Benicia Magazine March 2019

Page 1

Pottery Studio Downtown clay studio offers pottery projects and classes, and a beautiful retail store

Youth Sailing

Benicia Yacht Club certification program teaches kids as young as 8 to learn to sail


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Volume 14 Issue 5 March 2019


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Editor Jeanne Steinmann Editorial Assistant Kris Caplin


Graphic Design magazine Margaret Bowles

Web Specialist Yarrow Sweningsen Contributors Adriene Rockwell Tomoka Red St. Johns Beth Steinmann Christina Strawbridge Courtney Tait Photography Lisa Duncan Jerry Bowles

Advertising sales Mary Hand 707.373.2213 Advertising deadlines New ads: the 5th of the month prior to the issue month Ad changes: 6 weeks prior to the issue month

Contact Us 707.853.5226, Administration Office Manager Risë Goebel Copy Editor/proofreader Beth Steinmann Benicia Magazine is published monthly by Polygon Publishing, LLC. Copyright © 2019, all rights reserved. Contents of Benicia Magazine cannot be reproduced in whole or in part without the written consent of the publisher. Opinions expressed in Benicia Magazine editorial or advertisements are those of the authors and advertisers, and may not reflect the opinion of Benicia Magazine’s management or publisher. Subscriptions $18.00 per year. Benicia Magazine, Downtown Benicia, CA 94510. 707.853.5226, 4 • Benicia Magazine







Need additional copies? Contact the Community Relations office: Valero Benicia Refinery, 3400 East Second Street, Benicia CA 94510

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Doing Our Part for Fire Safety Have you noticed our hoofed friends tending to the vegetation on Valero’s open land?

Valero has been doing business with Goats”R”us for over ten years. There are over 750 goats at work, along with one shepherd and a dog. Some find them cute, but the goats serve an important safety purpose, according to Lacey Sutherland, Manager of Refinery Safety. “We have a really bad wildfire risk around here, and we have low humidity,” she said. “We can have the goats in spring and they’re

probably out here for a month or two and they’re out of there by the time burn season starts.” Ed Bendix, Maintenance Specialist, said that while humans are still required to clear the areas closest to the refinery with tractors, the goats cover most of the firebreak area surrounding the refinery. “You don’t think about using a goat for mitigation of fire potential in your area, but they do a really good job of cutting down on grass and weeds,” said Paul Modjesky, Superintendent of Refinery Safety. “The goats do a really good service for us.” No kidding: goats mark a decade of controlling wildfire risks in Benicia.

AlertSolano messages are used for localized emergencies such as storms, earthquakes or environmental hazards. The Benicia Refinery would like to make sure that Benicians are receiving community alerts. To join the many residents who currently receive notifications go to the Solano County website and sign up for AlertSolano notifications. • 5 • 5

March 2019

Contents Features


In Every Issue

Happy Life Pottery is creating a buzz at downtown studio and retail gallery 18


From the Editor 8

Benicia Yacht Club offers young sailors training & certification 20

Benicia Middle School hosts St. Patrick’s Day-themed fundraiser 14

SF’s Golden Gate Symphony Orchestra & Chorus opens new Benicia chapter

Calendar 24 10



Police Chief Upson to update City Council with a special report 15 Above: BYC Sailboats with Robby and Rudy Autz and Lauren Ross near downtown Benicia, Photo by Derith Lutz Cover Photo: David Stellato and Amy Therese, at Happy Life Pottery, Lisa Duncan Photography

6 • Benicia Magazine


Benicia storefront signs highlight downtown charm


Food & Drink

Spirited Irish-themed fun returns for St. Patrick’s Day Beer Crawl


Music 25 Art Watercolor artist Joanne Masias Gustilo captures ephemeral moments 26 Jose Luis Varto relentlessly explores new forms of artistic expression 27 Vision and harmony meet in Ken Cook’s paintings at Gallery 621 28 Husband and wife show individual paintings at Arata Art Gallery 28 Library art gallery features Crazy for Color: Portraits from Enchanted Places 29 Trends The pompom fashion trend is back with a vengeances 30

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March 2019 Our March issue is jam-packed with articles on a variety of topics. First up, a discussion between Benicia City Manager Lorie Tinfow and Police Chief Erik Upson on transparency in government and community involvement, led to an extensive report to be presented to the city council March 5. The report will cover trends and current challenges. It’s accessible in person at city hall, on Comcast Ch. 27, AT&T U-Verse Ch. 99 or on streaming video: On a lighter note, with warmer weather on the horizon, we highlight a long-time program at the Yacht Club that teaches sailing lessons to kids. See the story on the plucky youngsters who participate on page 20. Our cover story features Happy Life Pottery and Gallery, a recent addition to downtown offering pottery classes on electric wheels. In college I loved the Zen-like process of centering and shaping clay, facilitating the expression of style and creativity. There are copious fun things to do this month—get tickets now if you like beer because Main Street is gearing up for its annual St. Patrick’s Day Beer Crawl March 16. Details on page 17. Benicia Middle School is hosting the fundraiser Shamrocks and Shenanigans at the Clock Tower March 15, “for teachers to create hands-on, real world experiences that engage students in deeper learning.” As an added bonus, Benicia’s Bruehol Brewing will be on hand with a special ale they created for the event. There are many art events to choose from as well— pick your favorite or visit them all. The galleries have artist receptions where you can enjoy a glass of wine and talk with the artists, or peruse their work at leisure during gallery hours. At the recent Arts Benicia Art of a Community opening there were so many people, it was difficult to see the art. But the connections made and reestablished were priceless. I love that unlike big cities, art is so accessible here; there’s no pressure to just go in and look at art that spans all skill levels. If you fancy yourself a singer, why not check out Benicia’s new chorus, a recent adjunct of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Discover more about the new endeavor and the first concert planned for May in these pages—all are welcome to join. How’s that for accessibility? —Jeanne Steinmann


