The Board of Directors of the Arts Council of Mendocino County is pleased to announce the 21st Annual Mendocino County Arts Champion Award recipients.
Arts Champions, nominated each year by community members and selected by the Arts Council board were formally recognized with a consent calendar proclamation of the Board of Supervisors at their meeting on October 31, 2023. A reception followed the proclamation at the County Administration Center on Low Gap Road in Ukiah. Please join the Arts Council of Mendocino County in recognizing and celebrating the 2023 Arts Champions in the following categories: Artist: Solange Roberdeau; Business: Pear Tree Center/Cire Equity; Educator: Doug Browe; Individual: Jess Thompson.
Solange Roberdeau, Arts Champion in the Artist category, is an Elk-based printmaker and educator. She works at Art Explorers, Inc. in Fort Bragg as the Gallery Coordinator and as a teacher, and is adjunct faculty at Mendocino College where she teaches printmaking. She holds an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD, where she also taught as an adjunct faculty member from 2019-22. She earned a BFA in Printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI in 2005.
Since 2020, Solange has offered fine art workshops in private and public elementary schools in Mendocino County. She has received Artist in Residence fellowships from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Taos, NM; the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Bethany, CT; and Can Serrat, El Bruc, Spain. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, and is represented by Municipal Bonds gallery, San Francisco, CA.
The late potter, ceramic artist, and sculptor, Doug Browe, is the 2023 honoree in the Education Category. Ceramics led Doug’s life for over 45 years. A two-year pottery apprenticeship at age 21 led to undergraduate work and then to a working tour with British potters. Driven originally to make objects of use from locally occurring materials led to a 30-year studio practice working collaboratively with Jan Hoyman and their apprentices at Hoyman/Browe Studio 1979-2009.
Doug’s passion for prospecting and mining local ceramic materials, inspired by working with Dick Hotchkiss in 1976, led Potters for Peace to ask Doug to set up a ceramic studio in a Burmese Refugee camp in 2002, and to return in 2004 to train refugees in making water filters. To date, tens of thousands of these filters have now been made and distributed throughout rural Burma/Myanmar saving countless numbers of children’s lives with their bacteria filtering capabilities.
Returning to college at the age of 51 in 2004 led Doug to begin his second art career, teaching at Mendocino College in 2007 where he was chair of the Ceramics and Sculpture Department until his untimely death from mantle cell lymphoma in April 2023. Doug’s studio work examined the historic practice of morphing ceramic Vessels into Figures, Landscapes and Architectures objects.
Arts Council of Mendocino County board member Marvin Schenck noted that Doug, “Was such a force in ceramics. You couldn’t say no to him when he was trying to lobby for things.” A community member who nominated Doug for this honor shared that Doug was an inspiration to students — not just in his long career as an artist — but in how he lived his life and demonstrated a path of creative growth.
Pear Tree Center/Cire Equity, the 2023 Business Arts Champion, understands the wide range of value artists and arts organizations bring to their communities and neighboring businesses. Cire Equity has supported individual local and regional artists through commissioning and licensing their work, and has generously assisted local nonprofit organizations by underwriting the cost of space rental in formative years, allowing the organizations they support to pursue innovative programming and serve the needs of the Greater Ukiah region.
Jess Thompson, this year’s Arts Champion in the Individual category, is an artist, teacher, and community organizer who co-founded the Cider Creek Collective ceramic studio and artist residency in Albion with her husband, potter Nick Schwartz (Arts Champion in 2022).
Since moving to the coast from Comptche in 2021, Jess has been working on what she informally calls the CoLab, bringing arts leaders, community organizers, and craftspeople together to brainstorm ways to collaborate. Jess says: “I like to connect people, beginning with pure curiosity: asking questions about what their experiences have been, what their plans are, looking for overlap.”
Jess and Nick have cultivated a communal atmosphere at their shared studios for many years, and the positive results continue to accumulate: Jess shares, “A fair number of people who’ve met working with us have even married and had children!” Within Cider Creek Collective, young resident artists help make decisions and take major roles in firings, shows, and building projects; they help the surrounding community, especially elders, with projects. Neighbors come through the property at all times on their daily walks, bringing friends to tour, and trading equipment or supplies. Cider Creek has become a community hub, and Jess is encouraging other local institutions like the Mendocino Art Center (MAC) to take a similar approach.
“These heritage sites are like campuses. Folks can meet and exchange ideas, and use the art studios as headquarters for creative activities.” The MAC is a major inspiration as well; many local artists, like Jess, moved to the area first as resident artists there; the MAC’s year-long residencies oblige young artists to get involved and work in the local community, which encourages them to stay or at least stay connected.
Jess received a BFA from Penn State University in Painting, studied ceramics at Oregon College of Art and Craft, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and the Carbondale Clay Center, and completed a four-year apprenticeship at the Hoyman-Browe Studio in Ukiah. She received her MFA from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, and has taught at Mendocino College, with her old boss and close friend, Doug Browe.
In 2018 Jess traveled to Nepal, spent a summer living in the Himalayas, and upon her return began studying Tibetan thangka painting. Jess writes, “This feels like the future for me. The Buddhist approach to artmaking embodies beneficial ways of thinking and being that are useful on an everyday basis, and motivated by a desire to help others. Ultimately what I’m trying to find out is how an artist can help the world simply by being an artist.”
Jess, Nick, and Cider Creek Collective are focusing all efforts on developing a business model that, while working for the good of the community, does so by allowing themselves, their artists, and the community to be in the studio making things as much as possible. They’re viewing the coastal culture as an ecosystem, where generative work keeps everyone productive, and the goal is a thriving, stable equilibrium. Cider Creek is actively collaborating with Salmon Creek Farm, the Mendocino Art Center, the Noyo Food Forest, and more on programs and projects.
They’re digging local clay, reducing industrial and non-local inputs wherever possible; growing food and sharing it; and gathering local colleagues and neighbors together around warm kilns and dinner tables to discuss ways to generate creative livelihoods together. For Jess, “the key word is collaboration, a word that’s popping up everywhere in popular culture for a reason. We need to generate a supportive, sustainable, inclusive local culture if we’re going to thrive amidst all the challenges. Many hands and a high quality of life will make it more fun!”
The Mendocino County Arts Champion Awards are annually announced in October to coincide with National Arts and Humanities Month, a coast-to-coast celebration of culture in America.