Oak Group artists hold show to benefit NatureTrack
A group of 25 activists brings awareness to open spaces and Santa Barbara County’s natural beauty armed not with megaphones and pickets, but paintbrushes and cameras.
The Oak Group is a 34-year-old organization of artists and friends who love nature so much that they use their creativity to save it. They’ve been part of the conservation of the Carpinteria Bluffs and the Douglas Preserve.
This year, they are focusing on NatureTrack, a nonprofit that provides free field trips to classes and guides kids through nature. The Oak Group’s current show “The Link Between Man and Nature” highlights NatureTrack’s popular trips, and 50% of the sales go to the nonprofit.
“I was just thrilled when they called me and said we were selected,” Sue Eisaguirre, founder and executive director of NatureTrack, said. “They heard about us and our missions are similar; they’re protecting open space and we’re creating stewards of our natural resources.”
Currently, NatureTrack is leading trips for organizations like the YMCA or families who want to experience nature together. It also has virtual hikes and activities for classroom instruction.
Painter Ray Hunter tagged along on two field trips in January and used watercolor to show the kids’ experience.
“Most of the time we paint landscapes, but in this particular instance, it’s all about the kids,” he said.
He noticed one child on the trip so taken with the ocean that he almost dropped his journal in the water.
“There are all kinds of things the kids get to experience,” he said. “It’s really just a lovely experience.”
He was one of few artists who attended the trips. More planned to join, but COVID-19 forced them to change plans.
The paintings in the show feature locations NatureTrack often visits, like the Carpinteria Bluffs and Hendry’s Beach.
Usually they hold an opening reception and display their work at Faulkner Gallery, but this show is online at oakgroup.org.
Mr. Hunter likes that potential buyers have a lot of time to view the paintings online, but he misses connecting with the community and seeing his fellow artists.
“It’s really nice for people to see the paintings in person and socialize around them,” Oak Group artist Marcia Burtt said. “We really miss that, seeing the paintings in relation to each other.”
The 25 members of the Oak Group are good friends and enjoy their outings together.
“The great part of this group is the camaraderie,” Oak Group co-founder Arturo Tello said. “We get to share a commitment for the land that we love and the medium that we’re working with and, in a way, be an activist and make a difference.”
Linda Mutti thinks the group has a longstanding tradition because of its members’ bond.
“There’s a singular purpose they all love: it’s to preserve our lands and our environment,” she said. “There’s something special about going out to these places you love and want to preserve.”
Mr. Tello and Ray Strong formed Oak Group in 1986 after reading “Depths of Glory,” a novel about Camille Pissaro and his group of painters that defined impressionism. They created their own group of friends with a passion for landscape painting.
Mr. Tello didn’t think the group would become so large, but he did know they were onto something special.
“In a way, I must have had an idea that our group of friends could have some sort of impact,” he said.
The Oak Group became an inspiration for other American artists.
“We were the first in the country to do this, but when we were discovered by American artists a few years after we started, groups started springing up,” Ms. Burtt said.
They’ve kept the group small so they can remain an organization of friends, ungoverned by rules and rigid systems. They all contribute as artists and nature enthusiasts.
“When you stand and do your painting outside, you spend hours standing and doing your painting. It’s different from hiking through,” Ms. Burtt said. “We can show people places they’ve never seen or maybe they haven’t seen it through our eyes, the eyes of someone who loves the place.”
They have a variety of styles and perspectives. They each have preferred mediums, and there’s even a photographer, Bill Dewey, in the group.
“We get a chance to interpret the landscape in 25 different ways and give people an option of seeing how we interpret that particular scene,” Mr. Hunter said.
Ms. Mutti was a fan of the Oak Group for years before being invited to join, which she describes as a “bucket-list thing.”
“There’s a lot of support from the community, and a lot of people, myself included, that have followed the Oak Group for many, many years who really get behind the issues at hand: the preservation of our land and the beauty of the area,” she said. “It’s great to be a part of saving that, and I think the community appreciates it.”
Mr. Tello said Santa Barbara is a great hub for them because of “the beauty of the land, and the public is very environmentally aware.”
He feels supported by the community and hopes that the virtual show will prove successful.
“The Link Between Man and Nature” features work from 21 of the Oak Group’s artists. The pieces are available to view online, and buyers can schedule a time to see them in person.
The show is open until Dec. 31 at oakgroup.org/the-link-between-man-and-nature.