Petaluma artists create community at Magic Shop

Curious what goes on behind doors at Magic Shop Studios? The public is invited to see how artists work at this weekend’s open studio event, and weekly Coffee x Art events.|

If you go

What: Open Studio and Exhibition at the Magic Shop, with solo show by Michael Woolsey

When: Saturday, Feb. 11, 5-8 p.m.

What else: Coffee x Art

When: Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Magic Shop Studios at the Watershed Building, 429 1st St.


Creating art can be a lonely practice. Whether it’s a full-time career, an after-hours side hustle or a therapeutic pastime, art requires hours and hours spent in isolation. In a west side warehouse overlooking the Petaluma River, a small community of local artists is taking an alternative approach, proving that working alone while also working near (and sometimes with) other creatives is not only good for their minds and souls, it’s good for their art.

“Functioning as a collective, we have more than just our individual studio walls,” said Jennifer Tatum, founder of Magic Shop Studios. “It’s the community experience we are stepping into every day when we come together to make our art separately. It’s a collective, a support system, as well as a great place to work. We really do care about each other, and look out for each other. It really does feel magical.”

Founded in early 2020 and significantly shaped by the pandemic, the three-year-old Magic Shop Studios is housed in a multi-story, semi-labyrinthine corner of The Watershed, a 100-year-old former grain storage warehouse on First Street, on the waterfront in Petaluma’s historic Warehouse District. The Magic Shop portion of the sprawling building comprises 11 studio spaces currently being used by 16 artists. On the ground floor is a communal art gallery featuring ever-changing displays of all the artists’ work, and a solo gallery where one select artist from the collective presents their own show every three months. Those exhibitions routinely open concurrently with the group’s quarterly Open Studios events, when the public is allowed to wander through the studios, visit the members, getting a peek at how different artists work, and the environments they have built to create in.

The next Magic Shop Open House is scheduled for Saturday evening, Feb. 11, 5 - 8 p.m. But that’s not the only time the public is invited inside. On weekends, visitors are welcome to join Tatum and company for what she has named “Coffee X Art,” an opportunity to view the exhibition spaces and enjoy a fresh-brewed cup of high-end coffee courtesy of roaster-brewer Kjeld Clark.

“We started that in September,” Tatum says of the “Coffee X Art” experiences, held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. “Except for the Open Studios days, no one really gets much of a chance to come in and see what goes on here. So we do these pour-over coffee tastings, and the galleries are open. We’ve had so many people wander in by accident, and they are just blown away that all of this exists here.”

Tatum first started working in the Watershed building several years ago, when she began renting a space from Cemil Hope, of HOPEBUILT, a maker of high end cabinetry, whose idea it was to develop the smaller spaces, one of which Tatum was renting.

“Cemil planted the seed for me to then take forward into all I was dreaming,” said Tatum.

It was Hope’s son, also an artist, who inspired the studios’ eventual name when he’d stop by to inquire of Tatum, “What’s going on in your magic shop?” When Josh Peterson bought the building four years ago, and began remodeling it, Tatum proposed the establishment of an artists’ collective.

“All of these spaces are small enough that artists can afford them,” she pointed out, giving the average rent for a 9-foot x 12-foot studio as about $500. “But the big attraction is that it’s bringing people out of their garages or home studios, places where they really aren’t connecting with the larger community. I’d been creating in my own garage studio, and I was like, ‘I need interaction with other people, other artists, to be able to talk about what we’re creating.’”

When COVID-19 hit, and people were suddenly sheltering at home with their families, Tatum quickly filled up studios’ upstairs spaces with artists needing a relatively quiet place to work.

“People were looking for a place to be outside of their house, and we were really good about being strict with COVID protocols,” she said. “No one ever got sick here, during that whole time. We couldn’t hang out together, but people would come in and go to their studios, and we could hear each other – which was actually very comforting at that time.”

After a year, Peterson expanded, putting up temporary walls and sliding doors in the inner warehouse to create additional studios, and almost immediately filled those up as well.

“Every space is a little bit different, and they all have something special,” said Tatum, a printmaker specializing in lithographic reproductions using wooden carvings. “My studio has this amazing wonderful light that comes through the window when it’s sunny. When the rain comes down, the sound it makes on the metal roof is just very comforting and cool.“

Tatum, who also does massive mosaic art pieces, was formerly the creative director of ArtStart, a position she held for the last five of the seven years she worked with the nonprofit, which she officially said goodbye to in mid-December.

“I wanted to spend more time here,” she said. “I want to put my energies into Magic Shop and develop the gallery even more.”

Tatum estimates that the wait list of artists eager to join the collective is currently just over 20 people.

“We range from 20-somethings to people in their 70s,” she said. “We have all walks of life, artists at all levels of their career.”

In addition to having their own space, each artist has access to the galleries and the communal upstairs kitchenette. There is even a tiny print shop with a hand-operated printing press.

