A tip of the hat

There’s much more to Bell Arts resident artist Jon Nelson than his one-of-a kind trucker hats. But as the artist’s most coveted creations, they bear a mention. Hand-painted in acrylics, each hat is custom made in Nelson’s urban contemporary style. For fun, he applies glitter, metallic paint and other cool surprises, making his hats very popular with the ladies.  Fit N’ Fine, an all-women gym in Santa Paula, carries a large inventory of Nelson hats, and Ciao Bella in Ventura will soon display a new set of hats inspired by Ventura’s landscape. (The two trees with an edge.) Nelson has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He recently returned from a month-long tour with notorious muralist Tracy Lee Stum. He assisted Stum with a series of illusionistic murals in four different cities for Cadillac’s latest ad campaign. He’s also involved with Vulgar Villains, a California-based brand, he went on tour with Blink 182 — and has a photograph to prove it — and he works at Trader Joe’s. (Only cool folk work at Trader Joe’s.) With plans to travel abroad for more mural work and a project with a big production company, Nelson is very grateful to be an artist. His genuine appreciation for what he does is sure to keep his studio door at Bell Arts a-knockin’ with opportunity for a while. To get your hands on a Nelson hat, visit: www.jonnelsonartworx.blogspot.com/.

The giving tree

Remember the Montecito Tea Fire of 2008?  It was the first of several wildfires that burned through the region destroying hundreds of homes.  Westmont College, a Christian Liberal Arts College in Santa Barbara, suffered considerable damage in that fire. After such devastation, Westmont still managed to build — with the generosity of the Adams Family (not the finger-snapping one) — its brand-new Ridley Tree Museum of Art and the Adams Center for the Visual Arts, only two years later. Last month, the college received a donation of 39 pieces, including two large paintings by American impressionist Lawton S. Parker valued at $700,000.  The donation was made by the Arts Alliance of Ventura County, an organization founded in 1985 to protect the county’s art collection. AAVC President Andrew Voth is currently negotiating an additional donation with Westmont’s director of development, Dr. Reed Sheard.

Ojai gallery steels itself

Next time you’re in Ojai, make it a point to check out Mark Benkert’s brand-new sculptural installation in the backyard of Ojai Gallery 353. The gallery, designed and owned by architect Jeff Weinstein, has an interesting history.  Back in 2008, Weinstein demolished his previous residence after an unsuccessful attempt at selling it for $1. He built what is now Gallery 353, a ranch-style house with large windows, airy rooms and unique architecture. Prompted by this year’s Ojai Studio Artists Tour, Weinstein contacted local sculptor Mark Benkert to install one of his large-scale steel sculptures in the backyard of his gallery, initiating his plan for a sculpture garden. Two months ago, Benkter, during an arduous process involving a 45-foot crane and a military transport vehicle, erected two pieces: an angular, masculine sculpture weighing 5,000 pounds and an 8-foot-tall organic and fluid feminine creation. The rust-colored Corten steel sculptures complement the lines of the house’s architecture beautifully. More important to Weinstein is the supportive collaborative among local artists that he finds so gratifying. Learn more at ojaigallery353.com or by calling 798-0010 to make an appointment.

ArtThrob is a monthly column by artist Claudia Pardo, who is interested in what quickens an artist’s pulse and keeps him or her producing work despite less-than-ideal circumstances. If you’re a Ventura County artist, send her an e-mail and introduce yourself.