8 • Benicia Magazine



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Scene Culture

Rehearsing with conductor Gaspard Mbole at the Benicia chapter of the Golden Gate Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, photo by Bodil Fox

San Francisco Based Orchestra and Chorus Launches Benicia Chapter By Tomoka Red St. Johns About two-dozen years ago, Larnie Fox joined what is now the Golden Gate Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Even though she didn’t read music, Bodil Fox decided to accompany her husband to a rehearsal. The San Francisco-based community chorus welcomed her. They didn’t even test her voice to see if she could sing. The couple participated in formal performances as well as those in less customary places where people gather. The Foxes sadly gave up participating after moving to Benicia, deterred by San Francisco’s heavy traffic. Fortunately, a satellite chapter has started here, welcoming local singers, experienced or otherwise. “It’s an opportunity for someone who is not quite learned in music to try out and see if you like it, and to learn,” Bodil said. “It’s a safe environment to do that.” She speaks from firsthand experience. Unable in the beginning to read a score’s lines and dots, she sat near a good singer, learned how to translate those notations and became a singer herself. “If you are willing to put an effort into it and learn, that’s perfect.” 10 • Benicia Magazine

Benicia’s satellite chorus was conceived during a visit with the organization’s maestro, Urs Leonhardt Steiner. He and the Foxes discussed the challenges of reaching San Francisco in time for rehearsals, the enjoyment found in the orchestra and chorus and their mutual love of one cantata, Carmina Burana. Steiner agreed it made more sense for him to come to Benicia rather than for many people living in the North or East Bay to drive to San Francisco, and said his chorus leader, Gaspard Mbole, of Walnut Creek, could assist in training the singers. Using social media and other outlets, the Foxes accumulated a list of 60 interested participants, of which more than 30 rehearse regularly. Because that’s too many to meet in a private home, they accepted Community Congregational Church’s offer as a rehearsal site. They found a pianist to play the music for their first cantata. No surprise—it’s Carmina Burana. “People from all walks of life are there,” Bodil said. “There is a seriousness about this, but there’s an enjoyment. You have to have some fun with it as well.”

The Benicia chapter will make its debut at 4pm on Mother’s Day, May 12, at the Clock Tower to perform the piece, where they’ll be joined by the rest of the Golden Gate Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Benicia Arts and Culture Commission is the primary sponsor of the performance. Steiner likes to bring the orchestra and chorus to places where people gather, so it also will perform at 7pm, May 13 at Southern Pacific Brewing Company in San Francisco. The Benicia chapter will join the rest of the company performing at 7pm, May 18 at the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Rehearsals are 7-9pm on Wednesdays at the Community Congregational Church, 1305 W. Second St., and participants are asked to pay a membership fee to cover the space and pianist. Sopranos, altos, tenors and bass singers are welcome, as well as those who don’t yet know which part they sing. Tickets will be available locally and at the organization's website,

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Scene Culture

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By Tomoka Red St. Johns Passalacqua Funeral Chapel has been a part of Benicia for so long that some don’t realize that until 1943, it was the partnership of Chisholm and Passalacqua, said John Passalacqua, its current president and director. John’s great-grandfather, Nicola Passalacqua, came to the Bay Area from Italy, bypassing the usual entry via Ellis Island. He bought a ranch that covered the present site of the Benicia High School campus, and sold produce. Other family members eventually settled in Healdsburg, Santa Rosa and San Jose. Nicola’s son, Frank, was the first of the Passalacquas to enter the funeral business. He became the mortuary’s owner in 1943, and ran it until retiring in 1962. Frank’s son and John’s father, Donald, took over the business and expanded it in 1973, when he bought Twin Chapels Mortuary, which has been operating in Vallejo since the 1950s. He remained in charge of Passalacqua Funeral Chapel until 1992. John joined the firm on Jan. 3, 1977, becoming its president and director after his father. He wasn’t pressured, but he listened to his father’s suggestion to attend San Francisco College of Mortuary Science and get his required documents. “I’ve been here ever since,” he said. Another Benician, Greg Silva, has been with the Vallejo mortuary 30 years. Working in his hometown has affected how John approaches his business. “I think you’ve got to give them caring, compassionate service, with great attention to detail at a fair price—and great customer service.” John understands customer’s needs. He’s performed mortuary services for people he knows, including childhood friends and family members. He was 23 when his paternal grandmother died. His father asked him to take care of her. Through his tears, he prepared his grandmother’s appearance. After the funeral, his maternal grandmother asked, “When I go, 12 • Benicia Magazine

will you fix me up, too?” She died unexpectedly three days later. Once more, John was in charge. “In the space of nine days, I lost two grandmothers,” John said. “I couldn’t imagine it, but I just did it. That’s how you grow up. But I couldn’t imagine not taking care of it, as hard as it might be. I couldn’t imagine anything else. I love being here for the people of our town, and the people of our town appreciate we’re here—and here for a long time.” Many know John by his childhood nicknames, taken from his perceived resemblance to Sherman from the time-traveling cartoon show, Peabody and Sherman. A mortuary with its own crematory, Passalacqua Funeral Chapel provides services locally others might expect only from corporate-owned funeral homes, whether everything is done here in town or arrangements are needed for funerals or burial elsewhere. Passalacqua Funeral Chapel has kept up with the times, from referring clients to bereavement counseling experts to providing “green” options. The chapel also has video capabilities so a life can be summarized and celebrated wordlessly. “I think it’s important to celebrate a person’s life and legacy,” John said. “It turns a negative experience into a positive experience,” he said. Despite modernization, his job has remained the same, meeting with families, often just hours after they have suffered a loss. “They come in, tell me what they want and don’t want, and we put a plan into motion. They don’t have to worry about a thing.” Above: John Passalacqua, Passalacqua Funeral Chapel, Lisa Duncan Photography Passalacqua Funeral Chapel 901 West Second St., Benicia

