Gwen's Blog




I welcome those of you who have been captivated by our corner of rural France, as well as those of you who dream of joining us one day.

I hope that the pages listed on the sidebars  answer your questions about the logistics of teaching and taking classes at La Cascade and that the blog with its scatterings of news, stories, observations, sketches and photos will bring fresh glimpses into the magic that is France.

Old wall textures

What is about an old wall that’s so exciting? I’m having fun playing with wall textures. It’s a challenge to  convey the process of slow aging; to make a painting of an old wall look like the result of a natural process over time.  My intentional mind gets a bit stressed when I ask it to create something that looks unintentional; it feels like I’m asking it to walk the edge of chaos.

Well, not really, paint is wonderful stuff. You can scrub and scratch it and it only gets better; well, most of the time.

Both are part of a new series of 5″x7″ mixed media works on mounted paper.
The theme of the series is “things found hanging on the wall”.

Sharon Payne Bolton creates a theater for her art.

I went to see Sharon Payne Bolton for the first time yesterday in her Benicia art studio because I liked what I saw on her website well enough to invite her to teach at La Cascade. Her studio is in the historic Arsenal district,  home to one of the best artist communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Upon arrival I was swept up in a warm welcome by a 6 foot tall goddess wearing apron, army cap and goggles.  Sharon was working flat out to get ready for the Benicia Open Studio this weekend (May 5 and 6)as well as filling the role of Mother to her 3 year old son and graciously showing me her art and studio.

Sharon Payne Bolton

I had seen Sharon’s artist books online, but was unprepared for the impact a total immersion in her art environment would have on me.  She has created an space which acts as a stage upon which beautifully arranged collections of vintage artifacts and partly finished pieces mingle with finished works of art.  Giant speckled eggs, glove forms, calipers, old books etc are displayed like museum pieces in cubby holes along the walls. Each cubby hole is, like the room itself, a theater housing visual elements awaiting their cue to come to life as works of art.

Sharon’s small artist books are miniature versions of the room, each page a tiny cubby hole. I’m returning for Open Studios this weekend because there’s no way I could take it all in  yesterday. If you can make it, don’t miss studio 930.

Sharon's studio

Cubby holes with artfully arranged elements.



French Flea Market Finds

In browsing through my photos of flea market treasures, I’m reminded of what an adventure the vide greniers (flea markets) are for us.  All week we scour the papers for Sunday markets in the area to figure out which ones might be the best.

On Sunday, vide grenier day,  we get up very early to drive through fields still veiled in early morning mist to some sleepy village hidden deep in the countryside.  When we arrive, there are already many cars parked in the pasture converted to a parking lot. The thrifty French love the markets as much as we do. It’s where they find clothes, cook ware, childrens toys, tools and  more.

We rummage through heaps of plastic toys and old clothes in search of  inspiring odds and ends to bring back to the studio.  A vide grenier is heaven for mixed media assemblage artists and was a godsend for me when I was furnishing La Cascade.  As a mixed media collage artist, I’m always on the lookout for old student copy books, vintage maps and official documents written in a notaire’s elegant script. Everyone finds a few wonderful things to work with or bring home and some manage to fill a suitcase with vide grenier treasures.

Lip rouge boxes

I found this in Emmaus, a French version of Salvation Army