While much of the world’s people are staying inside their homes to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Napa’s artists are quietly creating art. This is the seventh in a series about what local artists are doing during this unprecedented time.
Carl Ciliax had a serendipitous experience as California was starting to go into quarantine. As he stopped for gas on his way to the dump, the man pumping gas next to him noticed the sign on the door of his beloved 1952 Chevy pickup that read “Carl Ciliax Sculpture in Bronze.”
“He commented that he had always wanted a trout for his coffee table, and I told him I could do that, and we had a deal,” Ciliax said. “The work (on the trout) is now being cast at the foundry.”
The trout is a departure from his usual work. Ciliax is a Napa sculptor whose niche is the American West culture and wildlife.
In his large body of work, Ciliax honors the Western heritage through his knowledge, dedication and craftsmanship.
Whether his bronze depicts a cowboy sitting in the saddle, holding onto the reins as his horse tries to buck him off, a buffalo, or an Indian who is holding antlers aloft, each bronze tells a three-dimensional story.
The details, form and sense of movement in his work contribute to the feeling that his creations have momentarily come to life.
In 2013, he was commissioned to sculpt a monument for the historic city of Orland, California. His “Sagebrush and Silence” bronze was dedicated as the city’s first public art installation in the city center.
Celiax said he doesn’t think the pandemic has influenced him to take a new direction in his work but recently he has been inspired to create a new piece that is outside of his usual subject matter.
“I challenged myself to create a sculpture to represent the Napa Valley and decided on a composition of two vineyard workers at harvesting time,” Ciliax said. “It is a small piece, but I am really hoping to have the opportunity to have it cast life-size or larger for placement in a public space.”
“I feel the Napa Valley should have a monument to honor the workers who are the backbone of the wine industry,” he added.
His harvest workers, still in clay form, resemble the workers he and his life partner, Beverly Wilson, see working in the vineyard next door to them. Many of Wilson’s oil paintings also honor these workers.
In addition to the vineyard workers at harvest time, Ciliax has several other pieces in progress including a pronghorn antelope, a trout and two horses.
Ciliax likes to use his own story to encourage others to realize that it is never too late to follow their own dream. Some art lovers who have visited Wilson and Ciliax during the annual Open Studios event may be familiar with it.
“My journey to becoming an artist is unique, and I have shared it with many people,” Ciliax said. “I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada and I always loved the outdoor desert life, hunting and fishing.”
Descended from “colorful characters” in Arizona and Nevada history, Ciliax became an expert on Bighorn sheep and an “accomplished” guide at a young age.
“In my early 20s I was drawn to the cowboy way of life,” he said. “I felt at home in this culture and the many images from this time in my life – the horses and the people who love them, along with Western wildlife have always stayed with me.”
Ciliax left his guiding work behind him to get a “real job” in order to raise and support a family.
“Fast-forward through 40 years of working in an unrewarding career,” he said. “I decided to stop everything and find the artist I knew was inside me.”
“I thought I wanted to be a wildlife painter but after a one-week workshop with western bronze sculptor Mel Lawson, I knew I had found my medium and cancelled all my painting classes.”
“I began my journey as a bronze sculptor at age 60 and have no regrets,” Ciliax said.
Not even the pandemic can cast much of a shadow on the life he enjoys these days as a Napa sculptor.
“By nature, I enjoy solitude, so the isolation I share with my partner, Beverly, has not been difficult,” Ciliax said. “Fortunately, we both enjoy time alone, and after the first few weeks of no studio time, we are returning to our art along with home projects, old movies and jigsaw puzzles.”
“Both Beverly and I love to travel, and I look forward to the day we can start a new adventure,” Ciliax said.
His work is on display at Calamity Jane’s Trading Company in downtown Napa. The store was recently able to reopen.
To see his work, go to carlciliax.com.
Carl Ciliax can be contacted at 707-253-9247 (studio visitors are welcome by appointment).
