Pine-cone-free Truckee art

This alternative art ain’t your grandma’s grizzly bear carved from pine

Alanna Hughes is a potter and co-founder of the Riverside Studios in Truckee.

Alanna Hughes is a potter and co-founder of the Riverside Studios in Truckee.

Photo By David Robert

Acrylic landscapes. Stunning photos of Emerald Bay. Critters carved from wood. Vases adorned with Southwestern patterns. Scented pine cones.

Like it or not, that’s what some people—often tourists—think of when the subject of “Tahoe art” comes up.

A group of artists in Truckee, who don’t fit that mold, are determined to shift the paradigm.

“We found that there are a huge number of artists here who, like us, weren’t finding their groove [in the Tahoe galleries] who are suddenly finding it here,” says Alanna Hughes, a ceramic artist and co-founder of Truckee’s Riverside Studios. “They weren’t being allowed a venue because their artwork wasn’t traditional enough.”

Hughes has been involved in Truckee’s alternative art scene for several years. With the creation of Riverside Studios (no relation to Reno’s Riverside Artist Lofts), some local artists say they finally have a place to call home. The studios, on the banks of the Truckee River in the mountain town’s historic district, will be hopping July 23 for this year’s Cabaret Artistique, with showings by 20 artists, live entertainment and auctions.

As all Riverside events have been, Cabaret Artistique will be an “anything and everything goes” event.

Riverside Studios doesn’t spurn traditional talents and craftwork, which are also represented in the galleries. Show-goers can expect some real diversity, from Hughes’ Japanese ceramics to metalwork, leather art, graffiti-themed urban pieces, photography and multi-media collage work.

Tallie Goebel welds at her studio in the complex.

Photo By David Robert

Live music will be performed by Sol’Jibe and the Truckee Youth Music Program. There’ll be belly dancers and fire-twirling flame theater.

The focus is inclusive.

“Some people think that if we’re going to encourage art in the community or entice collectors to come here to purchase art, that there needs to be a certain level, or high standard being represented,” Hughes explains. “That’s one way of thinking. But here we’ve taken the opposite approach. By allowing everything, you find what ends up being the gem of the universe.”

A needed forum
In the Tahoe area, it hasn’t always been easy for free-thinking artists to find places to show and sell their art.

“Tahoe in general has Tahoe art,” Riverside artist Tallie Goebel says. “And I think it mainly caters to tourists, which is not bad, but there’s not much of a venue for people who live here, artists or buyers.

Goebel says there’s a built-in market for non-traditional Tahoe art. That market may be comprised mostly of locals.

“I don’t want my home to have traditional Tahoe stuff,” she says. “I’m just not into that. Artists who end up showing [at Riverside] are local, and their idea of art is different than what galleries up here have, so it just lends to more contemporary and unique styles of art.”

For artists like Chris “PHig” Bomely, one of Riverside’s founders, who works in an urban graffiti style and finds himself fascinated by the work of street youths armed with spray cans, the Truckee/Tahoe area had seemed an artistic wasteland.

Kahlil Johnson hones her craft at Riverside Studios.

Photo By David Robert

“Before this,” he says, “the only good artwork I saw passed through on trains.”

Riverside Studios was the brainchild of three local artists: Hughes, PHig, and Jarod Tracy, a sign painter. When Hughes had a show of her Japanese-inspired ceramics in her small Truckee studio, the turnout was amazing.

“Alanna had about 50 people there in her little studio apartment,” recalls PHig.

Established studio space in Truckee’s historic downtown gave the artists a place to create and show their own work, as well as promote the work of other artists. Riverside Artists Studios hosted its first opening in 2002. The artists spread the word using inexpensive guerilla marketing techniques—fliers and word-of-mouth and turnout was better than expected. More than 300 people came to the show.

“This just shows how thirsty people here are for something new,” says PHig. “Every show has exceeded our expectations.”

PHig’s own work, graffiti-inspired graphic designs featuring the tie-wearing stick figure, “Stan,” are gaining popularity on T-shirts, stickers and in PHig’s paintings. An original “Stan” drawing ($3,000) will be on sale at the event.

The group didn’t have trouble recruiting more out-of-the-box artists. Word caught on, and each show since has presented a larger number of local talents. In addition to the now nine resident artists who work at the studio, Riverside hosts a number of guest artists at each of its events.

To keep their efforts in the public eye, the Riverside artists hold three shows a year.

And they’ve established a precedent for community activism, as well. The proceeds from the Cabaret Artistique will benefit Arts for the Schools and the Truckee Youth Music Program, which provides free instruments and lessons to low-income elementary schoolers.

Last year, the group raised enough money to purchase two pottery wheels, which the artists donated to the local recreation center in Truckee.

“We all have the same attitude, vision and goals,” says Hughes. “And we all come to this in a very non-judgmental way trying to encourage art growth in the community. And where that begins is with kids. Every art show we’ve tried to raise money to put towards art programs in the community.”