The History of the Arts Guild of Sonoma
In honor of our 40th anniversary celebration, we thought it would be informative and entertaining to reach out to the people who had been around in 1977, those that actually had the experience of starting the Arts Guild. That journey took us a few weeks and we found them in Sonoma, Oregon, Maryland and North Carolina. Fortunately, we had the very generous help of Barbara Jacobsen here in Sonoma, whose late husband Ray Jacobsen was one of the founders of the Arts Guild. We then interviewed as many as possible for this look back in time.
The Arts Guild was conceived by Sal Guardino, Ray Jacobsen and Richard Roth. Sometime in 1977 they had been attending the same art show in the Sonoma Plaza, it was rained out and they started talking about artists and the lack of venues for showing their work. There was one gallery in Sonoma that showed only paintings, whereas the three men believed that a gallery with more diverse offerings would serve the community better. After a few meetings, which took place at their alternating homes, they made a plan. Sal, Ray and Richard became the founders of Arts Guild of Sonoma. Sal and Richard took a drive to Sacramento and filed 501(c)3 non-profit papers in just a few hours one afternoon.
Based on the new regulations of the organization, they formed a Screening Committee and chose seven people as their first exhibitors – Christine Ford, Donna Guardino, John Mercer, Marguerite Pendergast, Beverly Prevost, Dave Prevost and Vince Taylor. They showed not only paintings, but sculptures, ceramics, jewelry, photography, pottery and printmaking.
Their first location was a tiny 6’ by 10’ space in the back of the historic El Paseo Building. It quickly became apparent that this site was not going to be large enough for their purposes. Sal negotiated a month-to-month space on First Street East, which is now the Boulangerie Bakery, and the landlord included the second floor in the agreement. Each person put up only $100 to get the gallery up and running, which was a lot to them at the time. It was a large, multi-level space where they were able to have a gallery and sales area on the ground floor, along with studio spaces. They gave art classes to children every afternoon on the second floor. Beverly Prevost said that it was a funky space, well suited to artists. She managed the shop for eight years, and by that time they had 20 people involved, including Roberta Alexander (who still exhibits today at the Arts Guild), John Curry, Barbara Jacobsen, and Lin Lipetz, to mention just a few. Beverly recalls that they disagreed a lot at shop meetings, and eventually they had to restrict everyone to 5-minute opinions otherwise the meetings would last for hours. Christine Ford remembers the meetings as “very energetic affairs with much shouting” but they eventually agreed on most issues.
Meanwhile, Donna Guardino took care of a newsletter as well.
During this time they had a very successful exhibition at what was then called the Mission Inn, now a Fairmont Hotel. In December they enjoyed good sales at their Christmas Shows. One well-received show they conceived of at that time was the Invitational, held every year, when outside artists could exhibit their art for one month at the invitation of a member artist. That practice is still in place today at the gallery. And nobody in Sonoma would ever forget the famous Erotic Art Shows, when they had erotic art of all kinds, prizes for costumes, and erotic-themed food (for adults only!). Creativity at its finest. Tickets for that one sold out fast.
They were located for a short time in a smaller gallery on Broadway, before they located to the current space at 140 East Napa Street in the La Haye Building. During these years they were ably assisted by Billie Balthus, Linda Bea, Tehra Braren, Bev Pearson and Sheryl Plush.
Vince Taylor, a Sonoma stained-glass artisan, joined the Guild after he had participated in the Renaissance Faire. He was seeking a year-round venue for his large-scale glass art. He recalls that they were all busy all the time, taking shifts to work in the gallery shop. They somehow managed to get through internal discord and floods, among other challenges. Vince then decided to focus his attention on commission work which was very successful for him. He continues to be a well-known and respected artisan of stained glass with commissions he receives from across the countr
Ray Jacobsen went on to become very influential in the arts, and his paintings are in many collections across the country. Sadly he is no longer with us. His widow Barbara curates his extensive works for continuing current exhibitions in the Bay Area.
Marguerite Pendergast, who now goes by her maiden name Marguerite Thomas, lives with her husband in Maryland. She was unable to travel to our opening reception as she will be out of the country that week, but we do have two pieces of her art on exhibit. At the time that she lived in Sonoma, Marguerite was a French Literature and French Cooking teacher at Sonoma State, and she is now a food and wine columnist for WineReviewOnline.com. She remembers that the initial group of artists frequently showed their work in local restaurants and bars, and she actually still has a painting with wine spots all over it! She remembers those early days very fondly (well, maybe not the wine spots). Marguerite said that the whole collaborative aspect of the Guild was its strength
Dave Prevost has passed, but Beverly Prevost has provided two of his impressive bronze sculptures for the show, along with her own ceramic pieces. Beverly made beautiful sculptural pieces for the Spanish Kitty Show and collaborated with Marguerite, who then painted on them. Beverly is still involved with the Arts Guild and participates in the Screening Committee jury sessions.
Donna and Sal Guardino moved to Oregon. Regrettably Sal passed two years ago but Donna still maintains their art gallery business. Donna is also unable to attend the opening but we have two of her pieces on view as well as two of Sal’s.
Christine Ford, the jewelry artisan, lives in Sonoma, and we are happy to report she will be participating in the opening, along with Barbara Jacobsen, Beverly Prevost and Vince Taylor. Christine was the person who told us about the “energetic” shop meetings, as well as the information about the first locations. You can view her jewelry creations at our event.
Richard Roth currently resides in North Carolina. At the inception of the Arts Guild, he was not an artist but a businessman, who took over the direction of the meetings and other group requirements as a Community Board member.
We were unable to find John Mercer anywhere, so unfortunately we have no comments from him, but we do have a unique black and white photograph to display. So many generous collectors were happy to lend us art for this event, and this is one of the pieces on loan.
Our exhibition provides a peek into the heart and soul of the Arts Guild, where it started and what it has become – a thriving arts cooperative conceived by a visionary group, in continuous operation for 40 years. We look forward to sharing more stories with you on the occasion of our 50th! Meantime, we exhibit the art of 20-30 local artists with new pieces every month and an opening reception for the public. Please join us!