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Each year, during the last two weekends of September, Napa Valley artists open their studios to visitors from around the valley, the region and beyond.

Open Studios continues this weekend, Sept. 28-29 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with more than 55 artists located up and down the Napa Valley.

This year, Calistoga artists are featured on the cover of the event’s catalog, including a painting by Karen Lynn Ingalls. The Weekly Calistogan recently sat down with Ingalls for an insight into her art, her connection with other artists, and to talk about her art studio that burned down in the 2017 Tubbs Fire.

What does it mean to be featured on the cover of the Open Studios catalog?

I am honored to have been chosen as this year’s Open Studios catalog cover artist. I’ve been a part of Open Studios here in Napa Valley since 2005, after having moved back up north from the Monterey Bay area in 2002 (I grew up in Rincon Valley, near the other end of Calistoga Road).

For a number of years now, the art center has been hosting Open Studios artists who for some reason, such as living in a more remote spot, aren’t regularly able to welcome people into our studios. So it’s been wonderful — not only does it give us a place to share what we do with people, but we artists get to know each other better and build a stronger creative community.

What does it mean for the Calistoga Art Center?

Open Studios also introduces people to the Calistoga Art Center, which is an incredible place — an amazing resource for us locals. I’ve been teaching workshops through the center — originally the Art Guild — since 2005, and classes since 2008. Most locals probably don’t know that people come here from all over for the classes.

I’ve had students come for workshops from all over the country, and even Canada; and students who come for classes from Napa and Lake and Sonoma counties. They all fall in love with Calistoga!

The art center is expanding class offerings, too. We have a new ceramics teacher, a new stained glass class, a printmaking class starting up at the beginning of October, and I’ll be teaching a six-week class on creating Mixed Media Art Cards, in plenty of time before the holidays.

When did you first know you were an artist?

I began drawing anatomically accurate people at 18 months old, which is definitely a little precocious! I drew in ballpoint pen, and they were in a kind of beginner’s anime style. My parents were very encouraging and supportive, and made sure I had an endless supply of paper and art materials, a little table and chairs to work at, and a little child-sized easel that my dad made.

I mostly drew and painted people, which probably surprises most folks who are familiar with what I do now!

How has your work evolved?

I lived in the Monterey Bay Area for 13 years before moving back here, and continued my portrait work as part of a costumed model painting and drawing group in Carmel, where I met some wonderful artists. Then a fellow artist in North Monterey County, not far from me, gathered a bunch of us and proposed that we begin painting in protest of a development proposed for the northern end of Elkhorn Slough, a beautiful and sensitive wetlands area that people didn’t think much about.

It worked, too! People began to recognize Elkhorn Slough as the amazing place it is. The Audubon Society held its convention in Sacramento, and came out in buses to visit the slough, went back and voted to declare it a national treasure. When the supervisors voted on the development, they referenced our artwork — three of them came to the ‘Endangered Landscapes’ show’s opening reception — and for the first time anyone could remember, voted unanimously for an 18-month moratorium on development. It has not been developed since then, and now the slough has become an international destination for birdwatchers.

In the process, I became a landscape painter. It taught me, too, the power of art to touch people’s hearts — to move them, and to make a difference.

One less fortunate side effect was that real estate values went up in my previously overlooked part of the county. When I had to find a new place, my sister-in-law called to tell me of a lovely little place just down the creek from them in Alpine Valley, in the hills on Calistoga Road, and that’s what brought me home, and ultimately to Calistoga.

What people usually notice and respond to in my work is its color — color that is so vividly represented in Open Studios catalog cover. And that I owe to moving back up here — it’s our golden hills. Yes, they’re golden — not brown! Not in my eyes, anyway. And I think my love for oranges and blues and purples may come from growing up next to a beautiful field, near the foot of the grade down into Rincon Valley, that was filled with California poppies and blue lupine every spring.

We have so much beauty here — it is a treasure, every bit as much as Elkhorn Slough is where I used to live. I feel blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the earth, to be surrounded by so much inspiration, and to be able to create paintings of what I see.

How are you recovering from the loss of your studio in the Tubbs Fire?

I was devastated by the loss of the studio I’d been able to use for 10 years. It was half of a beautiful old chicken barn, rehabbed, with skylights — the light was gorgeous. I lost artwork going back to what I’d done in college, and furniture, equipment and supplies.

But I made new paintings with the ashes of the ones I’d lost. It was therapeutic for me — I felt that I was able to make them beautiful again, in some way, and making or trying to find some kind of beauty or redemption out of our losses was something many of us were doing. It felt to me like a visual statement of our experiences, and it was the fact that co-owner Clive Richardson needed a last-minute artist at the Calistoga Roastery when someone wasn’t able to be there that spurred me to do it. That I could show the work there — in a place that is a kind of unofficial community center, where I felt it would mean a lot to the people who saw it — mattered to me.

Through the experience, I met other artists who’d lost everything — and other artists here in the valley whom I already knew had lost their places and their artwork too. I feel a deep kind of connection between us that’s hard to explain, but it’s definitely there.

And another thing that moved me was the kindness and compassion that rose to the surface after the fires. I’d been envisioning heart symbols and heart art across the valley, creating community projects here in town with Heart Art on the trees on Lincoln Avenue and with students at St. Helena Elementary School, working with the music program and the Boys and Girls Club. The purpose was to spread visual reminders of love, kindness, and compassion — and to make people smile. Suddenly, after the fire, people were putting hearts up all over. We were all in this together, and the love rose to the surface. I get misty-eyed thinking about it.

That’s why I put together the Grateful Hearts project, too, to bring community members together to create artwork to thank the people who helped and protected us during and after the fire. We still have more people to thank. We could not have made it through without them — they are my heroes.

I’m still working on my studio situation. My friend Jo Richard is very kindly letting my use a space behind her garage as temporary studio space, so I can work here in town, which has been a godsend. I’m so grateful. Ultimately, I want to build a shed at my mobile home in Calistoga Springs, and to rebuild my enclosed porch that has water damage in the walls, so I’m able to be self-contained. I’m looking forward to that! It’s been quite a process. In the meantime, I continue to paint and to teach — I love doing both. I feel blessed to be here. I love Calistoga, and I feel very lucky that people love the work that I do.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.