The late Hobart Brown would undoubtedly approve. The upstairs bedrooms in the Ferndale Victorian that one housed his Hobart Galleries, along with his studio and living quarters, are once again full of art -- the walls hung with paintings and more in progress on easels. The gallery space downstairs currently features bronze sculptures by the long-established Ferndale artist Jack Mays. Behind that is a woodworking shop where a young luthier shares space with a boat builder (who also owns the building).
This maelstrom of creative energy is a relatively new Ferndale enterprise known as Mind's Eye Manufactory. On a recent Wednesday night a group of painters, musicians and other arty types assembled for an intimate gathering that was part group critique, part jam session, part Sangria-fueled cocktail party.
In what was once Hobart's bedroom, bearded painter Andrei Hedstrom was at work adding bright splashes of oils to a large painting that almost fills one wall. An even larger painting, as tall as the artist and 15 feet long, filled with columns of patterns and decorative figures reminiscent of Gustav Klimt, rests against the wall behind him. Other pieces of varying sizes fill the corners, with still more in the hallway. A boombox in the corner is connected to an iPad; tunes by Django Reinhardt's Hot Club of Paris provide a background. Another connected bedroom is chockablock with work by Fortuna painter Sonny Wong, another Mind's Eye associate, along with other artists.
While he seems totally relaxed, Hedstrom is working with a deadline: This weekend he opens a one-man show at Piante Gallery in Eureka titled "UPlift." His energy is currently focused on painting (and preparing for his show), but Hedstrom still has a day job: He's founder and CEO of SweetRush, a decade-old company that does workforce performance analysis and training for corporate clients all over the world. When the recession hard hit a few years ago, his company downsized and ended up closing its San Francisco offices, not a difficult thing since a lot of its work was already done via telecommuting. Andrei and his wife were looking for a less urban environment to raise their young daughter -- Humboldt County seemed to fit the bill. He found an "epic place" for sale in Ferndale, and moved on up.
Hedstrom hasn't had a lot of formal art training, but it's been a lifelong passion, and an outlet. "As soon as the recession hit I instinctively flew back into painting," he recalled.
He rented a studio space in the City and got back into oils. "That was the onramp to here, making a shift toward the art life, picking up speed," he said, adding, "I have to say the art community here is so much more accessible than around San Francisco." While the competitive urban scene demanded focus on production, Hedstrom longed to "just meditate with color. And coming here, people are more in that mindset."
He knew the Ferndale artist Emily Silver -- she was among those who welcomed him to town. Silver suggested assembling an art critique group. One thing led to another, and he met Marc Daniels, the guy whose boat building shop is downstairs.
Marc's father, Lowell Daniels, had purchased Hobart' place in a trustee sale (see Journal cover story "Hobart's Children," Jan. 22, 2009) and Marc, a contractor, bought the building from his dad and began fixing it up. "Marc had this dream of a place where a bunch of makers would come together and collaborate and cross-pollinate," Hedstrom explained.
Around this point in our conversation Daniels showed up and offered a guided tour of Mind's Eye Manufactory. "Things are unfolding in an amazing organic way around here," he said as we headed downstairs.
Fixing up the seriously tattered Victorian is a formidable task, but clearly a labor of love. Built in 1896 and formerly known as the Hart Building, it had fallen into disrepair. Starting with a new roof, Daniels is just getting going on restoration. "It's pure passion all the way," he said as he began a quick history of the Mind's Eye project. Since the mid-80s Daniels has been obsessed with building cedar-framed canoes in the style of the Aleuts people of Alaska. He figured out how to do it by reverse engineering and ended up being invited by Native people in Alaska to teach them this forgotten art. The result was True North Boats. The Hart building would become his workshop, but he also wanted creative energy around him, so he and his wife Leah put out a call for artisans in search of workspace.
That led them to young luthier Jiordi Rosales, who moved up from Petaluma bringing a couple of friends, Casey Brazfield and Peter Tatum. Rosales started crafting guitars in the woodshop; he and his friends moved in upstairs and are helping with renovations. Daniels also connected with Hedstrom. To put it simply, "Andrei and Sonny Wong were looking for a place to paint." He provided that space, and a new wave of energy came into the Mind's Eye.
Back upstairs, a music session was well under way in the hall with Rosales switching between a just finished Django-esque guitar and a cello, and other locals jamming on keyboards, mandolin and hand drums.
Hedstrom had resumed work on a vibrant abstracted bar/cafe scene very, very loosely based on Édouard Manet's classic painting "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère." He explained that another piece, a deep blue "still life" was "inspired" by a Morris Graves' painting, "Winter Bouquet" -- a hint at vases with flowers is the only correspondence. He said another piece pays homage to one of the panels from "Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch, but again the resemblance is distant.
My second look at the long bright piece that dominates the room, "Forest Meditation" -- with the title in mind -- made me rethink the imagery. Trees. Of course.
"I had it in my head that I wanted to do a big piece with trees," Hedstrom explained. "When I moved up here, I started going to this redwood grove, but you know the redwood ecosystem is really simple, mostly just these big trees." He'd also spent time in the Costa Rican rainforest and that informed the painting too -- not that it looks like a realistic landscape, at all.
"I like the objects, making them different scales, they could be an amoeba, or a flower, or the sun. The trees were great for that -- I could treat each one as its own individual entity, play with different treatments, play with the color in different ways."
That playfulness with color and content is the key to all of his work, moving it beyond homage into a world of its own.
Andrei Hedstrom's show, UPlift, runs through March 31 at Piante Gallery, 620 Second St. in Eureka. There will be an elaborate opening reception for Arts Alive! March 2, with Mind's Eye musicians, and an electric balloon arch created by Jeff Sanchez of North Gate Manufacturing (and Mind's Eye). Learn more about Mind's Eye at www.mindseyemanufactory.com.
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