Sierra Valley Art & Ag Trail
If you’re anything like me, a lazy artgoer, a 40-minute trip out of town to attend an art event may seem too far. But one event in California’s Sierra Valley is on my calendar. Driving up there for a sneak peek, I dipped into the valley on Highway 70, where green fields filled my periphery, and mountains showed hints of fall colors. An old, white schoolhouse appeared around a bend. Farms and ranches spread out across the landscape, and it felt like a place that could foster creativity.
Maybe that’s why so many artists call the area home. Kristi Jamason, a potter who lives up a charming road off the beaten path, is one of many creators who live in the valley. Noticing the talent among her neighbors—furniture makers, glass artists, painters and even an arrow craftsman—she thought there must be a way to showcase their skills and introduce people to their products.
“I just started thinking, you know, it would be fun to have an artist studio tour in Sierra Valley,” Jamason said. “I just kept learning about more artists that were around. Then I got involved with the ag community.”
Her agricultural neighbors had invited the public to check out their barns in the past. She hoped they’d do so again, this time with art included. Thus, the Sierra Valley Art & Ag Trail was born in October 2016.
This one-day event is a self-guided tour. Visitors can start at one of three entry points, then crisscross the valley to explore 13 sites and 40 artists. As during last year’s event, ranchers will throw open their barn doors and show the public their farms and barns, some of which have been around since the 1800s. Constructed with wooden pegs and made of hand-hewn timbers, the barns are pieces of art in their own right. The ranchers who live here know people are curious about the ranches as they drive by. They want educate the public and show their efforts to be good stewards of the land, which include, for example, planting willows to help protect riparian wildlife areas.
Some barns will strictly host artists and their work. Others will let the kids ride a tractor, run through a hay bale maze or play at a pumpkin patch. Some will teach mini classes on farm life and introduce visitors to real farm work, like Harvey Family Farms.
Anna Harvey is a fifth-generation livestock producer and lives on a sprawling ranch that’s been in her family for years. She raises sheep and yaks, and she’s a fiber enthusiast who produced wool. Getting the fiber from the animal to a wool sweater or blanket is time consuming and difficult. But when she hand-spins the natural fiber into a smooth, usable thread, she makes it look like anyone could do it. And at the event, they can try.
“We will have pickers, a carder, some spinning wheels, drop spindles, looms,” she said. “People can get an appreciation for what it takes. Someone doing it awhile makes it look easy. It’s second nature. But there’s so much going on, and it’s hard.”
So, what would make a reluctant traveler make the drive to the trail? To organizer Jamason it’s simple: “There’s kind of a getting-back-to-your-roots feel to it, getting to walk in those barns and look around. There’s also something about fall, going out into the country. Pumpkins, apples, getting away from the city.”