Best Cities to See Art: Ojai, California

 Ojai, California, photo by Ken Lund
 Ojai, California, photo by Ken Lund
 Ojai, California, photo by Ken Lund

Ojai, California is known for its “spiritual energy,” and stunning pink sunsets, commonly referred to as “Pink Moment” for the rosy illumination produced as a result of the light bouncing off the mountain. The community is intensely loyal to its small-town restaurants and boutiques, so if you like chain restaurants and big box stores, Ojai may not be the place for you. But if you long to surround yourself in the peaceful tranquility of a picturesque mountain town known for its “calming vortex,” you’ve come to the right place. Oh, and if you enjoy the experience of viewing art in a charming downtown walkable city, you’re also in luck.

Considered one of the most desirable places to visit in California, Ojai is about 90 miles north of Los Angeles, nestled within a gorgeous valley surrounded by lush greenery and set against the backdrop of the Topatopa Mountains. But unlike the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, Ojai is slower-paced, decidedly non-conformist, and reminiscent of the carefree California days of yore. Long-time residents worry a little that her charm is no longer such a well-kept secret and that Ojai is on the verge of becoming trendy, but they also embrace the opportunity to share her beauty and spiritual enlightenment with newcomers.

As we mentioned, you won’t find chain retail establishments of any kind in Ojai. The local municipality’s governing body has banned them in the city proper. What you will find is one-of-a-kind cultural opportunities in the form of a great local art scene including galleries, an art center, and museums. On our list of must-see art spaces, we start with a non-profit dedicated to the arts named after a fiercely independent female artist whose inspirational and progressive work is at the core of an amazing legacy.

 

Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts

The namesake of the Ojai center, Beatrice Wood’s biography reads like a literary masterpiece, with a back story so compelling it is a work of art all its own.

Much to her mother’s chagrin, in the early 1900s a young and rebellious Wood defied her parents’ wishes and abandoned a fortunate upbringing for a somewhat alternative lifestyle as an artist. Not satisfied with just one pursuit, she first worked as an actress in New York theater productions, and then as an abstract artist under the tutelage of her friend artist Marcel Duchamp, with whom she was a key player in the Dada movement. Wood later moved to Los Angeles and eventually to Ojai where she perfected her craft as a potter, and finally in her later years was an accomplished writer, for which she remained creatively and intellectually active up until her death at the age of 105.

 

 

The Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts collection is a real-life illustration of the artist’s talents and tells the tale of her incredible life, including a glimpse at some of her most intimate relationships (such as with Duchamp) and how they influenced her work. The permanent collection includes Wood’s art which she crafted with her own hands, her collection of folk art and memorabilia, as well as her library, all housed within her former studio as a living museum.

8585 Ojai Road, Ojai, CA

https://www.beatricewood.com/index.html

Ojai Valley Museum
Ojai Valley Museum, photo by T Raez Pics

The Ojai Valley Museum’s mission revival style building was once a catholic church, which was rebuilt after a 1917 fire did significant damage to the structure. The museum is focused singularly on the arts, culture, and history of the Ojai Valley specifically. Given the content-rich environment including the character of the valley and the seemingly colorful personalities that are part of her history, the museum has much material with which to work.

 

At the heart of the museum’s mission, the coupling of art and history makes perfect sense given how deeply they are intertwined as part of Ojai’s story. Considering the role of the Chumash people as the first inhabitants of Ojai, Indigenous traditions are celebrated and highlighted at the museum, as a key feature of the evolution of the valley. The museum has been collecting art and artifacts of all kinds relating to the city’s history since 1966. It also features current artworks by talented local artists, many of whom find inspiration in Ojai’s spiritual energy. Art on display at the museum covers myriad styles and mediums, with the celebration of talented local artists at the heart of each exhibition.

130 W Ojai Avenue, Ojai, CA

https://www.ojaivalleymuseum.org/

Porch Gallery (and Storefront)

 

 

Porch Gallery’s name is presumably derived from its pleasant wrap-around porch that envelopes the charming white historic home and makes us want to pull up a rocking chair and stay awhile. Porch Gallery represents emerging and established contemporary artists.

The gallery is a sophisticated art space with frequently changing exhibitions, but what also caught our attention is their unique retail storefront that offers creative gifts and mementos featuring works of local artists in sometimes unusual ways. Beatrice Wood’s fanciful artworks serve as the branding for Beato Chocolates, with clever and humorously provocative imagery. Barware is etched and adorned with artist Katie Van Horn’s signature horses, the perfect complement to any mint-julep fueled Kentucky Derby party. A visit to the Porch Gallery storefront won’t take a lot of time away from your more traditional gallery hopping excursion but is a fun pit stop along the route.

310 E Matilija Street, Ojai, CA

https://www.porchgalleryojai.com

Canvas and Paper

With its clean, simple style absent a lot of fanfare, a visit to Canvas and Paper feels like a cleansing deep breath. The non-profit exhibition space is a gift to the community of sorts, from owner Neil Kreitman, established for the simple joy of experiencing beautiful and interesting art. Unlike the other art galleries we’ve highlighted, canvas and paper hosts exhibitions but doesn’t sell anything that they display.

Kreitman is a long-time art collector and the artworks are from his personal collection, for which he features single artist showings in the pleasant, inviting space. The exhibitions typically feature 20th century or earlier artists, displaying a few works that are accessible for public viewing and appreciation.

311 N Montgomery Street, Ojai, CA

https://www.canvasandpaper.org/

 

We are big fans of Ojai and its artsy, laid-back bohemian vibe. From its exquisite landscapes and natural aesthetics to its cultural and arts opportunities, there are many compelling reasons to visit the beautiful Ojai Valley. If you aren’t quite ready to make the trip, you can peruse one-of-a-kind original artworks on UGallery’s website anytime from the comfort of your home.