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Scene Education

at g n i m o c Up l o o h c S Middle ser i Fundra By Adriene Rockwell Entering middle school can be like riding a wild bull in an emotional rodeo. This is scientifically proven. For tweens, it has a lot to do with the amygdala, the emotional part of the brain that now takes the reins. Meanwhile, parents are wrangling the complex emotions of letting their not-so-little ones go. In any case, no one involved is quite ready to grow up. That’s why the Benicia Middle School PTSA decided it was time for some shenanigans. Shamrocks & Shenanigans, to be more specific. The St. Patrick’s-themed fun takes place March 15 at the Clock Tower and the event has two main purposes: to build a sense of community for middle school families, and to raise funds for the game-changing BMS Innovative Grants Program. It’s not the first trip to the rodeo for the three chairwomen Crystal Luna Yarnell, Sarah George and Alex Meade—who were active in their children’s elementary schools. For all three, the transition from a cozy 500-student K-5 campus to the more autonomous middle school with 1,200 adolescents was a bumpy ride. And they aren’t alone. “In elementary school we see more of each other when we pick up our kids, and we tend to be more involved in the classrooms. In middle school the rules change, and parents can’t come on campus to pick up their kids anymore,” says Crystal, a marriage and family therapist whose son is in sixth grade. “It’s easy to lose that automatic sense of

14 • Benicia Magazine

community.” “And for some families, the middle school years are when parents decide to go back to work full time,” said Sarah, social worker and former PTG President at Robert Semple. “I was one of those parents, and it definitely changed my ability to connect with other parents and teachers,” she adds. “But, it’s an important time in our kids’ lives, and in ours, to stay connected.” Creating a place for families to connect was the genesis of Shamrocks & Shenanigans, but it quickly evolved to fill another important gap: funding for teachers to create hands-on, real world experiences that engage students in deeper learning. The BMS PTSA has worked closely with the Benicia Education Foundation (BEF) that raises funds for innovative programs at all Benicia public schools, and together they awarded $14,000 in grants last year for teacher-driven projects that transcend the classroom walls. The funding has supplied BMS science classrooms with digital microscopes, equipped with cameras that link

Scene Community learners to the greater scientific community. Other students have access to early morning mindfulness classes that help shape positive neural pathways and set the tone for their days. With new video production technology, students are broadcasting campus news from the middle school’s own Viking TV—including a meteorological forecast from a BMS grant-funded weather station. Thanks to early event sponsors, all proceeds raised on the night of Shamrock & Shenanigans will support more innovative grant programs that will surpass our imagination. The festivities are for adults, and you’ll want to dress in your luckiest green. In true St. Patrick's style, you’ll enjoy dancing music, a live comedienne, Irish-themed food—and plenty of pints. You’ll be gobsmacked by the live and silent auctions (tip: premium Warriors tickets, elegant weekend getaway, wine packages and so much more), a new “Luck of the Irish” game and all kinds of silly shenanigans. And if that doesn’t help you get through the middle school rodeo, our very own Benicia Brüehol Brewing is crafting a special ale just for the party. Aren’t we the lucky ones! The event will be jammers, so get your tickets at BMS_ Courtesy photos Top: Rowan Yarnell using a Digital Microscope and Chrome Books at Benicia Middle School Bottom: Morgan Kacalek and Wyatt Carvalo using Chrome Books

Benicia Brüehol Brewing

is crafting a special ale just for the party. Aren’t we the lucky ones!

Courtesy photo

Benicia Police Chief to Deliver Report to City Council

By Tomoka Red St. Johns A conversation between City Manager Lorie Tinfow and Benicia Police Chief Erik Upson about transparency in local government has led to a special report on local crime that Upson is giving to the Benicia City Council in March, which will combine statistics, trends and challenges. Upson also will cover community involvement, which he said is essential if Benicia is to remain a safe community. While the chief is keeping the report close to his vest until the Council sees it, he offered a preview of some elements. “Engagement—no question that’s probably our greatest strength, community involvement and its relationship with the police department,” he said, calling Benicia “an amazing community that’s involved, that wants to be involved and is supportive of police.” Upson often says Benicia has 28,000 police officers, referring to the city’s population. “There is no separation between the police department and the community. They are one.” The department regularly opens its doors to members of the public in the Benicia Police Citizens Academy, a multi-week, concentrated version of police officer training. “People rave about it,” Upson said. Participants “explore aspects of the department most people do not imagine. We always get positive reviews.” Upson welcomes names of anyone who wants to take the next course. At one time, the department organized Coffee with the Cops, chat sessions in a relaxed setting. Now those informal chats happen nearly every day. Upson encourages officers to get out into the community and make connections. “It’s very powerful,” he said. The department regularly releases its police activities, including through social media. “The work we’ve done with social media has opened people’s eyes to the great work that is making the community safe,” Upson said. “There are a lot of great things happening, and people were not aware of it until we took to social media. It was an eye opener for folks, and it certainly helps our partnership to grow.” One Benicia Police encounter made national news. In 2016, officers answering a report of a suspicious person learned that Jourdan Duncan (see our story on Jourdan, June 2018, then 19 and with no working car, walked two hours daily from his Vallejo home to his job at Pro-Form Laboratories in Benicia. First, one officer gave Duncan a lift home. Then the department, through local companies, bought Duncan a mountain bike to ease his commute. “What makes me proud is not that one event, but that our officers are doing stuff like that every day,” Upson said. “It does not always catch media attention or exposure, but it’s a part of who they are and how they think.” Upson’s report won’t all be rosy. Benicia struggles with property crime; which, according to, far outnumber violent crimes, which are low. The numbers presented by Upson have come from statistics police must keep and send to such other agencies as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The chief has put the records into a digestible format so the public as well as the Council can better understand local crime trends. The report will show how changes in California and other laws present challenges to officers. “It’s the reality we’re dealing with. We don’t create law. We enforce law. We do our best job to keep the community safe within the laws that exist,” Upson said. “My staff are taking it in stride, working within the new framework to make the community as safe as we can.” Upson will give his report to the City Council at its meeting at 7pm March 5, at Benicia City Hall, 250 East L St. • 15

