Tuesday, August 14, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 23

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on October 19th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 31

Beyond the Windmills at Elverhøj Museum reimagines work in the Berkus collection


Nicole Strasburg is consumed by a river.

The artist, whose work is featured in a new exhibit at the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art, is working on an exhibit set to make its debut in a few months. Strasburg is currently in the middle of a collaboration about the Santa Ynez River. The influence shows in every corner of her work.

“If you were to come to my studio, you’d see,” she explained. “I’ve been working on the river and everywhere is that ‘S’ shape, like the way water moves through land. That’s what’s coming out right now.”

Artist Nicole Strasburg’s work was part of renowned art collector Barry Berkus’ collection, one of the biggest in the world. “Growing up on the coastal side of the Santa Ynez Mountain range, I have spent a lot of time focused on the shoreline,” she said. “The valley was always a destination, a near faraway place, to visit or escape.”

One of those pieces that’s emerged from Starsberg’s fixation with the watershed is a new painting for Elverhøj’s latest exhibit. More than a dozen artists are featured in the exhibit called Beyond the Windmills: The Barry Berkus and Family Collection. Berkus (who died in 2012) was a noted architect and philanthropist who had amassed a remarkable collection of more than 200 pieces of art, dating back to the 1950s. In 2006, Berkus and his family donated the collection to Santa Barbara County.

The artists include R. Anthony Askew, Bob DeBris, Sky Bergman, Macduff Everton, Colin Gray, Mary Heebner, Lenore Hughes, Sheldon Kaganoff, Philip Koplin, Virginia McCracken, Wayne McCall, Nicole Strasburg, Dug Uyesaka, and Seyburn Zorthian.

But the exhibit, which opened in August, goes a step further.

“Artists are being invited to revisit or reinterpret their original artwork in the Berkus Collection,” curator Rita Ferri said in a press release. “Using the town of Solvang and Santa Ynez Valley as a springboard, artists will look beyond the tourist facade, beyond the windmills and wooden rooftop storks, and see what new insights they can find.”

“Because it was going to be displayed in Solvang, we were asked to respond to the work in the collection and to the location,” Strasburg said.

Strasburg’s work caught Berkus’ eye years ago in Santa Barbara, where she had a small studio with a good sized following. Since she had to run her shows out of her studio, followers knew they only had a few days to see her work. She had big crowds at her opening, and Berkus, who was having a show of his own at a nearby gallery, took notice.

“I was celebrating my 40th birthday,” Strasburg recalled. “He purchased three or four pieces for his collection. I was honored to be included because I knew he and his wife had been collecting for years. I felt like I was in upper echelons at that moment.”

Lenore Tolegian Hughes is one of the artists featured in Beyond the Windmills at the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art. “Mission Santa Inés is historically the spiritual heart of Solvang, and Santa Inés (Saint Agnes of Rome) is the heart of the Mission,” Hughes wrote in her artist’s statement.

Part of the Berkus family’s bequest included a promise that the collection or at least part of it would be shown every few years. Bergman said Ferri wanted to expand the show and give it a different spin than the ways the Berkus collection had been viewed before. Strasburg’s new piece for the exhibit will be from her work on the Santa Ynez River project.

“The ocean’s seasonal changes, wet sand, and the changing tideline have been a constant muse,” Strasburg said in her artist’s statement. “As tides ebb and flow, this water muse has led me to the valley and our watershed.”

Sky Bergman is one of the artists whose work Berkus acquired during his long time as a collector. Bergman was raised in Philadelphia but moved to South Florida where she earned a finance degree. She said while she had a knack for numbers, she knew it wasn’t going to be the career for her.

“I took a photo class just for fun my last semester,” Bergman said. “I fell in love with photography. I loved watching the image come up in the developer and the magic of that.”

The budding photographer then came out to California to get her MFA at UC Santa Barbara in 1991. It was there that she also happened to meet Ferri. As for turning her back on a career finance, Bergman, currently professor of photography and video at Cal Poly, doesn’t give it a second thought.

To accompany her work featured in the Berkus collection, Bergman shot an image of the Solvang skyline as she was driving through, capturing the gradations in hues and saturation levels as the sky embraced the sunset.

Exhibit programming includes workshops in drawing and collage on Oct. 7 and 21. Elverhøj Museum of History and Art, located at 1624 Elverhøj Way in Solvang, is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11am to 4 pm. There is no charge for admission. Suggested donation is $5. For more information, phone (805) 686-1211 or visit elverhoj.org. The exhibit will be on view through November 12, 2017.

“I’ve always followed my passion,” Bergman said. “My life has taken some unique twists and turns. I follow what I believe in and what I know is the right thing.”

Now, Bergman is focused squarely on making films. A visit to her grandmother sparked an idea that turned into an award-winning documentary film currently making the rounds at festivals.

Bergman said wanted to film some videos of her grandmother cooking so she could document and save the recipes. As a throwaway, she asked her to give some words of wisdom to the camera. The moment inspired her to make a larger project.

“I came back and put together a 1 1/2 minute video,” Bergman said. “I sent it out to everyone.”

From there, she asked her friends and colleagues to recommend others they knew who were over 75 to participate in a similar video project. The result is Lives Well Lived a documentary featuring interwoven interviews and stories from people like her grandmother who want to offer advice or wisdom to the younger generations. The film has won several awards at film festivals throughout the U.S., and Bergman said Shadow Distribution is releasing it nationwide in 2018.

“I think that you never know how you’re going to impact someone in some way,” Bergman said. “Art can really reach into somebody’s soul and change them and make them think in a different way. We need more art like that.

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose’s mind is always floating down a river. Contact her at rrose@santamariasun.com.

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