by Tracy Spicer
photography by Reina Santa Cruz
An older gentleman, with slicked-back hair, a boxy leather jacket and aviator sunglasses, admires the array of vintage cars lining the street. Androgynous post-punk enthusiasts, wearing skin-tight tapered jeans and dangling cigarettes from their lips, sit on a concrete bench in a grassy area. An affluent middle-aged woman, with a gray cashmere sweater tied around her narrow shoulders, squints her eyes and slightly tilts her head as she closely studies exhibit opening artwork. Bohemian dressed women, looking as if they re-emerged from the 1960s Haight-Ashbury scene, admire the storefront windows. And then there is this reporter, completely taken aback by the eclectic mix of people found at the Pomona Arts Colony Art Walk.
The scene at the Art Walk is a far cry from the Colony’s normal weekday ambiance. Aside from the occasional rattle of a freight train rolling past the Pomona Train Station, the Arts Colony at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday resembles the ghost towns in old Clint Eastwood western movies. The sound of my footsteps as my flip-flops slapped the sidewalk echoed as I walked up and down Second Street. It took nearly 30 minutes for another person to cross my path – a young man wearing a backpack and headphones. As we exchanged quick glances, he seemed to be surprised to discover another life form in the desolate environment.
However, on the second Saturday night of each month, the Arts Colony comes alive and Second Street is the central hub—the pulsating heart if you will—of the Pomona Art Walk. Hundreds of people pencil this event in their calendars and crowd the streets of West Second, South Thomas and South Main. Art galleries, small businesses, restaurants and live entertainment contribute to the festivities, which begin at 6 p.m. and last until at least 9 p.m. “I love the Art Walk,” Brian Jones says as he dines outdoors at the 2nd Street Bistro with two friends. “There’s great food, and it’s fun to walk around and look at all the art. Each time I come here, there’s always something different to see.”
Though I arrive promptly at 6 p.m., it is clear that I’m a foreigner to the Art Walk as I roam the empty streets, seasoned with only a handful of people. I realize the usual crowd is fashionably late. But then, within minutes, something happens. It is as if droves of people just simultaneously drop in front of galleries and restaurants and scatter along Second and South Main streets. By 7 p.m., the Art Walk is alive and kicking. There is no elaborate announcement, no grandiose cutting of a ribbon, no big hoopla. This is the unofficial beginning to the night.
The Arts Colony is truly unique—a little bohemian with a modern sophisticated twist, and a hint of quirky, retro-chic mixed with a splash of starving artist edge. It has just enough underground credibility for music and art snobs’ approval with the variety of hip art galleries, clothing and music stores and live music venues. However, the Colony also has a vintage, downtown neighborhood feel that your grandmother from Mayberry could tolerate. Amidst offbeat, vintage clothing boutiques and mystic art shops, there are quaint home and garden stores, small bookstores and sidewalk cafes. Much of the 1920s Art Deco architecture has been refurbished and preserved. The Colony, once an abandoned mall, is now a neighborhood urban village saturated with diversity. “That’s why we love it here, for the diversity,” says JoAnn Kaiser, perched on a stool in front of her narrow used bookstore, Magic Door IV. “We looked for about seven years for a place like this, and we love it for all the different types of people who come in here.”
A crowd soon forms under a covered sidewalk and waits outside the popular Tiki Room and Yesteryears, two lively side-by-side bars. As I walk through the crowd, people enjoy a sidewalk barbecue, set up in the street under a makeshift tent. Crowd members sport multicolored mohawks, while fashioning studded jean jackets whose sleeves are connected by large, dull safety pins. Others opt for black, short-sleeve tee shirts that expose their arms, engulfed with tattoos. Three teenagers in particular catch my eye. Although they keep to themselves, the trio wear matching white outfits, consisting of crisp, long-sleeved white shirts, button-down vests and slim-fitting pants, paired with black derby hats and shoes. Their bowl haircuts and false eyelashes placed on their right eyes further add to the striking likeness of Alex DeLarge in Stanley Kubrick’s film, “A Clockwork Orange,” minus the classical music obsession and passion for violence.
“I’ve been here during the Art Walk once before,” says Claremont art patron Kayla Aaron, wearing smudged red lipstick, faded tapered jeans and worn-in Converse high-top sneakers, along with a zebra-print bag slung over her right shoulder. “The food is free, the atmosphere is interesting and the art is cool to look at.”
From punk rock and 1960s cult-film nostalgia to contemporary artwork, the Art Walk is truly an art lover’s dream come true. Each gallery within the Arts Colony caters to a specific style and form of art, ranging from acrylic paintings to restored vintage cars.