Scene Shop

everywhere signs…

Here are just a few of the many examples in downtown Benicia, where shop signs reflect the personality of their owners. From whimsical to elegant and contemporary to vintage, signs that announce what’s inside beckon visitors to enter and explore. Photos by Jerry Bowles and Lisa Duncan Photography

16 • Benicia Magazine

Scene Food & Drink

Flaunt Your Green at St. Patrick’s Day Beer Crawl

Jeanne Steinmann Irish cheer is coming to First Street in Benicia Saturday, March 16. Participating merchants will be serving a variety of craft brews and nibbles inside their downtown shops from 1 to 5pm, joining in the fun celebrated worldwide. The sip and shop event is the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, providing weekend entertainment and a chance to sample new and seasonal beer offerings. Many ticket holders show up in their proudest green attire, rain or shine (no refunds due to inclement weather), but it is not required. “We work with Benicia beer distributor DBI Beverages for the selection of brews, some of which have St. Patrick’s Day themes. There’s a little bit of everything, including Guinness, ale, IPA, Irish red, ciders and more,” said Nancy Martinez, Main Street executive director. It’s a good mix.” Don’t wait to get tickets as all Main Street wine walks and beer crawls generally sell out in advance. The recent Wine and Chocolate Walk sold out fast, with a total of 397 tickets purchased; the highest number of ticket sales to date for a Benicia wine walk. Mike Caplin, president of the Main Street board of directors, said, “People really get into the spirit of this beer crawl, wearing green beads and hats to T-shirts with witty Irish slogans—it runs the gamut. Typically this event draws a younger crowd than the wine walks, with perhaps more men participating than women. They really get their ‘Irish’ on.” Benicia is one of 40 cities chosen to participate in the California Main Street Program, a state and national network focused on downtown revitalization and historic preservation. Benicia Main Street can be found at 90 First Street in the Southern Pacific Train Depot along the waterfront. In addition to wine walks and beer crawls, Benicia Main Street puts on parades, promotions and numerous other downtown events. Tickets $25 per person; check in at Benicia Main Street Benicia Main Street, 90 First Street, 707.745.9791

Participating Merchants Albertson’s Abbey Carpet and Floor Angel Heart 4 You Arata Art Gallery Benicia Home Improvement Benicia Main Street Berkshire Hathaway Christina S Diana’s Bakery & Café

Alisa’s Cottage Glen Cove Farm Grey Horse Boutique Happy Life Pottery Romancing the Home Spotless Carpet Cleaning The Steffen Collection The Vintage Owl • 17

Beth Steinmann Happy Life Pottery and Gallery in Benicia has been generating a buzz on First Street since before its opening last fall, when folks would peak in the windows to watch the space come to life. Now that space is fully up and running, making an even bigger buzz—of the creative variety. The vibe is playful and relaxed, inviting people to come dive in and get their hands dirty throwing pots on an electric wheel, or get lost in the unique handmade goods in the retail gallery. The studio is where the magic happens, and everyone is invited to join in. Pottery Projects are offered on Saturday nights, where visitors can drop in and make a simple project, and there’s a 6-week pottery course for all skill levels. Clay workshops for kids and adults are in the planning stages, as well as inviting special guest potters from all over the country to do workshops. Owners David Stellato and Amy Therese moved to Benicia from Austin, Texas, where David had quit his corporate career to raise his sons. Then David discovered pottery, which helped him through difficult treatments battling cancer. Benicia Magazine recently caught up with the dynamic team to chat about Happy Life. 18 • Benicia Magazine

BM: How did you go from pottery as a hobby to opening a studio? Amy: When I first met David in a pottery studio in Austin, I told him “You

have to teach.” And I meant it. He did more than explain techniques—he inspired passion for the art form because his exuberance is contagious!

David: When we visited Benicia in 2016, we fell in love with the community

and knew it was the perfect place to open a studio “someday.” However, “someday” came a lot sooner than we were expecting when we found out that my mom had cancer shortly after that. We moved from Austin, Texas, to California to take care of her and 17 months later, when she got better, we stumbled upon the perfect location for our studio in downtown Benicia.

BM: Was pottery part of your cure? David:

Pottery definitely got me through that difficult period. There’s something about being connected with actual earth (clay), being able to center yourself while centering the clay, and being creative, that helps bring peace and balance to the body, mind and emotions.

BM: Why the name Happy Life? Amy: We met during a time in which we were both totally in life transition. I had just left a successful, but high-stress, corporate career when I met David—who had not only done the same thing, but also had also just completed chemotherapy. We weren’t 100% sure where we were going, but we knew that whatever we did, it would be with the intention to live happy and to make the most of our lives.

BM: What’s your favorite part about running the studio? David:

I love working with people and getting to witness that ahHA moment when things start to come together for them, especially if they have struggled a bit initially. Pottery is great practice for life because you learn to breathe and let go of your perfectionism. And it’s incredibly fun to see people come in who have had a stressful day and be able to leave that all behind. I feel like I have the best job in the world because I get to facilitate joy.

BM: What kinds of people like your classes? Amy:

All kinds of people! Although our focus is on adults, there’s definitely not a pottery “type” because you don’t need to be artist to do it.

