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SMITH: New art exhibit at Sonoma County Museum will open eyes


It might be most intriguing to stop reading this until after you've treated yourself to the vivid, richly varied new art exhibit at the Sonoma County Museum and tried to guess what fine thread connects the artists.

Are you back already?

It's a marvelous array, isn't it? Every painting, ceramic, pen sketch and piece of fabric or wood art was created by someone who lives with a developmental, psychological or physical disability.

An entire room of the exhibit, "Margins to Mainstream: Contemporary Artists with Disabilities," features potent works by Sonoma County resident Rodger Cushing Warnecke, son of the late famed architect and friend of the Kennedys, John Carl "Jack" Warnecke.

Rodger Warnecke was a prized and prolific young artist when a malaise was diagnosed as something more serious: acute schizophrenia. He didn't paint for 25 years, then a new medication and art therapy freed him to return to the brush.

Filling the museum's ground-floor gallery are the borrowed works of 19 artists from the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland.

Your eye may go first to the huge and fanciful fabric "Ghost Dog" by Carlos Perez, the intricate and layered pen work of Dan Miller or the pair of papier mache houseflies by Alan Lofberg.

"The art is really museum-quality," noted Director Diane Evans, who went personally to the Oakland art center to select pieces for the Santa Rosa exhibit. She said artwork by some clients of the center is sought by collectors up to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In a nook on the main floor you can watch animation videos created by two developmentally disabled artists in South Korea. They received a grant from their government to bring their works here.

Upstairs, there's a lively and colorful profusion of works of Sonoma County artists served by three local agencies: Becoming Independent, the region's largest non-profit serving people with disabilities; the Wellness and Advocacy Center, a Goodwill Industries self-help program for people who deal with mental health issues, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI.

This is shaping up to be an especially busy and exciting summer for artists in the ArtWorks program of Becoming Independent. Their works will appear also in exhibits at the Marin Community Foundation, BI's own Gallery of Sea and Heaven on Santa Rosa's South A Street and the Petaluma Arts Center.

The "Margins to Mainstream" exhibit at the Sonoma County Museum goes through Sept. 15. As it was coming together, director Evans said it seems to her that these artists don't spend much time or energy pondering themes, they simply create.

"These pieces," she said, "they're fresher in some ways."

ART LIVES, TOO, in the front yard of a home on Montgomery Village's Sonoma Avenue, just west of Farmers Lane.

The yard is occupied by a great Saguaro cactus, several of the arms reaching well above the roof. How or why the homeowner dressed the giant is unclear, but the effect is delightful.

Topping several of the cactus' soaring branches is an enchanting assortment of hats.

HISTORY BREWS at The Barlow.

Monday morning at 6, Taylor Maid Farms opens the doors of its Coffee Bar & Roastery at the new retail and production center on Sebastopol's eastern edge.

It's a big deal because Taylor Maid has been roasting organic coffee since 1993, when founders Chris Martin and Mark Inman agreed that was a better than idea than making herb beer. And this is the dynamic local firm's first full-size coffee bar.

Full-size, and then some. The 7,200-square-foot space, lent an industrial feel by the plentiful exposed metal and reclaimed wood from Martin's farm, features a mezzanine level ideal for watching the roasting and packaging of those heavenly beans.

For Day One, a free cuppa pour-over mud.

(Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.)