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Hide and Seek

hideandseek1First time Open Studios artists come out of hiding

Mike Shuler’s studio is concealed behind a forest of bamboo and a nondescript mailbox. It’s an easy place to miss—nearly hidden in the unincorporated Live Oak area.

Until now, the undeniably talented artist (and his studio) has remained, for the most part, out-of-sight from Santa Cruzans. (His woodwork is typically shown in galleries across the country.) That’s all about to change when Shuler and his wife Rainey, (a photographer), invite Santa Cruzans to walk beyond the bamboo and view their work during the next two weekends of Open Studios.

On a recent warm, breezy October day, when I stop by his studio, I, like most people, get a little lost. Finally I spot the driveway and I venture onto the Shuler’s sequestered property. Mike’s studio looks like it might have been an old garage. Inside, piles of wood stand tall like stacks of books in a library. Machinery and woodworking accoutrements are scattered about. A beautiful piece of wood that’s on its way to becoming a vase is secured to his lathe (a large machine that functions like a pottery wheel but works with wood). He says the stunning piece of wood was a former pinecone, and when it’s completed it will retail for about $700. This is the work of an artistic genius.

Hideandseek2Mike has never been able to keep his hands off of wood. The creative obsession started when he was just a boy at age 6. “I started making things out of whatever I could find,” he says. “I had a few tools and was always building things and I just never quit.” By the time he hit age 14, he made his own lathe.  Now, 51 years after he first started “making things” Mike will finally share with Santa Cruz audiences what the rest of the country has already figured out—that this segmented wood turning artist needs to come out of hiding.

And so does his wife. While Rainey may not be a full-time artist with nationally showcased work (like her husband), she may well be on her own journey to achieving similar success. She’s 55, and when you hear that she just started snapping pictures a year-and-a-half ago, yet now she’s operating at a near-professional level, it’s easy to surmise that artistic brilliance runs in this family.

She favors photography—colorful snapshots of nature, flowers, birds and the like. She zooms in, presses ‘click’ and out come images that look almost painterly. Colors and details are so vivid that her work takes on a surreal quality, like the series she shot of two avocet birds. “It was the end of the day, I saw her (the female bird) sticking her neck out over the water, and I aimed my camera there,” she says. “I watched this whole breeding thing happen. I cry every time I watch it.” (She turned the series into a slide show.) And in fact, it looks like Rainey captured a private moment between the two birds. The pictures are stunning and intimate, and at the end of the series we see the two birds nearly wrap their wings around each other and walk off. Unbelievingly intriguing and private.

“I’m trying to share intimate moments with nature,” Rainey says.  “Sometimes I’ll sit in the mud for three hours, and wait in a stinky old lagoon, wearing junky clothes, and I look like a total nerd, and I don’t care anymore. I wait for them to do something and I’ll start firing [taking pictures] over and over.”

Up until this Open Studios show, Rainey’s work has only been shown in one other place. She, like her husband, has remained fairly hidden to local audiences, but it seems that Santa Cruz and Open Studios have now found them.

Mike and Rainey Shuler will have their studios open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 13-14 and Oct. 20-21. Their studios are at 1735 Rodriguez St., Santa Cruz. Look for the bamboo.

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