it’s  personal connections with an artist before I even know her or his name.

     When I moved to Truckee, almost four years ago, I looked for cafes that exhibited local artists. I didn’t know anybody in town, and I know to look for kindred spirits (people who like art, coffee and other people) in cafes. The work of local artists gives one a sense of place, and I found the area to be chock-full of cafes willing to display artwork in rotating exhibits. Joe Coffee had a fashion designer’s pen and ink drawings hanging on its walls when I moved to town, (which gave me hope that there was a glimmer of edgy culture in this mountain burg. The art wasn’t pseudo-vintage tourist posters on distressed wood boasting large Truckee River trout, or my least favorite theme – bears in baseball caps). I saw Keoki Flagg’s photo of the Squaw Valley rescue dogs on a lift at Syd’s in Tahoe City, so I recognized his name when I bumped into him hanging out in the Dam Café. I helped local artist Carole Sesko, hang her work in the nooks and crannies of Truckee Book and Bean, holding the hammer and handing her nails as needed. Moonshine Ink’s now famous photographer, Court Leve, had his larger-than-life action shots and landscapes in Tuff Beanz just after they opened. I remember those connections in part because those artists were within reach, touchable, human, and not behind velvet rope in an Art Museum. (Which isn’t to say that they won’t be…)

     Artists are great communicators. They want to share their vision, stories, causes or passions with the world. Or, sometimes, they just have fun making art and want to spread joy.

     I was blasted with joy when I came across the work of Ursula Haymowitz on display at Wild Cherries this month. She is new to town from Sebastopol, but has jumped right into the area’s art scene. Her colorful and whimsical work can be also be seen in Closet Cowgirl, Sassafrass and Burger Me. Ursula’s work was exhibited at the de Young Museum in San Francisco during Fashion Week in 2006. (She is passionate about textile art and had a line of 60 bags on display.) ‘I felt like Cinderella,’ she told me. While she has looked into getting her art into local galleries, the ‘seriousness’ of most galleries is not quite her style. While she admits that she doesn’t sell much work off the walls of cafes (as I’m assuming is the case with most artists), she knows that having her art on display in cafes brings her a lot more exposure than she would get in a traditional gallery. She counted 100 customers coming and going at Wild Cherries in just 35 minutes.

     One of the things she appreciates about Truckee is the ’emphasis put on preservation, admiring things as they are, keeping them pristine.’ So as she hikes our beautiful mountains, she collects the junk she finds and uses it in her latest work, which is obviously inspired by her friend, Sebastopol artist Patrick Amiot’s metal/found-object sculptures. Her ‘heads’ are a playful journey of ever deepening discoveries: hair made from phone wire, bottle cap lips, watch face eyes, rubber tube noses. Visit Ursula’s website ursulartist.com or find her hanging up and out at Wild Cherries.

     ~ Got something to jabber about? Email me at java@moonshineink.com.

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