I stumble upon “Emerging from Aztlan,” the third annual Chicano Art Retrospective exhibit at the dA Center for the Arts on the lively South Main Street. The gallery was hosting a gala to celebrate the new exhibit, complete with live entertainment and refreshments. Inside, brightly colored canvases adorn the stark white walls. As I wander through the large gallery, noticing a few red dots placed near the artwork that has sold for the evening, ranging from $200 to $3,000, a tall man with ruddy cheeks and light brown hair taps me on the shoulder. “Did you see that drawing in the corner?” Jeff Lough asks as he points to Faith Butterfield’s “Highbrow Music,” a small, black-ink drawing of a Baroque musician playing a violin. “Someone just told me that drawing was done by an 8-year-old autistic girl. Isn’t that amazing?” It is artwork like Butterfield’s that has captivated Lough to return to the Art Walk for a second time. “It’s the hip place to be,” Lough says. “I first came here to support an artist friend of mine, and I thought the whole thing was great. It’s the type of place where, if it hit the mainstream, it wouldn’t be the same.”
A large crowd of all ages—ranging from a teenage boy in baggy jeans to an older gentleman sporting a beret and cane—enjoys the colorful Virgin Mary sculptures and the pastoral Mexican paintings, all while eating cake and sipping from paper cups. Gallery patrons begin to gather in the corner of the gallery as a trio of musicians perform. A gregarious older woman sets her cup on the floor, grabs her timid husband’s hand and begins to dance with the festive music. Outside, red, blue, cream and multicolored vintage cars in mint condition align the street in slanted parking spaces along the sidewalk. “Our car club does fundraisers and shows all the time,” Bomb Heaven car club member Lynn Lujan says, as the reflection of the setting sun bounces off the chrome bumper of his cream-colored 1950 Chevrolet Fleetline. “We usually do things around Santa Fe Springs or Pico Rivera, so this here in Pomona is a first for us. I honestly didn’t know what to expect,” adds Luanne Lujan, Lynn’s wife and fellow classic car fanatic. “Overall, I’m impressed. It’s nice and lively, and people are everywhere.”
Vintage cars then meet Aztec dancers, who perform in the street in front of the expanding crowd. The dancers wear gold headdresses with large, colorful feathers crowning their heads. The three male and three female barefoot performers take turns dancing and playing the traditional Aztec instruments, as if they jumped from the pages of National Geographic to South Main Street. They kick their legs up and down with the rhythm of the hollow-sounding drum and a white shell conch. As the colorful beads on their wrists and ankles shake, a fair-haired child bounces simultaneously in her stroller with a wide, toothless grin.
As I dodge and squeeze my way through the sea of bodies on the sidewalk, I bump into a young man, wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt and black-rimmed glasses, sitting outside the Pomona Frame House. His dark brown, slightly disheveled hair peeks out from the sides of his baseball cap. Beside him are two rows of black-matted pictures on a long rectangular table. “I’ve been doing this for a while, like for the last couple of years,” artist Jason Baldridge tells me as I admire the psychedelic images drawn by hand with black ink. “It has been a good opportunity to get exposure and sell my work to people just walking by.”
I return to Second Street and notice a group of vintage horror film posters—with titles like “The Invisible Man” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”—in the window of Ferguson Fine Arts and Design. As I step inside, I am overwhelmed by the variety of artwork on the walls and shelves. Gil Elvgren’s canvas prints of 1950s-style pin-ups, reminiscent of Bettie Page, stand on easels, draped in black and red fabric. Large black-and-white and colored photographs by Steve Misch, framed in black wooden frames, depict mysterious Venetian allure with carnival masks, gondolas and buildings surrounded by the watery canals. Dia de Los Muertos figurines are displayed on shelves in a tall, rectangular glass case. Ceramic vases and bowls in earthy colors are placed on shelves near the storefront window with price tags ranging from $75 to $200. “I think the Art Walk has been really positive for us,” says owner Connie Ferguson, sitting in a high-back leather chair at her desk in the middle of the showroom. “We just relocated from Covina, so we’re one of the newer galleries to the Arts Colony. We moved to grow, and this place is a perfect fit.” At the back of the gallery, people gather around a bar and lounge area. Through the cutout window, lined with a stream of tiny colorful lights, the bartender pours drinks into martini glasses while making conversation with gallery patrons.
As I step outside, I hear the faint sound of Mariachi music—trumpets, violins, the works—from a private party at the Glass House, which normally caters to the alternative music scene. The further I walk down South Thomas Street, the more low-key it gets. With not as much foot traffic, ethereal new age music replaces loud, bass-driven music.
At the Phoenix Gallery, Vijay Sharma announces to passersby that she can create anything with a photograph and points to her display of titled murals, ceramic tiles and mugs. “The Art Walk is so important because it lets young people, who are not usually exposed to art, see things they normally wouldn’t,” Sharma says. “And it helps me get to know what they like. It opens both our artistic horizons.”
