Art on the Vine celebrating Year One

DOWNEY - This Saturday, Mari's Wine Bar on Firestone Boulevard and the Downey Arts Coalition are inviting the public to attend the one-year anniversary celebration of the monthly art exhibits known as Art on the Vine. A selection of work by earlier featured artists will be on display, and most of the artists will be available to answer questions. The festivities include complimentary food and live music with saxophonist Sergio de la Trinidad and others - no cover charge.

Conceived last summer with the goal of providing a regular venue for both established and emerging artists to showcase their work, Art on the Vine is spear-headed by a committed team of Downey artists and art lovers, with support from local businesses such as Mari's Wine Bar, Fresh & East and Gallery Frames.

Gala openings introduce each new exhibit and are often celebrated with live music. The art remains on display for patrons to enjoy for a month. Andrew Wahlquist of the DAC views the exhibits as "transformative for our artists, some who have never shown their work locally, and others who are having their work displayed publicly for the first time."

Each new exhibit requires a tremendous amount of physical preparation in a short amount of time. Work from the prior show must be removed and new artwork hung without damaging the walls. Husbands and friends with ladders and tools are recruited to hang the large pieces.

Besides the heavy lifting, there is also the work of contacting and scheduling new artists, and being available at the venue for hours on opening night. It is a definite labor of love and a gift to the community by people who have day jobs.

Art on the Vine is the brainchild of Don Lamkin, member of the Downey Arts Coalition, who explains that when he first saw Mari's Wine Bar, he thought it would make a great place for a rotating art gallery. With a "Yes" from the manager, Lamkin formed a team with two other DAC members: Carolina Del Toro, photographer, and Pat Gil, arts activist. Eloisa "EJ" Ball later joined the team as well.

As more artists became involved, many were surprised to find out that there were so many like-minded people in Downey who were either creating art or enjoyed the opportunity to view and support original art. More than a few were surprised to discover that they were virtually neighbors.

Besides featuring local talent, such as Ricky Ostendi, Laura Sanchez, and Jorge Del Toro, coordinator Pat Gil explains the program also reaches out to artists from other areas and promotes Downey as a destination. People from all over the Los Angeles area came to see the paintings of musician Michael Tempo.

The team is amazed at how many people continue to contact them, and Lamkin says that they are booked through the end of the year, adding that the program has "become an event that even well-known artists are proud to list on their exhibit resumes!"

Encouraged by its growing success, Art on the Vine recruited artists and occupied three booths at the Downey Street Faire last April, where several artists presented demonstrations of their techniques for working with various mediums.

Impact at City Hall The response from City Hall underscores the positive impact of this burgeoning art movement in Downey. Working with local art groups last September, the city included an outdoor art show as part of a Taste of Downey.

City councilmen, including the mayor, are among those purchasing the artwork, and Councilman Mario Guerra asserts that "our city is being transformed by the efforts of our art community."

"We are starting to see the community take ownership of the movement and drive it," added Mayor Roger Brossmer.

Brossmer views an active art community as a major component of a vibrant downtown, and he cites the consistency of Art on the Vine as a factor in the city's recent decision to lease a retail space on Downey Avenue to be used as a public art gallery.

Remarking that consistency is necessary for sustainability, Brossmer stated, "Without the Art on the Vine program, it is unlikely that the city would have sponsored the art studio on Downey Avenue." The mayor said he sees more partnerships in the future with other groups such as the Downey Museum of Art.

Local Artist and Volunteer Local sculptor Jorge Del Toro is the quintessential example of a talented artist with a day job (he is also the husband of team member Carolina). He favors sculpting by hand rather than with a wheel, and he is presently intent on expanding his knowledge and use of pre-Hispanic finishing techniques.

Del Toro is also a regular behind-the-scenes helper for Art on the Vine, and he is generous with his time in support of other artists.

Growing up in Chapala, Jalisco, Del Toro acquired an interest in sculpture at an early age. At that time, clay work and pottery were a major industry for the community, and every member of the family participated in the production. He said the artisans specialized in detailed, intricate hand work.

As a playmate of their children, Del Toro said that he would sometimes help burnish the pieces with a spoon or a stone. Making miniature figures of his own for fun, Del Toro feels he absorbed their techniques.

Coming to the United States when he was seventeen, Del Toro took ceramic classes at Huntington Park High School. Teachers bought his pieces and he won first prize in a school competition.

But after graduation, the art was set aside as Del Toro went to work. In time he earned a degree in auto mechanics, married, and raised three children. It was Carolina who encouraged him to return to his art.

Today, both Del Toro and his wife have shown their work in galleries from Oxnard to Long Beach. Mayor Brossmer is a fan of her photography, having purchased two pieces at Downey events.

Ancient Techniques To Del Toro, clay pieces formed by ancient methods feel more alive. Pre-Hispanic sculpture was fired at a lower temperature with wood, and polished by hand-rubbing.

Inspired by nature, Del Toro's creations are often detailed, realistic-looking animals and plants that invite touching. He wants to call attention to species that are in danger of extinction, and he says that each piece is a part of him.

Rising at 4:30 am every day to go to work, squeezing out time to work in his studio after a 10-hour day, Del Toro is just one example of the artists that the DAC seeks to encourage and support.

As Wahlquist explains, the DAC is committed to both art and the community of Downey, with the purpose of helping residents see and enjoy the profound talent that is in their city.

Art on the Vine will be this Saturday, August 4, 7 p.m. to 12 a.m., Mari's Wine Bar, 8222 Firestone Blvd., Downey, CA 90241

Visit the website for the Downey Arts Coalition at

********** Published: August 02, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 16