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July 9, 2007

Adult summer camp in Napa's Oxbow Studios

 “You can see why people who do really great things
usually have somebody taking care of them.”

Kathleen Stewart, Healdsburg bakery owner and Oxbow printmaking student


Installation view of the final show


Adult summer camp in Napa's Oxbow studios

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It’s no secret that the staff of artists at Napa’s Oxbow School has trained hundreds of teenagers in painting, printmaking, sculpture and other fine arts. The school’s intensive, residential semester is the only studio arts program of its kind in the U.S., attracting talented students from high schools across the country.

A less well-known Oxbow program has just ended at the riverside campus, possibly for the last time. School officials are pondering whether to continue offering the Oxbow Summer Studios, a ten-day course for adult artists complete with dormitory lodging and most meals. The $2,000 program is limited to 24 participants, but this year enrolled just over half that number.

“It was heaven”Taking a relaxing break after hanging their artwork for the final show

Although some of this year’s Summer Studios attendees were sponsored by the schools where they teach art for a living, others were professional artists savoring the freedom to paint, draw and photograph for eight to 10 hours a day without having to think about work or family concerns.

“It’s pure pleasure,” said Kathleen Stewart, who has studied printmaking at Oxbow for three summer sessions. Business at her Healdsburg bakery kept Stewart from attending more than three days this year, but that didn’t dampen her enthusiasm.

“It was heaven,” Stewart said, a sentiment shared by a dozen classmates who gathered for an informal show and final Oxbow dinner June 26. Like Stewart, several had returned after at least one previous session; others followed their children into the Oxbow fold.

“I was so jealous because they were having such a fabulous experience and I wanted to do what they did,” said Suzanne Frazier of Mill Valley, whose two children attended Oxbow’s semester program. A painter herself, Frazier took advantage of Oxbow’s well-appointed printmaking studio to broaden her skills.

Christopher Hirsheimer talking about her photographs- Margo Felling next to her Collages

Design partners Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, both former editors at Saveur magazine, also joined this summer’s session. Hamilton’s drawings explored images of her family, while Hirsheimer – a sought-after food photographer whose work has illustrated numerous cookbooks – produced a series of informal black-and-white photo portraits of her classmates and a handful of agricultural scenes.

Hirsheimer and Jerilyn Hanson, a retired executive, were the only photographers in this summer’s session, working with Oxbow photography teacher Pattiann Koury to shoot images and develop them in the darkroom. Both said they were heading home with heightened skills and a new appreciation for their own abilities.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Hanson said.

“Food Camp”
One of the "kitchen ladies" sous chef Cinde Cromwell - Oxbow Director Stephen Thomas at dinner

Along with the chance to spend unfettered hours in Oxbow’s riverside studios, the adult artists also savored the school’s celebrated cuisine – and unlike the teens who fill the campus during the regular school year, these students also enjoyed wine with their meals.

“It’s extraordinary,” said Hanson, praising not only the food and Oxbow’s chefs – “they are so dedicated to what they’re doing” – but the pleasure of gathering with fellow artists three times a day in the dining hall or on the deck overlooking the Napa River.

Oxbow chef (and Chez Panisse alum) Tracy Bates and her culinary team of “kitchen ladies” turn out seasonal dishes with a focus on sustainability. Bates sources her food locally – often as locally as the campus garden and the farmer’s market just across the river.

On the last day of Summer Studios, the artists enjoyed seared chicken breast with Romesco sauce, Spanish style chickpeas and chorizo, roasted potatoes and artichokes and grilled asparagus, with a galette of farmer’s market nectarines and raspberries.

 “I’ve always dubbed this Food Camp,” Stewart said, as the music of John Coltrane played on a studio boombox and Oxbow director Stephen Thomas poured sparkling Schramsberg for his departing students.

“You don’t have to think about the day to day necessities that you usually think about, so all of your brain waves can go into the studio,” Stewart continued.
“You can see why people who do really great things usually have somebody taking care of them.”

“A lot of growth,” but low enrollment
Though every one of this year ’s Summer Studios artists said she would like to return for another session in 2008, that may not be possible. This year’s class only topped 12 people because Thomas and his wife Patty Curtan encouraged friends and former students to sign up. If Oxbow can’t attract a larger group by next spring, it may have to end the program after three years; and that would be a loss to artists like Barbara Nelson, head of the art department at a Laguna Beach school that sponsored her attendance this year.

“It was a lot of work, and a lot of growth,” Nelson said.

For more information about the Oxbow School: www.oxbowschool.org

--Louisa Hufstader
Photographs taken by Ashley Nicole Teplin

Adult Students

Barbara Nelson Laguna Beach, CA Art Teacher
Brigid Corboy Half Moon Bay, CA Art Teacher
Cathy Baken Mill Valley, CA Artist
Christopher Hirsheimer Enwinna, PA Designer / Food Photographer
Jerilyn Hanson Minneapolis, MN Retired Executive
Joni Missell Mill Valley, CA Executive at Summer Search -program for disadvantaged teens-
Kathleen Stewart Healdsberg, CA Bakery Owner
Lynn Kozikowski Albuquerque, NM Art Teacher
Margo Felling Chicago, IL Retired Executive
Melissa Hamilton Stockton, NY Designer / Food Writer
Sally Baker Danville, CA Private Highschool Art Teacher
Susan Sanders Dallas, TX Painter / Mother
Suzanne Frazier Mill Valley, CA Painter

Editor’s Note: For additional information contact Pam Hunter- 707-258-1699 x 15 or Pamela@studio-707.com

Posted by Pamela at July 9, 2007 10:54 AM| Share on Facebook | Art Education, Non-wine activities in Napa Valley, Oxbow School

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