In a storefront just off the town square in downtown Healdsburg, high ceilings, bright lights, white walls, and clean lines showcase the visual arts in multiple forms at the nonprofit Healdsburg Center for the Arts.
Walk down the center of this bright space (130 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707-431-1970) and you'll find either a juried or a curated exhibition, typically focused on a particular artistic medium or a central theme. About eight shows a year are presented, each displayed for anywhere from 4.5 to 9.5 weeks. One of the highlights is an annual clay and glass show.
"We try to curate the different ways that the medium is used," explained Diana Jameson, president of the center's board of directors. "We've had large sculpture out of glass, large sculptures out of clay, totems six-and-a-half-feet tall out of glass — things that are a bit unusual as well as small, collectible things."
There's also a members show each January, around a general theme; for 2015 it was "inside." Then in February it's the Young Artist show, featuring work by students in nine local schools and in the center's own youth education program.
The side areas of the gallery are rented to artists on a juried basis, creating a diverse and fascinating presentation of varied artworks. These artists also take shifts as volunteer support staff, greeting visitors and discussing the different artistic mediums that are on display.
About once a month (and more often in the November-December holiday season) an artist will be on hand to provide a demonstration —creating art while answering visitors' questions, and discussing topics such as the use of color, how water color differs from oil painting, or lost wax jewelry techniques.
On the left side of the gallery, stairs with an industrial-styled metal railing lead to a small balcony, where you can gaze down at the exhibition space below. Small groups of musicians perform there, especially during the holiday season in November and December, filling the gallery with soft melodies.
The center also has an ongoing relationship with the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, hosting at least one jazz concert each May. And each August the HCA's annual fundraiser, Opera in the Garden, is held on the Victorian estate at Madrona Manor Wine Country Inn.
In August or September of each year, the center stages its annual Healdsburg Art Festival. This signature event was originally held in nearby Healdsburg Plaza, but outgrew that location. In 2014 the festival expanded to two days instead of one, and filled the street in front of the gallery and the large parking lot next door with work by more than 80 artists and artisans, wine, beer, acoustic music, and poetry readings.
The Healdsburg Center for the Arts is just one of 22 art galleries, all within easy walking distance of each other, that join together to host the Second Saturday Artwalk, presenting art, food, and wine from 5 to 8 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month, May to December.
The HCA can be a great starting point for exploring Healdsburg. Incorporated in 1867, the town is named for gold-seeker-turned-store-owner Harmon Heald. Less than half a block from the arts center is the historic central plaza, named by Travel + Leisure Magazine as one of America's Most Beautiful Town Squares.
The plaza's outdoor bandstand hosts free concerts, antique fairs, the annual holiday tree lighting and other festivities. The surrounding stores are a shopper's delight with everything from antiques to fine art, crafts, clothing, gifts, and more.
To take a break from browsing and shopping, pick up a made-to-order sandwich at the Oakville Grocery and picnic in the plaza, or kick back and relax with a brew at the Bear Republic Brewing Company. Or, there are nearly 100 restaurants in the Healdsburg area, offering hearty hamburgers to haute cuisine, and just about everything in between.
Want to stay a bit longer, to have more time to explore the area? For a truly luxurious experience, check into the elegant and exclusive Madrona Manor (and consider dining at its Michelin-starred restaurant). For a more intimate B&B atmosphere, try the Raford Inn, a stunning 19th-century Queen Anne Victorian mansion (see photo on the right) about 15 minutes from the Healdsburg Plaza. Or go casual and comfortable in the Irish Rose Inn, a 1912 craftsman-style B&B in nearby Dry Creek Valley.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.