Mountain makers: Artisans craft goods inspired by life in Sierra
There’s a reason why vistas around Lake Tahoe have names like Inspiration Point, which towers 600 feet above the cobalt waters of Emerald Bay. Even before such toponyms existed, the Washoe Tribe, who summered in Da’aw, incorporated imagery of the area’s flora and fauna into their basket weaving. From stained glass work to all-natural beauty products, the mountainous landscape continues to inspire today’s artisans across the region — and it’s easy to see why.
Spoon and Sprig Studio
In 2017, after wrapping up a degree in printmaking — or so she thought — Adrienne Belair headed back home to the West Coast.
“A few months later, I got a letter from my university telling me that I hadn’t actually graduated, and I still needed to fulfill credits, so I took a ceramic class at Lake Tahoe Community College to fulfill those credits,” recalls Belair, adding that she did so begrudgingly.
But as if by fate, Belair “slowly fell very in love with it,” and ever since, the South Lake Tahoe ceramicist has been crafting beautiful works of fine and functional art. When she sits down with a piece of clay in her 60-square-foot shed-turned-studio, she doesn’t know what the piece will actually be or look like — she just responds to the material.
“It’s very inspired by nature,” explains Belair. “Nature is the original artist, and I love how the beauty of nature is a lot of adaptation to the environment, so I really try to reflect that in my work.”
On Belair’s online shop, Spoon and Sprig Studio, you’ll find elaborate works like “Once There Was,” a three-piece sculpture depicting the coral bleaching taking place in our warming oceans, alongside earthy mugs, pots and vases.
“With pottery, I really love that I get to hear about so many people experiencing my pieces on a daily basis,” says Belair. “I think it’s fun that I get to have coffee with all of these people in the morning, in a way. Other than making them, that’s the next best part.”
Add to your ceramics collection by visiting http://www.spoonandsprigstudio.com or Wildwood Makers Market, Bare Roots Artisan Coffee Roasting Company, and High Mountain Greenery in South Lake Tahoe.
Alison Levin likes learning new things. What started as a love of crafting has morphed into a creative career leading her from one medium to the next. Through her company, Burl Theory, Levin creates a “merry medley of handmade things,” ranging from laser-cut coasters and framed pressed flowers to nature-inspired jewelry and, most recently, stained glass works of art.
Nightlights, hanging plant propagation tubes, and suncatchers are a few of the ways the Tahoe Vista artist showcases her new passion for stained glass. “It’s been really fun learning this thing that at one point felt really incessable,” says Levin. “I think that’s been my journey — continuously learning and trying the thing that’s really interesting to me.”
But you’ll still find Levin laser cutting ornaments, pressing small dried flowers to put into glass frames she sodders for wall art and necklaces, or placing tiny ferns into polymer clay for earrings. Brides even send her their bouquets to dry and frame after the big day.
Find pieces from Burl Theory at http://www.burltheory.com or locally at Gallery 5830’ and Love and Lupines in Truckee or Wild Pines in Graeagle.
Sara L. Smith Fine Art
For 22 years, Sara Smith has lived in Kings Beach, just five blocks away from forested land where you can easily hike into the woods and get away from it all.
“I live in the wilderness interface. We have wild animals as our neighbors,” says the painter. “I love it, and I know what it gives to my soul and to my sense of connection to wilderness.”
It certainly has informed Smith’s art, which has long since featured realistic yet whimsical portrayals of Tahoe’s landscapes and the creatures that inhabit it. Her latest series, Wilding, juxtaposes urban materials — reclaimed upholstery fabric, salvaged wood, plaster, and spray paint — with portraits of bears, birds, and other wildlife.
“That all plays into my belief that we are all interconnected with this world that we are living in and on, and if we connect with it and embrace that, there’s a different sense of appreciation and love for this land that gives us so much,” says Smith.
Smith also creates murals for businesses, schools, organizations and private clients around the region. Discover her work at http://www.saralsmith.com or at Riverside Studios in Truckee.
Before moving to Truckee, Vina Shih and her family drove up to Tahoe to ski almost every weekend. The winter air was drying out her family’s lips, but Shih could not find a lip balm that met her criteria, especially when it came to using natural ingredients. So she made her own.
“I started researching how to formulate lip balms, and it went from there. I just kept getting more and more curious,” recalls Shih, who worked in finance at the time. “I studied with some cosmetic chemists and learned cosmetic chemistry, and it’s been quite a journey!”
Eight years later, Quench Botanica has moved beyond lip balms to include a full line of all-natural beauty products designed for life in the mountains. The cleansers, serums, oils, body lotions, soaps, scrubs, and shampoo bars are all hand-crafted by Shih using naturally derived ingredients free of parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, phthalates, and unnecessary fillers.
“It’s so dehydrating in this climate. You don’t want to strip your skin of all of its natural oils when you cleanse it, and we want the other products to help maintain that hydration,” explains Shih.
The B-Power Brightening Serum — made in part with vitamins and minerals from fermented sea kelp extract — is a popular item in her skincare line. Another fan favorite is her range of superfatted soaps (less lye, more moisturizing oils), with varieties like Alpenglow made from shea and cocoa butter with whiffs of apple cider, bergamot and honey.
Learn more about Quench Botanica’s line of beauty products at http://www.quenchbotanica.com or find it locally at Good Anya, Love and Lupines, and Sol Society in Truckee; Wild Pines in Graeagle; and Well Being in Kings Beach.
One look at the meticulously crafted jewelry created by Lauren Bobowski and it’s clear that it is not just some bauble — it’s wearable art. The call to be an artist is one that Bobowski has felt since the day she could hold a crayon.
The Tahoe City silversmith uses silver and semi-precious stones to craft one-of-a-kind pieces inspired by life in the Sierra Nevada.
“I create little wearable landscapes and pieces of art that are a moment in time that combine silver and stones to tell a story,” explains Bobowski.
It’s a craft that took years of apprenticeship to hone. But Bobowski finds a well of inspiration in Tahoe’s natural environment and in the stones themselves. Wildflowers, bears, owls, pine trees, antlers and the familiar shape of the lake itself are just some of the motifs found throughout her work.
“Turquoise is my first love. It comes in so many beautiful shades — green, brown and white — not just beautiful blue,” she says. “I always have a notebook on me. I’m constantly sketching pictures of landscapes or jewelry.”
Lust after more of Lala Jewelry at http://www.lalajewelry.com or see it first hand at Love and Lupines in Truckee.
Editor’s note: This story was published in the 2022-23 winter edition of Tahoe Magazine.
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