Two new Santa Cruz exhibitions featuring sculptor Coeleen Kiebert

While I equally admire all the Going Coastal interviewees, someone had to be the first person featured in the book. That honor went to Rio Del Mar-based sculptor Coeleen Kiebert. When I first interviewed her in late 2001 in advance of Open Studios, she was continuing work on her Justice series (which stemmed from her son David’s unexpected death in 1996) and helping the community deal with the events of 9/11 through her sculpture. The interview opens Going Coastal, even though the fairly intense subject matter departs in tone from much of the book. Over the years Kiebert has nurtured the artistic potential of countless students, through her guide All of a Sudden: The Creative Process and the courses she teaches at UCSC Extension and in her studio. This month, two Santa Cruz galleries honor different aspects of her career.

In downtown Santa Cruz, the Felix Kulpa Gallery emphasizes Kiebert’s impact as a teacher. The artist’s own works are featured alongside her students’ sketches and sculptural studies. Last Sunday, I visited the gallery and was fascinated by the different directions of Kiebert’s influence. I started chatting enthusiastically with gallery manager Robbie Schoen. (Schoen, by the way, has his own chapter in Going Coastal, devoted to the fantastic electric guitars he fashions from found objects. If you go to this post, you can watch Isaac Frankle play Schoen’s notorious shovel guitar.) “Coeleen also has a show at the old Wrigley Building right now,” Schoen replied. “You should check it out.”

I heeded Schoen’s advice and went to the R. Blitzer Gallery, which currently features As We See It: East & West Coast Women Artists. Curated by  Californian painter Mary Alice Copp (who is also featured), the show displays work by five women artists who happen to be longtime friends. Kiebert’s Polar Navigator sculptures whimsically play off the visually striking landscapes painted by Iceland native (and current New Jersey resident) Laufey Vilhjálmsdóttir Bustany. LaThoriel Badenhausen’s assemblages and embroideries explore women’s concerns with thought-provoking cleverness. Copp and Carol Goodman depict the places that mean most to them: northern California for Copp, Massachusetts’ Williamstown for Goodman. Not only will you experience a great exhibition if you go, you will most likely have the opportunity to talk to sculptor/gallery owner Robert Blitzer himself. (In just a few minutes with him, I learned about Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, the dueling South Pole expeditions of Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott, and the sculptural properties of copper welding wire.)

Both exhibitions will close in December (with Thanksgiving week affecting the galleries’ hours), so I recommend visiting soon! The Felix Kulpa Gallery is open from 12 to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at 107 Elm Street in Santa Cruz (near the back entrance of Streetlight Records). Check or phone (408) 373-2854 for details. The R. Blitzer Gallery is open from 12 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 2801 Mission Street in Santa Cruz. More details appear at, or phone (831) 458-1217 for more information.

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