BM: What is the focus of the retail space? Amy: Top and above: Happy Life Pottery retail gallery offers unique, handmade goods Left: Owner David Stellato making a vessel at Happy Life Pottery Lisa Duncan Photography

Our home and gift boutique offers an awesome variety of beautiful things. We feature treasures from artisans locally and worldwide, and we also have some wonderful fair trade lines. People are always surprised when they come in, especially if they were expecting just a pottery store. We have a little something for everyone. • 19

Tomoka Red St. Johns Benicia’s attractive waterfront lures those who love sailing and those who want to learn, including children. Benicia Yacht Club’s youth program helps youngsters answer the call of the sea. The program began the summer of 1998 after the Yacht Club’s Thursday Night racers brought up the subject, said Ken Vanstory, longtime instructor until John Dillow succeeded him. “One member took the bull by the horns and got it off the ground.” Volunteers moved the program forward. Club members donated El Toro dinghies. John Ash furnished dry storage at Benicia Marina, and Steve Bales built a trailer for the boats. The program uses Vanguard Optimists, Dewitt dinghies that can be sailed single or double-handed, and the two-person 420 vessels. Other boats are available, too. “The Opti is a boat that’s size and weight are perfect to teach on,” said Yacht Club member Derith Lutz. Youngsters need no experience, nor must their families be Yacht Club members. They get “chalk talk” instruction, land skill training like knot tying and line throwing, as well as on-the-water sailing. Boys and girls as young as 8 take half-day classes. Those 10 and older go all day. “We have had children come from all over the Bay Area and beyond to attend,” Lutz said. Some are visiting local grandparents or are from

20 • Benicia Magazine

Youngsters need no experience, nor must their families be Yacht Club members. Photos, top and center by Derith Lutz: Youth sailing on the Carquinez Strait near downtown Benicia; Benicia Marina: Jacob Kott, Jack Sutter, Mason Grigas, Pauline Goethais and Josse Goethais; Bottom: Opening Day on the Strait, Benicia Marina: Cert. Instructor Barbara Fredericks, Pauline Goethais, Derith Lutz (Prog. Director and Certified Instructor) Robby Autz, Sean Hanrahan, Josse Goethais and Rudy Autz, courtesy photo

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out of state. “We had one young lady who was deaf take classes with us because of our class size,” Lutz said. She preferred the smaller classes to those she’d taken elsewhere. “She had a great time and learned alongside the other children.” The youngsters keep busy rigging and de-rigging a boat and getting the basics of sailing in a week. In the Benicia Marina water, they learn to use a rudder before managing the sail. “It is a lot to learn,” Lutz said. “With practice and more rigging, they will just rig the boat naturally by themselves.” Then there’s wind and weather, currents and tides. That means every trip on the water is different. With each experience, the youth learn more, Lutz said. “They will always have to be aware, because Mother Nature will always throw something in to learn a new lesson!” At the end, parents can see what their children have accomplished and can do on their own, skills they’ve recorded in their U.S. Sailing’s Small Boat Sailor Certification Record Book. Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association has recognized Benicia Yacht Club several times for its youth classes. Vanstory received the Condon Award in part for his work with the program. “We have a playground for all water sports right here for all to use—the Carquinez Strait! If you learn to sail safely and love the outdoors, then it is a no-brainer,” Lutz said. “Sailing is a different sport. You can sail by yourself or you can sail with other people. You can race or choose not to race when you go out for a nice day on the water,” Lutz said. “Sailing can take you around the world.” Sailing camps starting in late June include half-day Introduction to Sailing, full day Learn to Sail for children 10 years old and older, Learn to Sail II and Paddleboarding. Program information and enrollment applications are available online at, by emailing and at BYC booths at Opening Day on the Strait at the Marina Green and Benicia Yacht Club, April 27.

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2019 Events

Where’s Jack London?

3/1-3/31 First Street, Downtown Benicia Benicia Main Street celebrates “Antiques, Vintage & Collectibles” with a chance to win $100 in Downtown Dollars to spend like cash at 70+ locations. Look for the framed picture of Jack London at participating businesses and email the keyword found on the frame to Benicia Main Street to be entered in the drawing. 707.745.9791

Melinda Perry Gallery Presents A Unique Abstraction of Shape

3/1-4/30 Artist Reception 3/15, 5-7pm Melinda Perry Gallery 117 East F Street, Benicia José Luis Varto’s works combine realistic and surreal pieces, creating recognizable shapes or abstract figures in dreamlike settings. Varto is the featured artist at Melinda Perry Gallery in March and April. 707.361.5097

Black Cuisine Festival 2019

3/2, 11am-6pm Dr. George W. Davis Senior Center 1753 Carroll Avenue, San Francisco Black Cuisine, the longest standing community festival in Bayview Hunters Point, attracts people from across the Bay Area to celebrate African American culture. Started as a food tasting contest, it has become a well-rounded event with food, vendors, entertainment, kid fun and a cooking contest. The event has grown to more than 2,000 attendees. Experience soul food at its best and celebrate community in the Bayview. 24 • Benicia Magazine

Early California Exploration, Colonization and Immigration

3/7, 5:30-7:30 Benicia Historical Museum 2060 Camel Road, Benicia The Benicia Historical Museum presents an opening reception for their newest Permanent Exhibit Gallery. The public is invited to celebrate the opening and view the exhibit. With appreciation for funding by the Rotary Club of Benicia Foundation and the Rotary District Grant Fund, the event will offer free admission and a no-host bar. 707.745.5435

Benicia Friends of the Library Book Sale 3/9, 10am-4pm Benicia Library 150 East L Street, Benicia Monthly book sales take place every second Saturday downstairs at the library. Each month there are over 50,000 donated items to choose from including books, DVDs, magazines, paperbacks and more. Drop off donations at the library during open hours. Member preview nights take place the previous Thursdays. More volunteers are always needed. 707.746.4343

Shamrocks and Shenanigans

3/15, 6-11pm Historic Clock Tower 1189 Washington Street, Benicia Benicia Middle School PTSA hosts an Annual Innovative Grants Fundraiser. In St. Patrick’s Day style, the event features Irish-themed food & brews, live entertainment, music, dancing and fun and

engaging activities (including silent auction) to support fundraising efforts. Guests must be 21+; price includes food, admission and entertainment. St. Patrick’s Day attire strongly encouraged.

