Guerneville’s artists rise from the flood, most works spared

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Marge Margulies of Margulies Pottery in Guerneville may have captured local sentiments best: “Pottery rises from the mud!”

Like many of this small town’s artists and craftspeople who were driven from their work spaces by the surging floodwaters of the Russian River in February, Margulies is looking on the bright side and recognizing that things could have been worse.

“Although the river across from me rose around 46 feet, my studio is up high. Water seeped under the walls of my kiln room from the saturated hillside behind, and that was scary for a few days,” she said. “But thanks to the town’s sandbags and my incredible neighbors who were dealing with their own surging waters, I held off the worst of the flood. The walls are still damp, but a few kiln firings and some warmer weather will fix that.”

Like Margulies, most of Guerneville’s artists and craftspeople are back in their studios and galleries, with their latest works displayed in anticipation of a hoped-for high season of tourists and art lovers to the laid-back vacation destination along the Russian River.

As it has for many decades, a carefree “summer of love” Bohemian vibe continues to attract artists and their patrons to the Russian River Valley, which is also a world-famous wine region; 50 premium wineries are within a 20-minute drive.

Slightly higher than surrounding streets and riverside roads, Guerneville’s Main Street galleries and other businesses survived the flood with little damage.

According to Douglas DeVivo, owner of the Blue Door Gallery, “I had water at my front and back doors, only. Most people that I know had time to move everything, saving their work, and are back in business.”

As soon as the water receded, DeVivo put together 18 workshops in his gallery, led by local artists and with proceeds going to West County Community Services flood relief. Next door, and also unharmed by the flood, the Russian River Art Gallery is a storefront cooperative of nine local artists, loaded with paintings, mixed media, jewelry, and sculpture.

Art at the Source

A painter with a studio in her barn, a former hayloft on the banks of Fife Creek, Sandra Maresca is getting ready for one of the biggest art events of the year, the 25th annual Art at the Source open studios showcase throughout western Sonoma County (June 1-2 and 8-9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day). More than 160 artists and craftspeople, including several in Guerneville, will open their studios to visitors on self-guided tours (catalogue and maps: artatthesource.org).

Some of the participants will band together that weekend, with cooperative “pop-up” showings. In her garden, for example, Maresca plans to host a painter in acrylics, a mixed media artist, and a sculptor in alabaster, bronze and marble.

Creators of black-and-white film photography and plein air paintings, Suzy Kuhr and Katharine Norris have a small gallery on First Street at the Guerneville Plaza that is open by appointment, and during the town’s monthly “1st Friday Art Walk,” a lively, celebration of art, food, wine and local color (street buskers, too). All the galleries, as well as local restaurants and shops, invite visitors in from 4:30 to 8:00 p.m. to enjoy complimentary snacks and wine while they browse art works, and chat with locals.

“My home took in 4 feet of water, so my wife and I have been immersed in the process of cleaning and renovating, but our new gallery and our artwork was unaffected,” Norris said.

Open for Business

Although once prevalent in televised news, the alarming piles of flood debris along River Road are long gone. Shops, restaurants and galleries are open; wildflowers and baby lambs are rampant in the meadows, and Guerneville and its artists have, once again, risen above the rising waters.

As Sandra Maresca said, “This place grows on you. I call it the little town that could.”

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