Artists on the ARTrails
KRISTI CARTER, of Danville, takes a picture on her cellphone Saturday while on a visit at Martha Mellinger’s studio on Denmark Street. Carter came up to the Valley just for ARTrails.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an artist who will admit to going into a creative field to make money – it’s a passion, a drive and a need to produce that pushes most into a life of making art. But artists need others’ eyes to fixate on their work to make a living, which is where the annual ARTrails comes in.
“It provides opportunities for artists to share and sell their wares,” said Vicki Kumpfer, who manages ARTrails. “It’s also a wonderful way to get out and see art in Sonoma County.
Now in its 27th year, ARTrails spans two weekends where artists open their studio doors for a roving festival of Sonoma County art sponsored by the Arts Council of Sonoma County. Beginning last weekend and wrapping up this weekend, Oct. 20 and 21, the artists staff their studios from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to greet art lovers and discuss their work. Visitors can pick up a catalogue or print a map online and follow the blue signs to studios all across Sonoma County, many of which are not open to the public outside of special events.
“Oh, I just love being able to talk with people about my art,” said Sonoma painter Irene Guidici Ehret. “At a gallery, I seldom cross paths with the people who see my art. With ARTrails, they have a chance to talk to me and ask me questions about my process.”
It is also a chance for artists to elevate their profile and bring in a new audience that may not otherwise be familiar with their work. Jewelry artist Erika Schmitt, of Boyes Hot Springs, participated for the first time this year and said people sought her out based on the annual catalogue, where artists give a description of their work and let visitors know where to find them.
“I was personally proud to hear that nearly all of my visitors were drawn to my studio from the single image I provided for the catalogue,” she said. “It is very challenging to choose one image to represent a full body of work …”
Valley artists said they were busy all weekend with a steady stream of visitors. The Arts Council of Sonoma County, which keeps historical data on the event, said in 2011 there was an average of 73 to 76 visitors a day at each of the 165 studios that participate.
“Being able to open up my studio and take advantage of the ARTrails marketing is tremendous. I actually don’t see the weekend as a sales technique, I see it as advertising,” said Sonoma furniture maker Michael Palaoe, who has participated for three years and said while sales can be sluggish, the event offers a direct window between artists and art enthusiasts. “Advertising is expensive and it’s really hard to reach your people … I really think (ARTrails) helps.”
Those visits do often lead to sales. In 2011, Sonoma County artists sold a total of $459,444 of work during ARTrails, which was up from the 2010 total of $369,971. However, it is a far cry from the historic high set in 2005, when more than $700,000 in art was sold during the two weekends.
“I do sell some, but the last several years sales haven’t been what they used to be,” Ehret said. “It used to be my big sales weekend of the year.”
Breaking the sales down by medium, in 2011 drawings and pastels proved most lucrative with an average revenue per artist of $5,200. Sculpture was next at $4,800 with ceramics averaging $3,958 per artist and paintings at $3,540. But, while the money is necessary, many artists say the chance to interact with a captive audience about their work also has great value.
“That’s very inspiring for them and just rejuvenating,” Kumpfer said.
There is no cost to attend ARTrails, just visit sonomaarts.com/artrails to download the catalogue and maps to locate the participating artists.