Traffic often slows in front of the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg in northern Sonoma County, as motorists crane to get a better look at the eye-catching artwork just inside the gallery's glassed-in entryway. A few drivers opt to circle the block, just so they can see it again.
About 12 feet wide and 10 feet high, "Text 28" by installation artist Christina LaSala uses tinted water in zip-closure plastic bags to represent the genetic sequence for the ability to see a broader range of color in the yellow spectrum. On permanent display in the gallery, this eye-catching piece is a fitting intro to this unusual home for contemporary art by mid-career and established artists with national and international reputations.
"It's more like a museum than an art gallery," said owner Paul Mahder. "At 8,500 square feet, it's the largest single-floor art gallery in California."
White walls 10 to 12 feet tall make a sharp contrast against the polished black concrete floor. Dark ceilings arch more than 30 feet overhead, creating an impressive indoor space where visitors' attention is naturally drawn to the colorful artwork adorning those white walls. The gallery occupies a double Quonset hut, constructed in the late 1940s as a machine shop for a winery, and last used as an antique cooperative.
"When I first walked into the building, I was dumbfounded," Mahder said. "It's an incredible space. … The moment I walked in I thought, this is the place."
Mahder represents artists from Northern California, throughout the United States, and worldwide, including artists from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Russia, and Bulgaria. Rather than specializing in a particular style or media, Mahder says what he looks for is an "authentic voice." The spacious gallery allows Mahder to display works of all sizes, and prices range from $350 to $280,000.
Working with architect Martin Dreiling of Dreiling Terrones Architecture, Mahder spent five months renovating the building before the gallery's grand opening in October 2014. This unique gallery is available for rent for receptions, parties, and other events.
"It's a great place for people to meet and to have something to look at and talk about as they're having their reception or party," Mahder said.
And when you're visiting the gallery, if you hear a commotion, it might be the gallery's mascot, Zeus. This Congo African gray parrot can be a bit shy if you're standing too close, but if you don't crowd him he spouts an array of interesting sounds and phrases — including the first six lines of the "to be or not to be" soliloquy from Shakespeare's "Hamlet."
And at the back of the gallery, you’ll find the tasting room for GrapeSeed Wines, a collective featuring one-of-a-kind wines from boutique micro-wineries and independent winemakers.
The Paul Mahder Gallery is a lively, vital space that reflects Healdsburg's growing interest in the arts. It's one of more than 20 art galleries in around the downtown Plaza, offering an intriguing variety of artistic visions.
Paul Mahder Gallery, 222 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-473-9150 (open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Monday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Tuesday).
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.