Saint Patrick’s Day Beer Crawl

3/16, 1-5pm First Street, Benicia The Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, let out your Irish cheer and sample craft beers inside participating businesses in Downtown Benicia. Wearing green is encouraged. Ages 21 and older, rain or shine event. Tickets are limited and will likely sell out. Tickets are $25 available through Eventbrite or at Benicia Main Street. 707.745.9791

24th Annual Fairfax Brewfest

3/16, 1-5pm Downtown Fairfax Craft beer lovers gather in Fairfax for the best annual beer tasting in Marin, benefiting Fairfax Chamber of Commerce community grant programs. Hometown Iron Springs Pub & Brewery is the brewery host. Over 24 local/regional brewers will sample handcrafted libations, with brewery staff and brewmasters pouring. Over 70 different brews will be on hand, some only available for this festival.

17th Annual Youth Ag Day

3/19, 9am-1pm Solano County Fairgrounds 900 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo Hands-on learning for this free, one-day event for Solano County third-graders, YAD gives students a

full course on agriculture, from birds to worm composting. Professionals from the ag industry will teach the importance of agriculture through fun and interactive presentations with activities designed to give kids an opportunity to learn about food and fiber production from new perspectives, with an emphasis on Solano County agricultural wealth. 707.551.2002

Arata Art Gallery Presents Two-Person Exhibit

3/21-4/28 Reception 3/22, 5-7pm Arata Fine Art Gallery 637 First Street, Benicia Richard and Lisa Rico are featured in a two-person show at Arata Art Gallery, showing their individual art, styles and mediums. Richard works in acrylics and Lisa works in pastels. 510.432.5167

‘A Taste of Italy’ Pasta Feed

3/23, 5-7pm Florence Douglas Senior Center 333 Amador Street, Vallejo Great food and fun support the Friends of Loma Vista Farm at its Annual Pasta Feed Fundraiser. Doors open at 5pm for a silent auction, raffle and no-host bar. Dinner at 6pm; tickets $30 in advance, $40 at the door. Group seating prices available. Purchase tickets online or at Klimich’s Inc. in Vallejo or Farmer’s Insurance in Benicia. 707.561.9003

Live Music Golden Bough in Concert

3/23, 7-10pm Benicia Historical Museum 2060 Camel Road, Benicia Rooted in the traditional music of the seven Celtic nations, Golden Bough is an in-demand group on both sides of the Atlantic. The trio of modern day minstrels blend their voices and instruments in pristine harmonies that are their trademark. In studio and on stage, Golden Bough captures the essence and joy of traditional music. Doors at 7pm; no-host bar included. Tickets $25 online at Brown Paper Tickets and in person at Bookshop Benicia and Benicia Historical Museum. 707.745.5435


Empress Theatre 707.552.2400

330 Virginia St, Vallejo Mar. 02, 8pm Mar. 08, 8pm Mar. 17, 5pm

Annual Trivia Bee XXVII: “The Games We Play”

Curtis Salgado $25 Online/$30 Phone & Box Office Rush vs. Yes Tribute Battle $20 - $25 Online/ Phone & Box Office VJS Presents Jeff Massanari & Kenny Washington Quintet $20 General/$10 VJS Members Jeff Tamelier

3/30, 6-10pm Historic Clock Tower 1189 Washington Street, Benicia “Games We Play” is the theme of the XXVII Annual Trivia Bee, sponsored by Benicia Library Foundation to support library infrastructure. Form a team of eight or join a table. Subjects range from history, geography, entertainment, sports and… Games We Play. Play for trophies and bragging rights and costume prizes that represents the theme. Tickets $35/individual nonreserved seating, or $450/table of eight, available at Benicia Public Library starting February 15. Tickets include dinner. 707.746.4358

Uptown Theatre Napa 707.259.0123

1350 Third Street, Napa Mar. 01, 8pm Mar. 08, 8pm Mar. 22, 8pm Mar. 23, 8pm Wyclef Jean

Vallejo Symphony Performance

3/30, 8pm; 3/31, 3pm Empress Theatre 330 Virginia Street, Vallejo The Vallejo Symphony will perform Beethoven, Sibelius, Fauré, Requiem. March Taddei, conductor, Shawnette Sulker, soprano, Brad Walker, baritone, Amberican Canyon HS Chamber Choir. Tickets range from $35 - $65. 707.643.4441


The Irish Rovers $45 - $70, Ticketmaster or Box Office The Marshall Tucker Band $35 - $50, Ticketmaster or Box Office Matt Nathanson $34 - $54, Ticketmaster or Box Office Wyclef Jean $45 - $70, Ticketmaster or Box Office

Lucca Beer Garden 707.745.3749

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Mar. 15, 6:30pm - 9pm Prairie Prince, Bobby Vega, Jeff Tamelier & Miz Dee Mar. 16, 6:30pm - 9pm The Big Jangle Mar. 17, 3:00pm - 6pm Wasted Rangers Mar. 22, 6:30pm - 9pm Don Bassey, Volker Strifler, Tal Morris & Kevin Hayes Mar. 23, 6:30pm - 9pm Frankie G & The Conviction Mar. 29, 6:30pm - 9pm The Dawdlers Mar. 30, 6:30pm - 9pm Patrick Winningham