Vijay’s husband, Vijay Sharma [both claim identical name spelling], tells me that his Phoenix Gallery specializes in Giclee, a French heating technique that enables original artwork to be printed on a variety of different objects. “Overall, the art business is slow,” Vijay says as he picks up a custom made Giclee jewelry box. “It’s difficult to sell wall art, so the Phoenix Gallery provides a service for the artists where they can expand their product line using one image at a low cost.”
Next door and down a flight of bubblegum pink stairs with haphazard splotches of lime green and purple dried paint, a middle-aged man in a faded maroon polo shirt paints coral reef and sea creatures with acrylic paints on a canvas. He periodically stops, steps back and puts his left hand on his hip, studying what he just created. He is Lucien van Oosten, an artist in the Progress Space Gallery, one of three showrooms. His completed work, along with other artists’ creations, hangs in the Soho Gallery, a space that looks more like a parking garage than an art showroom. The winners of the Pomona Valley Art Association “Opened Juried Show” are currently featured on the concrete walls. 57 Underground is the third of the basement galleries, featuring edgier artwork, including bizarre ceramics, intricate glass sculptures and third dimension, mixed media works on large canvas.
As the energy dwindles at 10 p.m. on South Thomas Street, I am about ready to call it a night. However, I suddenly hear a faint, pounding noise coming from South Main Street. As I try to follow the bass-driven beat, loud voices emerge, laughing and socializing. I discover an older man, with gray hair and mustache, sitting on a small stool, playing a conga drum on the sidewalk. A dozen or so people sway back and forth, sitting in patio chairs around an old, outdoor glass table. Next to the impromptu drummer is an open red door.
As I walk inside, I find the friendly, artsy, bohemian family I always wanted. A whirlwind of people with Heinekens in hand gather around a kitchen setting, complete with a stainless steel sink, wooden table and chair set and vintage refrigerator. To the left is an eclectic gallery, with painted, contemporary furniture, ceramic figurines and brightly colored canvases hanging on the beige-colored walls. There is a small, wooden stage with a drum kit and microphones where musicians must have played earlier.
“Frida by the foot for $10” is scribbled on one of the walls in black marker, with an arrow directing my eye to a large ivory-colored roll of paper below. The roll has red, blue and green-sponged images of Frida Kahlo, the innovative 20th Century Mexican painter.
As I make my way out of the Popztlan mayhem, it is well past 11 p.m., and the streets are slowly returning to that familiar ghost town state. The once inviting lights in each of the galleries are now turned off. The doors that were once flung open, welcoming art patrons with open arms, are now closed shut. The crowd has either gone inside its favorite bars or gone home for the evening. The only person to cross my path is a large, older man with shoulder-length, stringy gray hair and red cheeks, wearing an ill-fitting tan leather jacket. As he haphazardly stumbles across Second Street, we exchange quick glances as he plays the same chord over and over on his silver steel harmonica. It is clear to me now: This is the unofficial ending to the night at the Art Walk.
Pomona Arts Colony: Where to Go
Pomona Arts Colony Art Walk
West Second Street, South Thomas Street and South Main Street, off North Garey Avenue.
6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month.
For information call (909) 868-2970.
With so many places to visit and so much art to see, here are my favorite galleries, stores and restaurants to make your visit worthwhile:
The dA Center for the Arts
252-D South Main St.
As the liveliest gallery in the Colony, the dA Center offers a wide array of art – ranging from contemporary paintings to off-the-wall sculptures – which reflects its diverse patrons and clientele. The dA Center is a nonprofit organization, which provides opportunities for the community to experience appreciate and support the arts.
Ferguson Fine Arts and Design
3181 W. Second St.
Though the gallery specializes in Pin-up Art from world-renown artists, Ferguson Fine Arts and Design offers various styles and mediums of art for sale. You can browse black-and-white photography, handmade ceramic sculptures and vintage movie posters all while purchasing a drink from the martini bar.
La Bomba Vintage Clothing
195 W. Second St.
It is nearly impossible to walk past La Bomba, which stays open later during the Art Walk. Its quirky outdoor allure will draw you in to a sea of vintage clothing and accessories. If you take some time to dig through the racks and rounders of clothing, you will discover reasonably priced vintage t-shirts, dresses and jackets from a variety of past decades.
2nd Street Bistro
171 W. Second St.
When you feel like taking a break, 2nd Street Bistro is the perfect restaurant to sit back and to enjoy French and Italian cuisine. This stylish eatery offers outdoor dining reminiscent of sidewalk cafes in Europe. Inside, vintage advertisement posters, historic red-and-white brick walls, a tin ceiling and open kitchen further add to the restaurant’s appeal.