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SLO County artists open studios to public, share works and creative process

rhys manning.jpg
Rachel Showalter
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Artist Rhys Manning stands next to her art inside her studio.

The San Luis Obispo County Open Studios Art Tour is a yearly program hosted by the SLO County Arts Council every October. Artists welcome the public to their studios for two weekends in a row to showcase their art and share their creative process.

More than 120 artists countywide are opening their studios to the public this year after the Arts Council held a virtual program in 2020.

30 artists are participating this year for the first time.

Rhys Manning is one of those first-time artists. She's a 14-year-old competitive swimmer, kitten fosterer, painter and jewelry maker. She said she is known for painting very colorful, happy pieces.

Manning says her most popular art is her pet portraits.

“All these — I have lots of examples — they are all someone’s dog. They send me pictures and then I paint them, either on canvas or rock, and they’re all custom,” Manning said.

Many of her pet portraits are memorial artworks for pets who have passed.

Rhys Manning.jpg
Rachel Showalter
Rhys Manning and her dad Michael welcome the public to view her art at her Los Osos home

Manning said she’s been making art with her mom for years but started investing more time in her craft during the pandemic.

She and her family decided she needed a dedicated space to create. So Manning started taking commissions and selling pieces to raise money to build her own studio in her backyard in Los Osos. She calls it her ‘she-shed.’

“Everything on the interior is all put together from me and my dad. So the flooring is all put in from us, all the walls, everything you see in here,” Manning said. “And it’s all 100 percent funded from my artwork.”

It’s got big windows, craft storage, a desk for work space and a comfy couch on the first level. Up above, there’s a loft with a bed for slumber parties. And outside the entrance doors — a view of the ocean.

Barry Lundgren is another artist participating in the Open Studios Tour. He said he’s been doing the tour for at least 14 years.

Lundgren’s art is in a number of galleries in San Luis Obispo County. He’s been a woodturner for nearly three decades and lives in Atascadero.

“I went to art school as a photographer and I really didn’t like the generic metal frames you put your pictures in,” Lundgren said. “So, I started making them out of wood.”

Over time, he said that turned into furniture making. One day he was at a trade show buying some equipment and he sat in on a demonstration by a man turning a natural edge wood bowl.

“He had it done in an hour and a lightbulb went off,” Lundgren said. “I bought a lathe and started turning, pretty much self-taught. And it’s just way more instant and for me gratifying to watch the shavings fly. And 25, 27 years later, this is what I do.”

Lundgren said people call him all the time to give him wood to work with. He said that makes his art more personal.

“Some of the woods that I have here were in friends’ firewood piles. Or I’ve got stuff from city tree guys that work on the Chippit,” Lundgren said. “There’s always a story behind every piece of wood.”

Barry Lundgren.jpg
Rachel Showalter
Woodturner Barry Lundgren uses a lathe to create statement pieces and usable bowls.

He makes artistic statement pieces and usable things like bowls and urns. He said sometimes they can take a year or even two to dry — and they can last generations.

Lundgren said his work doesn’t come without risk. He said the bigger the piece he is working with, the more beat up he gets. Sometimes he wears a helmet.

“I used to turn quite a few big pieces. Now it’s more of these smaller ones. They’re just not as hard on my shoulders,” Lundgren said. “Especially some of these natural edge burrells, this maple burrell. That’s got spikes and if that came off the lathe at a high speed, you’re just kinda done.”

Lundgren said woodturning is a labor of love. He said the risk is worth it for the art, especially when he gets to meet people who enjoy his work.

The San Luis Obispo County Open Studios Art Tour continues October 16-17. It’s free to the public and visitors can create their own self-guided tour using a downloadable catalog of all the participating artists and their studios.

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