“When we do the quarterly open studios,” Tatum explained, “we change the group gallery, and everyone comes together to paint the gallery walls with a fresh coat of paint, patching up whatever needs to be patched, all working together to present our face out to the public.”

The artists who make up the Magic Shop collective seem every bit as committed to the institution as its founder.

“Being a member has provided me with a wonderful sense of community and an informal chance to brainstorm with other artists about our work,” said Cat Alden, a Petaluma artist who creates found-object sculptures and other three-dimensional works. “That we are an eclectic crew makes it even more fun, from sculptors to textile artists, photographers to painters, printmakers to interior designers. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of this amazing adventure.”

The whole together alone/alone together vibe of Magic Shop is simultaneously a metaphorical and practical way to work, suggested painter, designer and rug-maker Avril McHugh.

“So much of art-making is reaching within ourselves to express something and connecting that experience to others,” she said. “The artists at Magic Shop are a wonderful group of people and one’s life is always enriched by good people.”

In the experience of landscape artist Andrea Wedell, there is a natural requirement for an artist to hole up in their studio and work by themselves, sometimes not talking to another human for hours at a time.

“I’ve certainly spent a lot of time doing that,” she said. “We as artists are essentially creating mini-problems for ourselves when following a particular inspiration, then working hard at resolving whatever isn’t quite working as we go along, solving the thing, feeling elated.”

As part of a collective, she’s found that she doesn’t always have to solve those problems by herself, and that that sense of elation can be even stronger when shared.

“When you’re with other artists doing the same thing, you feel like you’ve found a like-minded tribe, a long lost family of similarly motivated souls,” she described it. “The people in that tribe understand, without saying anything, what you’re doing and why.”

Wedell agrees with Tatum that it is often a comforting thing when working in her studio, hearing other artists right next door, adding that it can also be exciting to see the work that other artists are producing, and having the opportunity and proximity to be able to talk to them about it right then and there.

“Sometimes the whole process of making art might feel futile, as in, ‘Why am I spending so much time, money, energy and resources on this endeavor?’” she said. “But when you see other people doing exactly the same thing, that whole question of ‘why’ ceases to exist in my mind.”

According to abstract painter Ben Kellgren, a recent addition to the Magic Shop collective, a successful community space strikes a balance between solitude and a supportive atmosphere with other creatives.

“Being part of a community art space allows you to experiment with your work in a safe environment,” he said. “You can also get feedback on your work from fellow artists before you bring it to the public – like an incubator for new ideas.”

The shared exhibition space at Magic Shop is another significant benefit, Kellgren points out, noting that traditional galleries can be difficult to break into and are often commercially focused. Since many collectors discover artists through online social media platforms, it helps to have a physical space where the collector and artist can meet to view and discuss the artist’s work in person.

“Giving emerging artists a space to show their work gives them creative control of what they show and how it’s represented,” Kellgren said, adding, “In a community studio, I’ve had exposure to more opportunities to show my work through networking and ‘water cooler moments’ than I would have otherwise.”

Painter and printmaker Kris Ekstrand, another recent arrival at Magic Shop, agrees.

“The collective atmosphere in our building was just what I needed at a time when I knew virtually no other artists,” Ekstrand said, adding that she is also a recent arrival in Petaluma, having relocated from Washington state. “It helped me begin to reach out to artists within my new community and make connections I could not have made on my own.”

When she began looking for a local photographer to capture her work, another Magic Shop artist, photographer Michael Woolsey, pointed Ekstrand to Petaluma’s Digital Grange. Then, when she began looking into where to show her work, Tatum was right there to brainstorm and share ideas of possible gallery opportunities.

“It is too soon to see if working within a collective will influence my work,” said Ekstrand, who is currently part of a small, two artist show at the Petaluma Arts Center. “But I do believe that artists need a supportive environment of peers who can share the successes, the brainstorms and the challenges of life as a studio artist. I am looking forward to being a part of that.”

For some artists, such as sculptor I Andrea Jackson, working in a collective does very much influence their art, from the experience of creating to the types of chances she’s willing to take with her work.

“Giving myself freedom to be messy,” said Jackson, “there has been an inner shift from creating ‘serious’ art to rediscovering a sense of playful imagination that has taken my work in new directions.”

To Tatum, whose vision for Magic Shop Studios has always been one where artists can feel the freedom to express themselves, it’s that very same acceptance of messiness and discovery on which the collective – and the individual creators within it – truly thrives.

“As an artist, when you come here and go into your studio, and you allow yourself to create whatever it is that comes into your mind,” she said, “I personally just feel my cell structure healing all the time that I am here. It’s the best kind of therapy. This is a creative space where I am simply allowed to be who I am whenever I walk in, and I believe that wherever we can create those kinds of pockets in our lives, we help to build a stronger, healthier community.“

If you go

What: Open Studio and Exhibition at the Magic Shop, with solo show by Michael Woolsey

When: Saturday, Feb. 11, 5-8 p.m.

What else: Coffee x Art

When: Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Magic Shop Studios at the Watershed Building, 429 1st St.


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