Peak production

Welcome to Tahoe and Truckee’s neighborhood art scenes

A sculpture by Colleen Sidey is among the faculty work in the Haldan Gallery at Lake Tahoe Community College. PHOTO/KRIS VAGNER

A sculpture by Colleen Sidey is among the faculty work in the Haldan Gallery at Lake Tahoe Community College. PHOTO/KRIS VAGNER

If you still think “Tahoe art” is limited to the landscape paintings and baskets that came and went from the Nevada Museum of Art in 2015, and the ubiquitous photos of Sand Harbor at sunset, you might be surprised by the range of styles and venues in Truckee and Tahoe this summer. There’s no museum of high-elevation artwork to speak of. The scene is spread out among a few happening hubs with studios, shops and satellite spots—plus a handful of outlier outposts. South Shore, North Shore and Truckee are the homes to tight-knit, well-connected, welcoming art communities and a summer-long roster of events.

South Shore: a varied ecosystem

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It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to drive to South Lake Tahoe from Reno—barring summer traffic holdups—via a scenic sprint up Hwy. 50, through Cave Rock Tunnel and past Nevada’s lakeside casino towers. At first glance, South Lake looks like it might be one giant lakeside resort in a sea of upscale strip malls for the 5-6 million visitors that the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority estimates come through each year. But the city is home to a large population of local artists—and an ecosystem that’s unusually complete for a town of 21,000.

Just before town, Tahoe Art League’s Art Center Gallery is easy to spot in a modest building that looks like it might prefer to be a ski-rental shop. Inside, it’s stocked floor to ceiling with paintings and photographs by the league’s members—abstracts, flowers, portraits, and a large variety of landscapes. The best times to visit are the weekends of July 27-29 and August 3-5, when 50 or so of the league’s artists open their doors to the public for the 11th Annual Artist Studio Tour. Maps are available at the gallery, and tour stops in South Lake Tahoe, Meyers and nearby towns are well-marked. If you can’t make it during one of those weekends, the gallery is open year-round, and it’s always a good stop for your Midwestern parents.

Tahoe Art League’s Art Center Gallery 3062 Lake Tahoe Blvd. South Lake Tahoe, California (530) 544-2313

Benko Gallery, on the other hand, is where to take your Bay Area parents. It’s inconspicuous among the neighboring shops around Heavenly Mountain Resort. To find it, look for the Applebee’s—but don’t expect a chain-store vibe. The gallery is spacious and polished, and its artists specialize in mashing high-energy styles—street art, steampunk and the trippier end of coffeehouse art—into traditional Tahoe themes like tree rings and landscapes.

Benko Gallery 3979 Lake Tahoe Blvd., Unit 2 South Lake Tahoe, California (530) 600-3264

Off the beaten path

Lake Tahoe Community College, nestled in a clearing among fragrant pines, is a nexus of art production in the South Shore region. A few years ago, the state of California issued a rule saying that students may not repeat a community college class that they’ve passed with a C or better. That decreased the LTCC art department’s population of “lifelong learners,” which makes it harder for the department to serve as a cohesive art-making community. But art classes are still taught, and the college’s Haldan Gallery, located in the library building, is still a good professional gathering spot, featuring well-known artists from all over the West—including Reno’s Walter McNamara and Frances Melhop. The current show is a group show of LTCC faculty work.

The Foyer Gallery, in the adjacent Fine Arts Building, is a small but good-looking exhibition space where Shelly Zentner, LTCC art instructor and founder of Tahoe Activist Artists, is showing her Fundamental Freedoms, a collection of paintings that highlight civil rights activists.

Both galleries close for the summer on June 21 and reopen for an exhibition by Nevada potter Joe Winter on Sept. 25, with a reception from 5-7 p.m. Oct. 11.

Haldan Gallery Lake Tahoe Community College One College Drive South Lake Tahoe, California (530) 541-4660, ext. 711

Fans of Reno Art Works and the Potentialist Workshop will likely feel right at home among the 30 or so artists of the High Vibe Society, a collective that aims to create a stable, year-round trade in emerging artists’ works in a town that’s largely at the mercy of seasonal sales. In summer 2017, the group leased a space for studio rentals, gallery sales, poetry events, classes and workshops. In March, after contending with financial pressures and city regulations, the group lost the space. It’s now searching for a new permanent location. Meanwhile, a GoFundMe campaign is underway, and High Vibe keeps up its profile by hosting house concerts and pop-up shows. Founder Erik Ulcickas also oversees a satellite hallway gallery with affordable 2-D works at South Lake Brewing Company. To keep up on High Vibe events, follow the group on Instagram and Facebook, and visit the website to sign up for its newsletter.

High Vibe Society satellite gallery South Lake Brewing Company 1920 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, California

North Shore: Land and scene

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There are galleries aplenty that are easy to find if you amble through North Shore towns like Incline Village, Tahoe City and Kings Beach.

