CA 92101, San Diego, 1770 Village Place—GPS coordinates keyed in, snack bag and water loaded, we roll off to the Spanish Village Art Centre (SVAC) in Balboa National Park. Located on the stretch between the San Diego Zoo and the Natural History Museum, and open from 11 am to 4 pm, you can bet there’s not a free slot in the nearby parking lot. After finding a suitably shaded parking spot on the street, we stroll onto the patchwork of happy colours sprawling across the courtyard of the Spanish Village Art Centre.
Despite all the lovely things we’ve been told about the village, we are determined to spend no more than half an hour here. A musician sets up his equipment in the quaint pergola at the centre of the courtyard and strikes up a lively country tune as we enter Studio 41, which houses some really pretty blown-glass fish among other things. After a few minutes of indecisiveness about what we like best, we decide to check out the work of a few more artists. Since we have so little time on our hands, we choose to proceed in an orderly fashion and start again at Studio 1, where we find some exquisite nature-based paintings. We move from one studio to the next, checking out fine art, ceramic work, metal sculptures, mixed-media pieces, wood art, photographs that look like watercolour paintings, enamel tableware, glass jewellery and so much more...
Mexican traditions in clay
Built around 1935–to mimic an old-world Spanish village, tiled-roofs et al–for the second California Pacific International Exposition, SVAC is quaint to say the least. In 1937, a group of artists reopened the village as an art destination. While the U.S. Army reportedly used the village for temporary barracks World War II, artists reclaimed and restored it in 1947. Over the last six decades, San Diego’s artists have continued to look after the space and adorn it with art and plants, making for unique entryways as well as interesting nooks and crannies. In one corner, we find a kaliedoscope focused on a flower pot that says, “Spin me gently”, if I remember correctly. We take turns to spin the pot and peer through the kaleidoscope, which turns an ordinary bunch of flowers into triangles of beautifully merging and diverging art.
A ceramic artist tells us how her palm-sized creations of a little figure bundled up in a blanket surrounded by children and playthings, is a tribute to the Mexican tradition of oral storytelling. An artist who works with gourd tells us that her beautifully painted thunder drums are inspired by a toy. They are simply constructed with a spring attached to a screen at the bottom of a gourd. When shaken, the vibrations that resonate through the drum’s body sound like rolling thunder. No two gourds sound alike, we realise as we listen to one after the other, and then listen to them all over again, fascinated by the variance in pitch. We walk into another studio when a grey-haired woman is removing a circular disc of beaten metal from her kiln. She smiles and gladly explains the process of enameling metal. Four hours later we take a break and find something to eat. By the time we’ve grabbed a bite and are back for more, the artists are packing up. I guess we’ll have to come back tomorrow. Sigh! On the bright side, admission to the Spanish Village is always free.
A thunder drum
Open everyday of the year (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year), with over 200 artisans and crafts persons showcasing their work, there’s a lot you can buy here. But it’s much more than a shopping space with daily live demos of different types of art, shows by different guilds as well as art and craft workshops. For more details visit www.spanishvillageart.com