Patrick Winningham • 25


Capturing the Essence of Time Joanne Masias Gustilo is Drawn to Water

Pier 42 San Francisco, by Joanne Masias

BPigeon Pt. Lighthouse, by Joanne Masias

A Unique Abstraction of Shape

Ship by Jose Luis Varto 26 • Benicia Magazine

Rebecca Gulick Watercolor artist Joanne Masias Gustilo uses her brush to catch the natural world’s ephemeral moments. “Nature is captured in suspension—the crashing of the waves on rocky shores, boats sailing to the distant horizon, the sky with its changing hues.” The artist says through her work she is “capturing the essence of time.” Working in the en plein air tradition of outdoor painting, Joanne’s goal is to inspire viewers to appreciate the world around them. Her subjects include landscape, seascape and still life, but floral painting is her true obsession and joy. "I love plein air painting where I can capture my subjects’ movements, moods, and life,” she said. Influenced by her painter father, Joanne discovered her love of painting at a very young age. As an architecture major at the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City, Philippines, technical architectural drawings were her focus, but in recent years she has returned to her first love. After exploring oils and mixed media, she settled on watercolor as her medium of choice because she enjoys its concomitant challenges. “With watercolor as my medium, everything is captured in spontaneous rhythm, as the brush and luminous pigment dance with the water and the paper. It is a sensuous interaction between me, my subject, and the medium." Joanne recently joined Benicia Plein Air Gallery, a memberrun gallery that showcases local artists’ paintings of outdoor Bay Area scenes, often centering on Benicia and the Carquinez Strait. In March she presents her first featured-artist show at the gallery, Coastal Reflections, with works depicting the beauty of Northern California coasts. The show opens March 7 and continues throughout the month. A reception will be held Saturday, March 16, from 3 to 5pm. Benicia Plein Air Gallery is located at 307 First Street, and the website is More information about Joanne’s work can be found online at

Staff Writer José Luis Varto is known as a creative, spirited and relentless explorer of new forms of artistic expression. Constantly experimenting with new materials, he creates new art concepts that have led him from realistic art to a unique abstraction of shape, which characterizes his work, or “lonarias.” Attracted to sketching from his early years, José Luis was encouraged by his father and inspired by his mother who passed along her passion for observation. His skills steadily developed, along with a growing sensitivity to color and shape. José's interest in graphic expression encouraged him to practice his skills in journalistic illustration. He went on to study at the University of Mexico, where he learned new techniques and created realistic and surreal pieces, creating recognizable shapes or abstract figures in dreamlike settings. In addition to working at advertising agencies as an illustrator, designer and art director, José Luiz has had numerous individual exhibitions in Mexico and other countries, along with local and international collective exhibits. His recent works will be on display at Benicia’s Milinda Perry Gallery, March 1-April 30, with an artist reception March 16.

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A Brush with Intuition Ken Cook Applies His Process for Expression

Beach Nap by by Ken Cook

Rebecca Gulick The abstract paintings of Ken Cook reflect his intimate relationship with his environment. From his studio above the Carquinez Strait, this northern California native bears witness to the perpetual ebb and flow of the tide, and it imbues his life and work. “I’m able to watch the daily rhythms of tidal currents pushing against relentless river currents,” he explains in his artist’s statement. “Under the surface, the salt water is moving beneath the fresh water. Everything contends and mixes. It’s layer on layer of transition. This resonates with me and my paintings.” After years of working in watercolor, Ken turned to acrylic and mixed media. “The habit of working fast in painting watercolor finds me moving rapidly from canvas to canvas, sometimes with a brush in each hand,” he explains. “Eventually though, the acrylic forces me to wait, allowing my heart to catch up to the drying surface. The result is a work that captures a deeper, layered journey.” Ken paints in series of up to six pieces simultaneously, and he embraces process painting, an approach that emphasizes the creative process rather than technique or outcome. “It works well for me because it lets me tap into my intuition and my vision. I don’t always know what’s going to

happen. I’m looking to lay down a certain structure, certain bones for the piece. Then I look for the harmony, a certain shape. It’s not one inspiration. It’s vision and intuition.” Just as it’s not one inspiration, it’s not one creative outlet for this artist. In addition to being a painter, Ken is a writer and musician. He’s a member of Benicia's Outlaw Writers Group, and he plays with the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers. He used to think he needed to focus on one calling, but finally it dawned on him: “I can do whatever is speaking to me at a given moment. Why am I saying no to these things?” In January, Ken joined Gallery 621, one of Benicia’s most enduring membershiprun galleries, with a focus on original, contemporary fine art of various media, from painting and printmaking to 3D ceramic sculpture. Ken is this month’s featured artist at Gallery 621. His expanded exhibit runs from March 7 through 31, and a reception is slated for Saturday, March 9, from 4 to 6 pm. Visit Gallery 621 at 309 First Street in Benicia during the hours of 12 to 6pm, Thursday to Sunday, or online at More about Ken and his work can be found on his website,

Apricot Moon by Richard Rico

Burst in my Mouth by Lisa Rico

landscape paintings. Self taught, bold colors became a hallmark of Richard’s works, injected with “a touch of fantasy and whimsy.” Having drawn and painted her whole life, Lisa Rico’s early creative beginnings led to a desire for a career in art. However, her path took a different direction: a 20-year stint in marketing and graphic design. When she was finally able to focus solely on art, she experimented with different media and subject matter.

Lisa has studied with many artists as well as attending classes and workshops. Working exclusively in pastels, Lisa’s works have more of a realist approach, and have been shown in numerous venues and galleries. Arata Fine Art Gallery 637 First Street, Benicia 707.297.6151 or 510.432.5167 Gallery Hours: Thurs.-Sat. 11am-5pm; Sunday 1-5pm

Distinctive Artistic Styles at Husband and Wife Exhibit

Staff writer In March, the Arata Fine Art Gallery will feature a two-person exhibition March 21 to April 28. An opening reception will be held Friday, March 22, 5-7pm. Richard Rico was in the in the newspaper business as editor and publisher for Vacaville’s The Reporter, which his family ran for 70 years. Using graphic design and the photographic elements of layout to tell a story eventually led him to sketching and watercolors, and then still life and

28 • Benicia Magazine

Portraits of Place Three Artists Share Their Passion for Color Top: Hopi Maiden by Sarah Beserra, right: Autumn at the Gallery by Susan Johnson, above: Bouquet by Nancy Freeman

