If you travel the rural roads of SLO County or drive to local beaches, you've no doubt passed a plein air painter. You see them set up along the roadside or in a field or along a beach bluff with an easel in front of them and a paintbrush in hand. They're practicing the 19th century style of French open air painting, which became a central hallmark of impressionism.
It's a challenging practice! The shifting shadows, moving clouds, and changing atmospheric conditions alter the light. As contemporary American artist J.R. Baldini once said, "Painting en plein air, you will be doing problem solving on your feet."
Some of the artists you may see locally are members of SLOPE, San Luis Outdoor Painters for the Environment: Tracy Paz, Dennis Curry, Karen Foster, Jan French, Sandi Heller, Dan Jones, Bernie Kurtz, Denise Schryver, Rosanne Seitz, Laurel Sherrie, Elizabeth Tolley, and Jim Tyler.
- Courtesy Image By Rosanne Seitz
- CATTLE SILHOUETTES Rosanne Seitz's watercolor captures grazing cattle on Santa Rita Ranch, which is newly acquired as a permanently protected space by the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo. Sustainable grazing will continue to maintain rangelands.
"We use our art to draw public attention to this region for the purpose of raising awareness and to generate funds for preserving local lands for open space, wildlife, and ecologically respectful recreation, ranching, and farming," they explain in their artists' statement. "Working with local and national organizations, [we] create artworks depicting the beauty and uniqueness of California's Central Coast."
One of the organizations SLOPE works with is the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County (LCSLO), "a community-supported local nonprofit land trust working to conserve and care for the diverse wildlands, farms, and ranches of the Central Coast, connecting people to the land and to each other," its mission statement reads. "The land trust helps to protect drinking water sources, prevent poorly planned development, restore wildlife habitat, promote family farmlands and ranches in our region, and connect people of all ages and backgrounds to the land. The Land Conservancy leads collaborative efforts which have resulted in the permanent protection of over 26,500 acres of land in SLO County since 1984."
The Land Conservancy's most recent acquisition is the historic Santa Rita Ranch, a 1,715-acre parcel located at the top of Highway 46 West between the Pacific Ocean and Templeton. The purchase wasn't an easy or quick process.
- Courtesy Image By Laurel Sherrie
- SANTA RITA RANCH, MAGICAL TRAIL This oil painting by Laurel Sherrie already sold from the virtual exhibition SLOPE Paints the Serene Magic of Santa Rita Ranch, which can be viewed on San Luis Outdoor Painters for the Environment's website, slope-painters.com. A portion of the proceeds benefits Santa Rita Ranch.
"This conservation effort began in 2018 when LCSLO partnered with The Conservation Fund, a national environmental nonprofit, to help protect this incredible ranch," the organization announced. "As the property was being actively marketed and LCSLO needed time to raise money for the purchase, they asked The Conservation Fund to step in. The Fund was able to negotiate and acquire the ranch in May 2020 and then held the property for the remainder of the year.
"Faced with a December deadline to buy the ranch, LCSLO's staff and board worked quietly and diligently to secure almost three-quarters of the $8 million purchase price," they continued. "This funding included a $3.94 million grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board's Streamflow Enhancement Program. The organization borrowed from internal reserves to complete the purchase and conserve the Santa Rita Ranch forever. LCSLO continues to seek donations to fully fund this remarkable conservation project."
The property is described as featuring "towering valley oaks, dense bay laurel forests, and a remarkable freshwater lake. In addition to the ranch's lush hardwood forests, serpentine outcrops dot the property's grasslands and support a variety of rare and endemic flowering plants and succulents. Santa Rita Creek—the ranch's namesake—forms its headwaters here on its way to the Salinas River."
What better way to honor and celebrate this purchase than by inviting the artists of SLOPE to come and capture its beauty in the plein air style? The artists spent the last two months of 2020 working on location at Santa Rita Ranch, which has resulted in a wonderful virtual exhibition found online.
According to Laurel Sherrie, a 16-year SLOPE member, "Hearing about the Land Conservancy's Santa Rita Ranch project was exciting, and for SLOPE to be invited to paint there was thrilling! Exploring the ranch and being on-site to put it to canvas, to put our efforts into helping in this endeavor is extremely meaningful and gives purpose to our art."
Titled SLOPE Paints the Serene Magic of Santa Rita Ranch, the exhibition will be available for online viewing through Feb. 28. The Land Conservancy will receive a portion of art sale proceeds.
"The Santa Rita Ranch is a beautiful place full of wildlife, stunning vistas, abundant water, and charismatic oak trees," Land Conservancy Executive Director Kaila Dettman said. "Ferns grow on the slopes among the bay laurel and madrone, and cattle happily graze its fields. The moment we set foot on this land, we knew it was special, and we are so excited to share the news that we have protected it forever. I am forever grateful to all our supporters who made this possible."
- Photo Courtesy Of The Land Conservancy Of San Luis Obispo
- SANTA RITA RANCH The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo purchased the 1,715-acre historic ranch located off Highway 46 West to ensure it remains permanent open space. Tax-deductible charitable donations can be made at lcslo.org.
According to a Land Conservancy press release, "LCSLO will continue to lease the land to a rancher who grew up on the property and has run cattle there for many years. This partnership is in alignment with LCSLO's mission to support local agriculture and will ensure the ranch remains sustainably grazed."
The Conservation Fund California State Director Steve Hobbs said, "LCSLO's vision and efforts to conserve the unique landscape of the Adelaide region are ambitious but critical. Santa Rita Ranch is one of the area's most beautiful and ecologically important properties, and it was our pleasure to partner once again with LCSLO—after providing bridge financing for the Pismo Preserve infrastructure—to protect the Santa Rita Ranch."
We live in a beautiful place, and with the help of these organizations working in concert, the Central Coast will stay that way. Δ
Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at email@example.com.