In one delightful day, you can walk along Carmel beach and see the beautiful homes, walk up through the town and discover the fairytale architecture, and find your way through some of the 42 hidden pathways and courtyards, each enhanced with baby flower gardens, many of which lead you to yet another art gallery, one of almost 90 in this one-square-mile-sized California village.
Your eyes, at the end of the day, will be dazzled.
Carmel-By-The-Sea was founded 100 years ago by a group of artists who came because of the light. The artists never left, but others came and were joined by writers and architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Al Saroyan, poet Robinson Jeffers, writers Jack London and George Sterling, and photographers Ansel Adams and Ed Weston. All residents decided to keep its scale and flavor, thus the height restriction on buildings to two stories, no curbs, and no street numbers: Gallery Sur is at the corner of Dolores and Lincoln streets, and the drivers’ license addresses of Carmelites (they’re not nuns or friars, but residents) contain Post Office box numbers.
When you walk by the Tuck House teahouse or the Hansel house you’ll think you could be in Olde England. These are Hugh Comstock “Dollhouse Tudor” homes, like the 400-square-foot one he made originally for his bride, copied after the cottages of the old world, with rolled eave roofs and deliberately asymmetrical angles. Pop into Steven Whyte’s sculpture studio and gallery and you may find the sculptor standing dwarfed by one of his humongous bronze busts of Abraham Lincoln or Bacchus 10 times real-life size. Whyte’s War Hymn Monument for Texas A&M College is, at 18,000 pounds, the largest single bronze sculpture at any stadium in the USA and at any educational establishment in the world. He just sent “Jumbo,” a life-sized elephant in bronze, to Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, to represent that school’s mascot. Whyte does so many sculptures of beautiful nude women that he jokes about those who want to model for him that “I have to beat them off with a stick.”
At Gallerie Plein Aire you might meet artist Cyndra Bradford, who paints all along the Carmel coastline, outdoors, the scenes that first brought so many to this town. The Robin Winfield Gallery of contemporary art features life-sized sculptures of Shannon Lilly, former prima ballerina of the San Francisco Ballet, or David Ligare’s work, such as his”Untitled (Thrown Drapery) painting which was featured prominently in the 1985 film “Compromising Positions” which may have influenced the later iconic image of the white plastic bag floating in a blue sky in the film “American Beauty.” Ligare has had over 40 solo exhibitions in New York, London, Rome, Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere. At Gallery Sur you’ll see Winston Swift Boyer’s Ocean Series of fine art photographs, or the stone sculptures of six artists from Zimbabwe, Africa. The variety of media in Carmel’s galleries is astounding.
Cassandria Blackmore Gallery features the unusual reverse painting on glass where, after the artist has painted on the back of the glass, she smashes it so the broken glass is its own art. And the Eyvind Earle Gallery has serigraphs from the artist who painted backgrounds for Disney films and also wrote poetry: “Fog is a kind of rain before it falls. It floats and sails and climbs and drifts and crawls. It moves into the mountains and the hills and slowly disappears as daylight spills.”
Kelly Steele leads a tour of the courtyards and pathways of Carmel if you’d rather have a guided tour of those, and wouldn’t you know, he too, is an artist, now painting pictures of the stone homes and storybook cottages of Carmel onto his iPhone and making them into postcards. Guided tours of some of the art galleries gives you access to artists and art dealers whom you may not meet if you were strolling the galleries on your own. You can even take a “Creativity With Canvas” tour where you might meet at the beach and the art teacher will bring all materials for a private session creating your own Carmel-inspired art. Go to www.carmelarttours.com
Any woman who takes one of these tours, or walks around town on her own, is of course going to wear comfortable, flat, walking shoes for comfort. But if you get an urge — perhaps for a dinner out — to put on your heels any higher than two inches, take note that first you’ll have to go to Carmel City Hall to get a permit to wear them. Just another quirk in this kinky town — they don’t want to be sued for broken ankles on sidewalks that are bumpy and without curbs.