North Tahoe Arts in Tahoe City is a good one-stop shop at which to start. For locals, it offers kid camps and workshops. For visitors, the artisan shop in the group’s forest-green, alpine chalet is open daily and features work by about 25 regional artisans.

North Tahoe Arts 380 N. Lake Blvd. Tahoe City, California (530) 581-2787

Sven Renner of King’s Beach practices welding at Truckee Roundhouse.


Off the beaten path:

While landscape art is more or less king in this region, there’s an oasis of more cerebral, experimental work at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village. An exhibition of work by MFA students runs from Aug. 4-31, with a reception Aug. 4. The college hosts intensive, week-long workshops all summer in photography, digital art and ceramics. Those sessions are geared toward professional-level artists, but if you’d like to access the ideas of the instructors who travel from afar to teach them, Tuesday evening “Meet the Artist” nights are scheduled throughout the summer.

Tahoe Gallery Sierra Nevada College 999 Tahoe Blvd. Incline Village (775) 831-1314

Truckee: A shopping district we actually like

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In Truckee’s case, don’t be put off by the words “shopping district,” even if you’re an avowed adventurer or an aficionado of originality. Any sense of overwhelm you might incur from waiting for a parking space or weaving through a crowded sidewalk can be easily cured by a dip in nearby Donner Lake or a jaunt up to the abandoned train tunnels, where, come to think of it, you might even want to start your Truckee art tour—the insides are smattered for miles with ever-changing, often ambitious graffiti work.

But you might not even need these escape plans. Downtown Truckee’s art shops are, for many culture seekers, their own relief. Collectively, the community here has mastered the art of building a local arts scene while leveraging the advantages of existing in a tourist town. Gifts you’d take home to grandma—or to your art professor—abound. They weren’t made in China. They were made right here. And, in some cases, Truckee’s artisans will even teach you how to make your own.

Art Truckee hosts yoga sessions, open mics and intimate concerts in a second-floor gallery. Atelier, where shoppers, makers and would-be makers are all welcome, stocks a rainbow of yarns, a carefully curated selection of how-to books, and appealing cards and prints—and offers one-session workshops in techniques you may have always wanted to learn, plus some you may have never thought of. (“Smartphone Image to Encaustic Display” June 27; “Sewing Basics” July 10; check the calendar for many more.)

Riverside Studios is an artisan shop owned by five artists that’s especially strong in jewelry and ceramics with a lot of personality. Bespoke carries handmade housewares and fashions with heart—along the lines of what Reno’s Never Ender boutique used to offer. Lorien Powers Studio Jewelry brings an elegant, industrial-arts flair—along with frequent topographical references and Lake-Tahoe shapes—to pendants, rings and other jewelry. Gallery 5830’ stocks pieces with a refined, industrial-interior bent, including furniture, glass and metal pieces that you might wish you knew how to make.

Art Truckee 10072 Donner Pass Road, 2nd Floor, Truckee, California (530) 448-3423

Atelier 10128 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, California (530) 386-2700

Riverside Studios 10076 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, California (530) 587-3789

Bespoke 10130 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, California (530) 582-5500

Lorien Powers Studio Jewelry 10007 Bridge St., Truckee, California (530) 550-9610

Gallery 5830’ 10060 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, California (530) 902-0322

Off the beaten path:

Truckee Roundhouse is basically a cousin to the Generator in Sparks. It’s smaller, so you can’t work on your RV or massive Burning Man sculpture there, but it operates with a similar set of goals—to get people’s hands onto high-tech and low-tech materials and processes. Upcoming workshops there can teach you how to use a 3-D printer, a plasma cutter, a table saw or a ceramics wheel.

If you missed the San Mateo Maker Faire—or you just didn’t feel like driving over the pass and wading through the 125,000 other fans to indulge in all things techy and handmade—Truckee Roundhouse is getting ready for its own Maker Show on June 10.

Truckee Roundhouse Truckee-Tahoe Airport Chandelle Way Truckee, California (530) 582-4007

Trails & Vistas is a nonprofit that holds arts events in state parks and other outdoor locales near Truckee. On Sept. 8 and 9, the group hosts Art Hikes at the Sierra Club’s Clair Tappaan Lodge, eight miles outside of town.

Extremely well trained guides—they start hiking the trail early in summer so that by September they know its every tree and boulder—lead groups of 22 on camera-free, phone-free hikes that last about two and a half hours. Along the way, they stop for acts that might include sitar players, taiko drummers or dancers. There are also mixed-media works that rely on the natural features along the trail. Director Nancy Tieken Lopez described one example from the 2017 hike: “There were human dancers in this very elastic, white cocoon-looking material. They were hanging in aspen trees, nude underneath, white material, bending like an aspen.”

Trails & Vistas (530) 536-0388