Last week I visited several towns along the Northern Coast: Booneville, Fort Bragg, Mendocino, Philo, Westport, Santa Rosa, Napa and Sonoma. I ended up spending three days in Mendocino, two days longer than expected, because there were so many people of interest to interview. Two that come to mind are Sharon Peterson, owner of the Highlight Gallery and Jessica Norris, director of the Mendocino Art Center.
The Highlight Gallery on Main Street started as many galleries here have, as a cooperative gallery with an emphasis on fine woodworking. Mendocino, a former Mill Town has been host to some of the finest woodcrafters in the world and has had a close relationship with the nearby College of the Redwoods. The college offers a variety of community-based classes, including its world-famous Fine Woodworking Program started by master woodworker James Krenov.Sharon, an artist who showed me some of the finest examples of woodworking I have seen in a long time. Because, there is a long-standing relationship between Mendocino and Santa Cruz, some of the work was by Santa Cruz artists.
The Mendocino Art Center was established on the grounds of the former Preston mansion, which was featured in the James Dean movie East of Eden. When the mansion burned to the ground in 1957, Bill Zacha acquired the entire park-like property with a $500 deposit. By 1959 the remaining carriage house had been converted to the nucleus of the Art Center, while other outbuildings and animal sheds became the first studios. Now the Art Center is an educational and exhibition facility as well as home to Mendocino Theatre Company. Needless to say, for a small Mill Town there is a lot going on in the arts.