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Santa Rosa galleries packed as Winterblast lights up the night

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The last couch that was pushed down South A Street Saturday night was an ornate wooden phoenix, colored with lively blue and green feathers that contrasted with the fiery red base it rose out of.

It was accompanied by cheers and applause as it made its way to Sebastopol Avenue, the halfway point of the Winterblast parade that attracts hundreds to the SOFA (South of A Street) neighborhood, Santa Rosa’s arts district behind Juilliard Park.

The phoenix was a symbol that appeared to resonate with the attendees who lined the sidewalks of a community settling back into their regular lives after the Kincade fire, the second major wildfire event in Sonoma County in three years.

Winterblast’s open-door art studios, food trucks and live music were a welcome reprieve for some, inviting residents to spend a night celebrating the creative colony that has taken root in Santa Rosa.

“It’s a really impressive community,” said Cloverdale resident Patricia Bartholdy-Fifiald, 25.

The event, now in its 15th year, transformed the street into a full-scale block party.

Many wore costumes to mirror the decorated couches in the parade, which featured themed pieces like Shrek, Lion Ki ng and Super Mario characters that brought the living room to life with a woman in a Princess Peach costume playing “Mario Kart” on an attached TV.

After the first leg of the parade finished around 6:15 p.m., festivalgoers carrying drinks began shuffling through the neighborhood’s vibrant collection of studios near Art Alley. Some stopped and gawked at the two belly dancers in the windows of Tibidabo Photography.

Galleries were stuffed as organizers embraced the added attention on local art, packing people into compact showrooms like sardines. In such close proximity, the smell of cannabis was much easier to detect from aficionados who wanted to elevate their experience.

At Seishin Studio, Santa Rosa artist Mario Uribe had opened up his space to Homeless Action, an advocacy group collecting donations and raising awareness with its FACES exhibit to support the area’s homeless community.

On the wall were the faces of 40 people from Santa Rosa’s unsheltered population, each with a small card that shared their name, age and a message. The photographs were taken by Pocho Sanchez-Strawbridge.

“I think they’re heartwarming and inspiring. I love these responses,’ said Kathleen Finigan, exhibit producer and Homeless Action member. “The point is to rehumanize people that shouldn’t have been dehumanized in the first place.”

In a larger studio next door, Bartholdy-Fifiald and her partner, Ken Depeel, 27, of Santa Rosa were enjoying their second consecutive Winterblast. They patiently walked through Suzanne Edminster’s gallery, admiring her abstract paintings that jumped off the canvas when they slipped on a pair of 3D glasses lying on a table.

“It’s awesome to see all the galleries open up. I didn’t even know this was all here,” Bartholdy-Fifiald said. “My friend told me last year, ‘People push sofas down the street and everybody comes to watch.’ I was like, ‘What, I have to go see that.’ Then we discovered all this. So we had to come back this year.”

For Depeel, Winterblast is the perfect marriage of art forms, providing an opportunity to support the creative community in his backyard.

“I really like local music, so it’s nice to be able to support both mediums of art going on around here,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.

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