As someone who travels frequently to paint, I have had the pleasure of visiting many interesting areas. Some locations are more inspiring than others, but all provide some degree of visual interest. Experiencing the diversity of terrain and the quality of light continues to be a source of fascination and motivation. A frequent side benefit to these sojourns is the opportunity to meet the local artists. As interesting as the locations may prove to be, it’s often the creative souls that inhabit them that leave the stronger impression.
A couple of months ago I was fortunate to be asked to teach a group of pastel artists in Ojai, California. Having annually traveled to the Santa Barbara area to paint and teach, I was eager to trek the short distance over the coastal range to the Ojai Valley. As beautiful as the area is (trust me, landscape artists, you’ll not be disappointed), it was the grand lady that graciously opened her studio for the workshop who stole the show. Bert (short for Alberta) Collins is the embodiment of an artist (See Bert pictured with me, above, and one of her paintings, below). From the moment you meet her, you know you are in the presence of a special spirit. Students and fellow artists constantly occupy her studio, and her paintings are sold as fast as she can paint them. Born in Los Angeles in 1928, Bert began painting in oils in 1960 and started teaching eight years later. After a very successful career as a still life artist in southern California, Bert and her husband Ralph moved in 1976 to the Ojai area, where she instantly became an involved presence in the local art community.
In 1984, Bert saw two pastel paintings in a local art gallery and was enthralled. After giving pastel a try for a year, she was completely hooked and immediately encouraged her students to change from working with oil and acrylic to pastel, and she has never looked back. She gives credit to Albert Handell for most of her early pastel instruction and later became friends with the late Santa Barbara pastel artist, Glenna Hartmann. In 2002, she opened her home/studio/gallery where she continues to teach. There’s a long waiting list to attend her classes, and her students appreciate her patience, guidance, upbeat attitude and expertise in pushing them to be better artists.
In recent years, health issues have severely limited Bert’s mobility, but she hasn’t let these medical challenges interfere with her creating or teaching. I can personally attest to her tenacity. Although limited to a walker, and lacking the ability to raise her head more than a few inches, she was out on location every day of the workshop. Rain, bugs and severe winds were not enough to remove the smile from her face as she worked. Witnessing the passion and joy expressed as she painted was enough to humble the toughest of plein air painters. As the workshop ended, it was easy to see why she’s considered a legend in the community, and is so beloved by her fellow artists. If you find yourself in Ojai, California, be sure to look her up at her West Hills Studio/Galler on 1545 Cuyama Road. Besides having the pleasure of seeing her beautiful pastel paintings, you’re likely to be as inspired by her spirit as I was!