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Artists' Paradise in Mendocino, CA

Imagine a place where the natural beauty is unparalleled. A place where the ocean meets a picturesque village and you can get away from all of your modern day stresses. A place where you feel so inspired and relaxed that you never want to leave.

Now, imagine that this place has a beautiful art center where, no matter what your budget or how long you can stay, you can visit and express yourself creatively and learn new artistic practices. Imagine that here you can free your creative blocks and connect with nature and other friendly artists in a welcoming environment.

This magical place exists at the Mendocino Art Center, a beacon of culture and inspiration in the small ocean-front village of Mendocino, CA. As the child of artist parents who live in Northern California, I’ve been a fan of the Mendocino art center since I was a kid. We would never miss the chance to tour the grounds on our trips to the coast. To this day it’s a favorite for us and I’m so glad to see that it is still around and thriving.

When I had the chance to take the grand tour with the director, Celia Sheldon, it took no twisting of my arm to head over and get the inside story. Sheldon, a Bay Area transplant who used to work in the corporate world, admits that there are many artists who see the art center and want to put down roots. This is the tradition that the art center was built on, and a tradition that shows no sign of slowing down.

Today the center consists of thirteen apartments, several large art studios, three gallery spaces, a hand-made gift shop, remarkable gardens, and a communal courtyard. There's a tranquil, harmonious buzz about the place as visitors meander and working artists mingle and collaborate. Oh, and did I mention dozens of ocean views around every corner?

One thing that I noticed quickly is that they offer activities no matter what you’ve got in your wallet. You can visit for free, or drop in to an open studio session for $10. You can take a course for two to five days for a little bit more. Or, you can live there for a while through their residency program. Say what? That’s right. Imagine the focus, inspiration, and relaxation that would support your art by staying here for a long while. Even if you’re not interested in taking any classes you can stay there on a personal retreat, bring your own supplies, and rent an apartment for a week or even a month!

“Lots of artists in residence don’t want to leave,” exclaims Celia. “Many of them stay on to teach.” This is how the center has developed world-class workshops for several mediums, state-of-the-art studios for jewelry, fiber arts, and ceramics, and have a cutting edge gallery program. It's reputation is so great that people come from all over the world. There's even a Japanese exchange program where artists trade off visiting California and Japan every other year.

Also, on the list of highlights is the Plein Air Festival. Plein air, an insider term for painting outdoors, is a specialty in the area and a natural with so many vistas. “The art center didn’t do it, nature did. We’re just situated where we can take advantage,” says Celia.

Appreciating nature and art is the cornerstone of this place. In 1958, Bill Zacha, an artist and teacher, discovered the deal of a lifetime, and created a lifetime of building a dream. He plunked down a $50 deposit on a burned down, two-acre property. Over time and with hard work, he and his volunteers built this internationally known art center, which has come to change the lives of countless visitors.

The theme of art and nature has been consistent here since the beginning. In the 1970s artist, Emmy Lou Packard, created a wood block print of the headlands that commanded the attention of policy makers who decided to preserve the area. Now developers can’t build on the bluffs and we get to take in the great view and explore the vast walking trails that overlook the sea.

If any of this seems intimidating to you because you’ve never taken an art class, don’t you worry. Just ask Celia. “Most classes are open to beginners. They’re full of like-minded people with a range of human emotions – anxiety, fear, and confidences. It’s communal and open and often turns in to an experience you didn’t think you were going to have where connections are made. There are no critiques. It’s a very supportive environment. People encourage you to find your way. It’s Mendocino and we keep with the casual feeling, yet also have very professional instruction.”

You can also choose to create a bonding experience with your friends and family, like the mom and two sisters who stayed on retreat recently. They didn’t even take a class, but lifted their artist blocks, and one sister illustrated a whole book! They just brought their supplies, did more artwork than they had in the last two decades, and couldn’t have been happier. Now they have a pact to come back every year.

Want to get away and focus on your art? Take a look at the class schedule and the rental rates to get the wheels moving. Each season offers different attractions, weather, and rates; so don’t hesitate to ask about the best time for you. You won’t regret it.

Contact info:

Mendocino Art Center

45200 Little Lake Street at Kasten Street

P.O. Box 765

Mendocino, CA 95460

(707) 937-5818 or (800) 653-3328

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Follow your heart and express yourself, because you deserve a beautiful space to match your beautiful soul.


Jennifer Laurel Keller

View more from my visit to Mendocino in this slideshow:

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