Rebecca Gulick In March, the Marilyn Citron O’Rourke Gallery at the Benicia Public Library features a vibrant panoply of works by three Benicia artists who share a passion for color: Sarah Beserra, Susan Johnson, and Nancy Freeman. Entitled Crazy for Color: Portraits from Enchanted Places, the exhibit showcases sculpture and painting influenced by the artists' travels. Fourteen mixed-media planter sculptures complete with living flora make their debut beneath the library gallery’s expansive skylights. The life-size busts are the newest creations of Sarah Beserra, a long-time sculptor and painter and avid member of the en plein air artist community. The sculpted portraits, which Sarah calls muses, are all depictions of women—some accomplished reallife figures such as African American entertainer Josephine Baker and Hungarian–Indian painter Amrita SherGil, and some representative of women of Indigenous cultures of Africa, Asia, the Americas, Egypt, France, and East India. The works are inspired by Sarah's love of ornamentation and costume and are fabricated from recycled or repurposed materials—Styrofoam, cat food tins, turkey

pans, old jewelry, foam packing, plastic bottles and bags, shells, beads, and belt buckles. Gifted with ideaphoria, Sarah has no shortage of ideas for manipulating these materials to emulate authentic clothing, jewelry, and hair decorations. “I start by learning about these women, and then set about dressing them and putting them on bases,” she said of her process. “Every step I enjoy. Now I have 14 of these women looking at me.” On display alongside her sister’s muses is Susan Johnson’s latest collection of oil paintings. One of the founding members of the Benicia Plein Air Gallery, Susan’s artistic hallmark is thick, textural paint in vibrant colors. This current show offers a sampling of her favorite plein air locations—Provence, Italy, the Southwest and Benicia. “Applying the paint feels like frosting a cake,” she says of her process of using a palette knife instead of a brush on the canvas. Susan's métier is the littoral, where the sea meets the land—Benicia on the Strait, Cassis on the French Riviera, Cinque Terra on the Italian Coast, and Venice on the Grand Canal. She enjoys the spontaneity of her process. “I don’t have a plan. I don’t intellectualize it at

all.” And she relishes the surprise when seeing what takes shape. Rounding out the exhibit’s artist triumvirate, Nancy Freeman displays a selection of her most recent acrylic paintings, which are based on recent travels to Mexico and Spain. Nancy has worked in many mediums, from fine appliqué quilting to ceramic and glass mosaic tables, lamps, and pots, to illustration and painting. Her newest works are colorful acrylic paintings on canvas that represent a snapshot of her favorite subject matter: landscapes, Southwest and Mexican adobes, and still life. “My aim is to keep it loose,” she said of her process, in which she's less concerned about perspective and light source, preferring to embrace the abstract. The Crazy for Color exhibit opens March 5 and remains on display throughout the month at the Marilyn Citron O'Rourke Art Gallery in Benicia Public Library, located at 150 East L Street. The public is invited to a reception for the exhibit on Saturday, March 9, from 2-4pm. Library hours are Monday through Thursday 10am-9pm, and Friday through Sunday 12-6pm. For more information, gallery or call 707.746.4343. • 29


A Search for the Latest Fashion

“Must Haves”

Christina Strawbridge Trends are tough to predict even for the most savvy fashion soothsayer. They can last for months and maybe sometimes years (example: torn jeans). Some have been timed out in just a few hours. My search for the latest fashion "must haves" took me to the heart of American fashion...New York City ... in January! This time of the year is challenging to discover street fashion when

of the collection fun and hopeful and a departure for what was to come. The Death and Disaster series was set apart from Warhol’s other works, and considering its shift in tone, a good idea. Warhol's dark humor and sarcasm is portrayed in the images, representing tragedies of race riots, car crashes and war, covered by the news and media in the 1960s. It is a reminder of today's impact on our lives from social media and cable networks.

The final stop on the search for a top trend brought me to the Javits Center on the banks of the Hudson River. The MODA and Accessory Shows had taken part of the 760,000 feet of the mammoth event center. As I walked the long aisles, a reoccurring theme continued ... pompoms. Wait a minute, wasn't that on the top-10 trend list for 1966? The pompom has evolved from a cheerleader accessory or a fur ball on top a knitted hat to a sustained fashion

everyone is layered in down, wool and fur, sometimes all together. The elite stores are transforming themselves from winter to spring with windows of big sale signage. For inspiration and frankly a warmer environment, I went to the Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibit on Andy Warhol. Warhol defies trends and generations as proof of his work that focused on consumerism, war and pop culture. His work holds up in the final year of the second decade of the millennial. The exhibit devoted a hallway and whole room to Warhol's series of Flowers from 1964, and 1966 Cow Wallpaper with longhorn pink cows on a yellow background. I found this intro to the rest

American Politics were well represented with the huge portrait of Chairman Mao—created to poke fun at President Nixon's visit to China—a bitter enemy at the time. The Warholian method of repetitive use of an image was represented throughout the exhibit, including Marilyn Monroe's face repeated 50 times, with the last few images fading. My next stop in trend discovery was to catch The Cher Show on Broadway. Based on this iconic star's life, there was plenty of fashion throughout the evening; in fact the biggest applause of the night was a mini-fashion show featuring overthe-top outfits by original Cher designer Bob Mackie, who created the costumes for the musical.

trend. Top designers have used them the past few years to embellish shoes, collars, earrings, bracelets, handbags and clothing. The round balls made of yarn, fur, metallics and paper are also part of the home decor scene on pillows, throws, drapery, rugs and garland. My take on the trend is that these colorful little yarn balls are girlie, make us happy and "cheer" us up. In these complicated and challenging social and economic times, we all could use a bit of fun with our clothing. So pompom away this spring, with a cool scarf or boho skirt embellished with the latest trim, or relish it with a throw, tossed over your shoulder with abandon. Your inner cheerleader will love it.

30 • Benicia Magazine

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