The first thing Beverly Wilson wants to do when the pandemic is over is to hug her family and friends. In the meantime, she has gone back to creating the kind of paintings that have made her work so popular with art lovers and collectors.
Wilson’s work is in many fine collections including those of Beringer Vineyards, Franzia Winery, The Doctor’s Company, The Banff School of Fine Art, Justin Vineyards, Lasgoity Vineyards, Demptos Cooperage, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, and Mr. and Mrs. David Wolper.
Her painting “Cabernet Harvest” hangs in the State Capitol building in Sacramento.
As much as Wilson loves to immortalize Napa Valley through her art, painting was not her first reaction when the world shut down to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Wilson did something out of character for her – something she hadn’t done in three decades. She stopped painting.
“The steady stream of bad news created such a sense of uncertainty that I was unable to paint until about two weeks ago,” Wilson said. “Instead, like so many others, I fell into the nesting mode and reorganized closets, watched movies, planted flowers and sorted old photos.”
With her creative energy redoubled, Wilson is back in her home studio “in the middle” of working on a large Napa Valley landscape commission that she is “really enjoying.”
She has also started a new Napa Townscape for her series, which is a view of the Food City and Family Drug complex on Jefferson Street.
In this series, she has focused on the beauty in the “everyday historic corners of town” that are beloved landmarks for locals, such as Buttercream Bakery, Napa Mill, Shackford’s Kitchen Store and Rico’s Auto Detail Shop.
In addition, she is starting to hand-paint “a few” face masks.
The organizing that Wilson did at the beginning of sheltering in place has paid off. It led her to rediscover several unfinished paintings.
Now, looking at them “with fresh eyes” she remembers what initially inspired her to begin these paintings and she can see solutions to the problems “that had stymied” her when she set them aside.
Wilson is continuing to “celebrate ordinary moments” by painting the landscapes, figurative subjects and “Napa Townscapes” she is known for as well as considering introducing something new.
“I am enjoying the freedom to create without a deadline for the first time in years and I think that I will open up some new subjects in my work,” she said.
While organizing, Wilson came across dozens of photos that she had taken in open-air markets during her travels.
“Such markets are colorful, energetic, and for centuries have been a common experience of virtually everyone on the planet,” Wilson said. “With time to reflect over the past few months, I feel motivated to depict my impressions of what used to be common activities, places to gather and socialize.”
“I’m excited by the challenge of capturing these past experiences on my canvas,” she added.
Wilson’s ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary is a result of her lifetime of devotion to painting. She started art lessons from Carmelo de Simone, an Italian artist in San Mateo, when she was 10 years old.
Later, she studied with Richard Diebenkom at UCLA where she earned her BFA. Influenced by Impressionist painters and colorists, Wilson developed her own vibrant style.
She moved to Napa in 1983 because it reminded her of the vineyard regions of Tuscany and Umbria that she fell in love with when traveling through Italy for a year while supporting herself by selling her paintings.
In Napa, she operated Beverly Wilson Design for nearly two decades before devoting herself full time to fine art.
“I feel very fortunate to have been able to follow my passion for the past 30 years and I owe so much of my success to the encouragement of my partner, Carl, my family and friends, art appreciators and collectors,” she said. “The extraordinary beauty of our valley inspires me every day.”
Although Wilson has been hurt by the cancellation of art events and, until last week, the closing of art galleries, she sees a “silver lining” of shelter-in-place in giving people the time and opportunity to contemplate self-development.
She has noticed that people are gravitating to artistic activities and hopes they’ll continue to nurture those interests.
“We are so lucky to be in Napa where the danger and risks have been staying low,” Wilson said. “I am so impressed and proud of our front-line workers, and of the cooperative, caring and positive attitude of our entire community. I hope the legacy of COVID-19 will be a more closely bonded community.”
To see her work, go to beverlywilson.com. Wilson’s work can also be seen at the Jessel Gallery in Napa, as part of a new show, “Shelter in Peace.”
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