by Emily Dodi

“Perla Batalla,” pastel, Katie Van Horne

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Vita Art Center and Focus on the Masters have collaborated on Women On the Rise, on exhibit though March 21 at the Vita Art Center in Ventura. The featured artists, Lori Cozen-Geller, Margaret Garcia, Kim Shoenstadt and Katie Van Horn, will be interviewed individually as part of the Focus on the Masters (FOTM) ongoing artist documentation series, currently hosted by the Museum of Ventura County.

“We chose the artists with the intention of having a diverse representation of women, including age and art process,” explains Mary Perez, founding director of Vita Art Center and co-curator with Donna Granata of Women On the Rise. Perez adds, “What better time to come see women artists than Woman’s History Month?”

This is the fourth time that Vita Art Center and Focus on the Masters have collaborated on an exhibit. After the success of their first collaboration, Perez remembers that she and Granata, the founder and executive director of FOTM, asked themselves, “Why don’t we do this every year?”

In Women On the Rise, Perez and Granata have brought together accomplished artists who continue to ascend in their power and significance.

“Untitled,” mixed media collage, Stephanie Dotson

Minimalist sculptor Lori Cozen-Geller has three works on display.

“Even though [the sculptures] are contemporary and sculptural she has a lot of meaning behind them,” explains Perez. One piece symbolizes Cozen-Geller’s three children. Another tells a story about her father and her sons. “That’s the way she works. She always starts with an emotion,” Perez adds.  

The pieces by Margaret Garcia, including several oil paintings and a work done in pastel, embody the renowned artist’s signature bold use of color. Garcia “started painting in the 1970s in Los Angeles during the Chicano movement,” says Perez. The prolific Garcia once said, “I define Chicano art by creating it.” 

“Restoration Selections (West) (East) and (South),” three works by Kim Schoenstadt, represent a bit of a departure for the artist who is known for installation pieces. FOTM explains that Schoenstadt’s work is “inspired by the intersection of architecture, sculpture, color, line, history, culture.” The works on display demonstrate how Schoenstadt is able to transfer that same inspiration onto paper.

“Hiromi,” oil on canvas, Margaret Garcia

The works of Katie Van Horne include a pastel portrait of Perla Batalla, a singer/songwriter who will also be documented by Focus on the Masters. Van Horne explains that while she worked on Batalla’s portrait, she watched videos of the singer performing. She notes that, without realizing it, it helped her capture a natural expression on the singer’s face — something that even Batalla’s daughter remarked on when she saw the portrait. 

Women artists are also celebrated in Vita Art Center’s smaller galleries. The exhibit Skin Deep is a “collaborative exhibit of recent works by MB Hanrahan, Dina Pielaet and Amy Jones,” who also happen to be close friends. Each piece speaks volumes about the sheer force of the artists’ wit, intelligence and social conscience. Their book Body of Work: 20 Years of MB Hanrahan Nude Holiday Postcards is also featured.

“4th of July,” MB Hanrahan with photographer Dina Pielaet

In the adjacent CabadaGray Gallery at Vita Art Center are multi-media works by Stephanie Dotson. Each one draws you in to discover layer upon layer of intricate workings of color, shapes and dimension. 

Nearby are Michelle Wilson Pettit’s works entitled Flowery Pool — talismans that, in Pettit’s words, “redirect the symbolism of the vagina, from the negativity of today’s pop culture back to its true nature of beauty, empowerment and love.”

While only four of the artists exhibited will be interviewed for Focus on the Masters this year, it is evident that each woman has something important to say. Thanks to Vita Art Center, we can hear them loud and clear.

Women on the Rise through March 21 at Vita Art Center, 28 W. Main St., Ventura. An opening reception will be held on Friday, March 6, 6-9 p.m. For more information, call 805-644-9214 or visit

Focus on the Masters artist interviews take place at the Museum of Ventura County, 100 E. Main St., Ventura. For more information, call 805-653-2501or visit

Upcoming Schedule:

March 29: Perla Battala

April 26: Margaret Garcia

June 28: Lori Cozen-Geller

November 22: Katie Van Horn

Kim Schoenstadt’s interview is available now at