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Arts advocate is a creative force of nature


Spring Maxfield feels most at home in her own backyard, with its garden, beehives, chickens and several art studio buildings, hidden in the Roseland neighborhood of Santa Rosa.

But her sphere of influence extends far beyond her modest two-bedroom house and her family — her husband of 20 years, popular local artist Todd Barricklow, and their two young daughters.

In 2008, Maxfield co-founded the immensely popular annual Great Handcar Regatta, which ran for four years in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square, drawing as many 15,000 people to see fanciful, artistic, mechanical creations race on the rails there.

"She was instrumental in what the regatta was, and what it became," promoter Ty Jones of Santa Rosa, the event's co-founder, said of Maxfield.

Blending the fashions, mechanics and science fiction of the 19th century in the now-trendy mix known as "steampunk," the event inspired its patrons to join in the fun, swarming the streets in period costumes.

Despite Maxfield's penchant for flamboyant headgear, she was happiest working almost invisibly behind the scenes, even as the regatta itself became a giddy circus. Among artists, eccentric clothes served as camouflage.

"I love wild hats," she said. "They fit anywhere."

Since then, Maxfield, who describes herself as an arts advocate rather than an artist, has continued to promote the artwork of others, with several big new projects in the works and a series of smaller ones to her credit.

Her husband, a ceramic artist, became known at the Handcar Regatta for his outlandish, oversized bicycle creations. Maxfield estimates there are 50 bikes on their property, including a couple out front near the street.

<b>Grew up on the move</b>

Maxfield, 42, spends much of her creative energy now on their daughters — Djuna, 13, and Eva Xochitl, 7.

"I don't really paint. I paint with my kids, but they're painting right now because I just inherited all of my grandmother's easels and paints," Maxfield said.

Her mother and grandmother both live in Santa Rosa now, but Maxfield grew up on the move. She was born 1972 on tiny Lasqueti Island, just off the coast of Vancouver Island in Canada, where her parents were visiting at the time.

Maxfield's father, a college-educated lumberjack and world traveler, is from a village called Nakusp in British Columbia.

"My parents were back-to-the-landers. They separated a couple of years after my birth, and I bounced between Nakusp, Topanga and Mexico until 1981, when I moved to Berkeley with my mom," she said.

After moving again with her mother to Santa Cruz in 1984 and Pacific Grove in 1986, Maxfield graduated from high school in 1990, when she moved to Sonoma County, where she met Barricklow.

While Maxfield's approach to arts advocacy is personal and practical, she has academic credentials as well. Maxfield has bachelor's degrees in fine arts and art history from Sonoma State University and a master's in museum studies from San Francisco State University.

Beyond her family, Maxfield has built an extended family of local artists. One of them is internationally known Sebastopol sculptor Ned Kahn, whose sculpture-building crew includes Maxfield's husband.

"On a deep level, Spring is at the hub of the art scene in our little part of the world," Kahn said. "She's very humble, but she's a major networker."

<b>Craft shows</b>

During her high school years in Pacific Grove, Maxfield began organizing craft shows with her friends. In the mid-1990s she went public, recruiting local artists to show their work in a borrowed storage space under the Kodiak Jack's nightclub in downtown Petaluma.

That talent for making connections, and her devotion to promoting artists, led to Maxfield's role in creating the Handcar Regatta.

"I knew there were so many talented people in this community who weren't getting to bring out their talents. I wanted to see it come out onto the streets and be accessible to everybody, not just hidden in garage parties and underground gallery shows," Maxfield said.

"I knew artists who felt like they had to move to out the area to find an audience. And I knew there were so many people who kept going to the city for creative entertainment. There just seemed to be this disconnect."

Maxfield saw no reason for local residents to go out of town, where there was plenty of talent close to home.

By the fourth year of the regatta, by then a massive street fair, Maxfield felt the event had met its artistic goals.

"There's only so much you can ask artists to do for free before there starts to be burnout, and I didn't want to exploit my friends," she said.

<b>Changed projects</b>

With new partners, Jones put on a similar but smaller handcar race and festival called Wunderkammer at Railroad Square last summer, with plans to stage a sequel next September, but in Windsor this time.

Meanwhile, Maxfield has changed projects, but remains dedicated to the same goal.

"My biggest joy is seeing other people make a living at what they're passionate about and what they do," she said.

Maxfield spends five months a year as part of the production team for Maker Faire, a gathering of artists, craftsmen, inventors and tinkerers held every May in San Mateo and every September in New York.

She serves on the board of Chimera, a Sonoma County-based organization that provides advice, education, work space and more to artists. Chimera has opened a branch in Sebastopol and plans another in Santa Rosa.

This summer, Maxfield plans to launch a business called Sonoma Art Tours, which will line up customized guided tours of local artists' studios to match the tastes of visiting art lovers and collectors.

"There are so many people who fly into Sonoma County Airport to spend Friday wine-tasting, and Saturday they go to the wedding they came here for, and what are they going to do Sunday? Let's take them to see the artists," she explained.

Since Sonoma County's arts scene is part of its appeal to travelers, along with its scenery and wineries, Maxfield said, she wants to see the artists enjoy some of the benefits.

"The idea is to bring people directly to the artists so they can take advantage of all of this tourism money that's coming into the county," she said.

<i>You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.</i>