- The Panache Gallery on Main Street is one of two owned by Susan Cimmiyotti. Photography by Charles R. Lucke
Mendocino is the town that art built.
Half a century ago this charming village was almost a ghost town. Perched on a promontory at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Mendocino had been a bustling northern California lumber center. But when its mill shut down in 1938, the economy did too. Residents left, abandoning houses.
Then, in 1957, William and Jennie Zacha came camping. An artist based near San Francisco, William was swept away by the beauty of the rugged coastline, the redwood forests, and the town itself—gingerbread cottages, New England-style farmhouses and Old West storefronts. Their daughter, Lucia Zacha, says, “This was the place my father had been looking for all his life.” The Zachas bought one of the empty houses and moved north.
Convinced that art could save the town, William Zacha set out to prove it. He paid $500 for the site of a mansion that had burned to the ground. In the outbuildings he founded the Mendocino Art Center in 1959. Other artists joined him, enticed by the center’s classes, studios and exhibitions.
“The town was resur rected because of the Art Center,” says the center’s executive director, Peggy Templer. “It’s the reason the town is what it is.”
Today art is everywhere—in galleries, gift shops, gardens, cafes and studios. Mendocino’s population, around 1,000, includes a high percentage of artists.
Visitors are drawn by the irresistible combination of high-quality art and scenic splendor in a relaxed, step-back-in-time environment. Brisk walkers can stroll the town in an hour. Art lovers should allow at least a day to enjoy the natural and handcrafted wonders.
One quirky note: Mendocino has two address-numbering systems: most people use county-issued five-digit numbers, but others prefer their old three-digit addresses.
The Mendocino Art Center (45200 Little Lake St., 707- 937-5818) is the place to begin. Enter through the f lower-f illed Zacha Sculpture Garden, the heart of a vibrant institution that offers four galleries, workshops and performances. On the grounds are a theater, apartments for visiting artists, and studios where students and professionals create fine art, ceramics, jewelry, sculpture and textiles.
From the Art Center, amble east past the Victorians along Mansion Row. Detour into Color & Light (10525 Ford St., 707-937-1003), a studio made bright by the fused- and stainedglass art of Linda Brown.
At Lansing Street, head toward the tall, asymmetrical building on the next corner—the William Zimmer Gallery (10481 Lansing, 707-937-5121). In a showplace that would be at home in a major city, Zimmer has assembled sculpture, paintings, glass, ceramics, jewelry and furniture from all over the world. “We’re a crossover gallery,” he says. “The distinctions between f ine arts and crafts are artif icial. What does it matter what the material is if the work is beautiful and enriches a life?”
Pause to chuckle nearby at Art That Makes You Laugh (45000 Main St., 707-937-1354), which features paintings by Jeff Leedy. This is the first of several worthwhile stops along the north side of Main Street—though the wild bluffs and blue bay to the south will compete for your attention.
Highlight Gallery (45052 Main, 707-937-3132), inside a Victorian cottage, showcases paintings, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry and glass by 200 artists. It gleams with warm tones of wood. Highlight is known for furniture by designers such as Tom McFadden and the Meier Brothers. “Working with artists one-to-one is what endeared me to the gallery,” says owner Sharon Peterson.
Two Visions Gallery (45104 Main, 707-937-3898) showcases photographs by Lisa Kristine and Chris Honeysett. Kristine works in color while Honeysett prefers black and white, and they focus on different subject matter. Yet side by side the photos reveal complementary styles and artistic philosophies.
Celtic Creations (45098 Main, 707-937-1223) is the second-f loor studio of jewelry artists Chris and Shani Christensen. Inspired by nature and ancient symbols, they use gold, silver and gemstones to fabricate custom designs.
As you step into bay-windowed Panache Gallery (45110 Main, 707- 937-0947), vivid colors catch your eye. Bright-toned paintings harmonize with the vibrant art glass that is a specialty here. Owner Susan Cimmiyotti says, “I love putting glass with paintings because of the interplay of colors.”
The modern green building in the next-to-last block was designed by William Zacha as his family’s home. The second f loor is the informal Zacha Gallery (484 Main, 707-937-5205); call for an appointment to see the town benefactor’s art, including “Tokaido Journey,” serigraphs of Japan that he considered his masterworks.
Near the end of the street you’ll find the Artist’s Co-op of Mendocino (45270 Main, 707-937-2217). Its gallery offers paintings, photography, sculpture, jewelry and a spectacular view.
The ocean beckons. Take a break to wander the bluffs, listen to the sounds of the surf and smell the salty air. As winter approaches, dress for cool, gray weather, and carry rain gear; that’s when Pacif ic storms roll in, often leaving brilliant blue skies behind. Keep an eye out for gray whales, which migrate from December through April.
Now backtrack up Main to Kasten Street. Head one block north to where Kasten meets Albion Street.
A second Panache Gallery, in a yellow carriage house (10400 Kasten, 707-937-1234), has its own artists. “We try to keep the galleries unique,” Cimmiyotti explains. While you’ll find art glass and paintings here too, this location carries more steel and wood sculpture than its Main Street twin, and different styles of jewelry.
Clinton Smith Gallery (333 Kasten, 707-937-2261) displays Smith’s hand-printed landscape and nature photographs. The World of Suzi Long, tucked into a water tower (611 Albion, 707-937-5664), exhibits Long’s seascapes. Next door, Compass Rose (613 Albion, 800- 900-9894) specializes in leather; you can watch Ed O’Brien craft purses. At Sticks (45085 Albion, 707-937- 2621), Bob Keller offers rustic handmade furniture, birdhouses, baskets and his photographs. The Mendocino Jewelry Studio (45050 Albion, 707-937-0181) features gold and silver creations by Nancy Gardner and other designers.
Finish your walk at Coastside Gallery (45055 Albion, 707-937- 4960). The shed-like exterior gives little hint of what lies within—an elegant space filled with sculpture, furniture, jewelry and wall-hung art, including plein-air art works by owner Kevin Milligan. A history buff, Mulligan collects Mendocino’s stories as well as painting the town’s shapes, colors and special quality of light.
“Mendocino is a community of artists,” Milligan says. That observation would have made William Zacha smile.