Long ago, Chumash artists daubed colorful pigments on cave walls, creating evocative images that continue to inspire lively debate. Intending to ignite a similar dialogue about the power of contemporary art, last fall former Santa Ynez Valley High School art teacher Connie Rohde-Stanchfield opened The C Gallery, an airy, innovative space located in Los Alamos. Rohde-Stanchfield named her contemporary art gallery “C” in reference to alliterative associations—including compassion, community, courage, commitment (and chocolate)—that she deems vital, and because her own name begins with that letter.
With a toss of her short, silvery hair and a sun-bright smile, she describes her enterprise as part business proposition, part “retirement playpen.”
The C Gallery showcases a diversity of art forms, from painting and sculpture to ceramics, mosaic and furniture. In addition to the Permanent Artists Collection, which features local luminaries such as Dara Mark, Luis Ramirez and Bud Tullis as well as noted artists from across the country, Rohde-Stanchfield mounts revolving exhibits by some of the art world’s most dynamic personalities.
With shows booked through June 2010, Rohde-Stanchfield explains the driving criterion for choosing her artists.
“I have to love their work, that’s the main thing,” she says. “There are times I’ll stand in front of a piece of art, and maybe I can’t articulate it in words, but it’s definitely impacting me. There’s a voice, a message, a feeling.”
In partnership with her daughter, Nina Rohde Brown, owner of Pronto Productions, a Los Angeles-based publicity production firm, Rohde-Stanchfield has created a welcoming gallery where artists, aficionados and the merely curious can gather and discuss art.
A busy schedule of exhibitions and a slate of convivial events—including the popular “Sing to Me” series, which brings together art, music and sparkling wine—provide plenty of fuel for dynamic discussion.
“I’m going to try all kinds of things,” Rohde-Stanchfield declares. “I want to find out who exactly wants to talk art and how they want to talk about it, so every five or six weeks, I plan to change the show and put in something else.”
Since as far back as 1981, while serving as Director of Family School, Rohde-Stanchfield has endeavored to get others, especially youngsters, involved in the arts.
As founder of Arts Outreach, she marshaled her institution’s cooperative parent body to volunteer their talents to stage art, dance and storytelling workshops in local public schools.
“The schools needed the arts so badly,” she remembers, “and we were so rich in the arts. I said, ‘what if we started sharing what we know and do?’”
Despite the fact that she and two assistants initially worked out of her garage, under her direction, the Arts Outreach budget doubled each year. For 15 years, she headed the well-loved organization, which continues to thrive.
A recipient of the prestigious Disney American Teacher award in 2003 (she was one of 30 winners out of 185,000 applicants), Rohde-Stanchfield taught at Santa Ynez Valley High School for 15 years, transforming a sleepy arts program into a department celebrated for its students’ creativity and accomplishments.
“I was trained as an English teacher and had a minor in art,” she explains. “I went back to school to get the credentials I needed to teach advanced art, which went well because the kids and I were exploring and learning together. It wasn’t like I had all the answers, I was just a good adult facilitator.”
Mere weeks after her retirement in June 2008, Rohde-Stanchfield opened The C Gallery and began offering art classes to adult women in the gallery’s studio.
The year-long classes, which quickly sold out, help support the operation of the gallery. “I LOVE to teach,” she declares. “I love being a part of that ‘aha!’ process. Because I invest so much into my teaching, I’ve never really fully cultivated the artist part of me, so I still consider myself a working art student.”
With the assistance of her husband, Lee, who helps hang and photograph the artwork and also serves as the gallery’s webmaster, Rohde-Stanchfield plans to mount a remarkable summer line-up of exhibitions, beginning in June with “Abstract Journey.”
This ambitious show features the sculptures of Suzi Trubitz, a Santa Ynez-based artist who works in metal, glass and wood. Wielding grinder and plasma torch, Trubitz turns massive sheets of steel into glittering filigree, completing her statements with bits of mirror, colored glass and found objects, as well as luminous, heat-induced hues.
“Suzi does big, beautiful wall sculptures,” Rohde-Stanchfield says. “One piece is four feet by four feet, and she’s cut this tiny, fabulous detail out of steel. It’s breathtaking, because of the power of the steel against the delicacy of the lace,” she continues, “and you don’t know quite how to read it. You picture the fire she uses when she torches it, and then those tiny spaces of air. When I see it, I feel like, ‘just be quiet, just sit there and drink it in.’”
Rohde-Stanchfield marvels at the stature of Trubitz’s talent and reputation, and believes the artist agreed to show her work in the small gallery because “she wants us to do well. I feel she’s giving me a gift by putting her art here,” she says, “and I’m very excited about the show. When the vibe is right, so many good things can happen.”
From August 8 through September 9, The C Gallery welcomes an unusual collection from Luke Haynes, an architect from North Carolina who is also an accomplished quilter.
“You think of quilting as being feminine and traditional,” Rohde-Stanchfield laughs, “but Luke’s turned it on its head. He’s a man and he’s doing non-traditional subject matter in quilts. How great is that?” Based on responses to a four-question email survey, Haynes has created 10 art quilts that reflect a collective impression of “American Nostalgia,” the theme of the show.
“One of his quilts is an American flag with a little twist,” Rohde-Stanchfield reveals. “Instead of having stars in the upper corner, it has a lattice-crust apple pie.
“When people walk in,” she adds, “perhaps they’re going to see their own idea in the show. It’ll be like it’s their show. I love that!”
Outside The C Gallery stands a signboard festooned with the simple word “Yes.” That single sentiment reflects the heart of Rohde-Stanchfield’s vision for the arts and the ongoing debate that it inspires, especially in and around the Santa Ynez Valley. “We could do with a lot more yeses,” she smiles. “You have to be deeply human to work in the arts, I think, because art is visual language.
“There’s a sophistication to the dialogue that comes through art,” she says. “I believe that everybody is bilingual, and I want to see where the dialogue is in this area, at this time, with people who love art.”