On the night the lights were switched on for downtown Napa’s Christmas tree, another event also helped kick off the district’s holiday season: the launch of the annual Art on First exhibit.
Fourteen art installations debuted Wednesday night in the collection of storefronts-turned-showcases along First Street, which is hosting the exhibition for the third consecutive year. Amid restaurants and shoe stores, passers-by took in a collection of displays by mainly local artists that verged sharply from the earnest to the thought-provoking — and even into the lighthearted.
“I just love dogs and find them fascinating,” said Catherine George, a Napa sculptor, while chatting up visitors standing by her exhibit “Doggies in the Window Revisited: Sit, Stay.” “I wanted to go for a happy and lighthearted experience, because that’s the feeling most people have with dogs.”
Several of her ceramic canine sculptures beckoned from the base of a show window behind her, in front of a tableau of papier-mache sunflowers, a blue canvas sky and wax-paper clouds.
Minutes after an audience of hundreds gathered at Veterans Memorial Park for the city’s Christmas tree lighting, many of the spectators streamed downtown past installations that will greet First Street visitors through October 2013. Gordon Huether, the artist whose namesake studio is located on First Street, also hosted a reception for art admirers at the event.
This year’s Art on First showcase has shrunk along with the number of vacancies on its namesake street. Four fewer storefronts are empty than a year ago, cutting into the art show’s display space, according to Christy Bors, programs manager for Arts Council Napa Valley.
Nonetheless, Art on First made room for an array of artists that included a dozen with Napa County ties, though the themes of their work often ranged far from downtown in distance and concept.
An installation named “The Eternal Return,” created by 14 Vintage High students, paid homage to Spanish-language authors by overlaying quotations from their books onto hanging plaster life masks. Tim Kopra’s “Decompression” symbolized the repeating cycles of life through spirals of old microfiche and light bulbs fashioned into chandeliers; Shelly Hanan’s “Sell Everything” turned a photo of a ramshackle beach hut over a layer of sand into a metaphor for escaping the rat race for a simpler life.
The bare tree branches of another exhibit seemed to speak of the bleakest part of winter — perhaps moreso because a display-case light bulb meant to light the scene was not yet ready. But artist Marissa Carlisle took the darkness in stride, pointing a flashlight to help onlookers see the heart of the display — a full moon in the form of a metal disc — and thus explain her artwork’s theme.
“If you’re in the woods you can cup the moon with your hand to know if it’s a waxing or waning moon,” she said. “For me, that’s when we seek truth and light. When we know how to look, we know what to find.”