During the last century the major urban centers of the world were traditionally hubs for creativity where low-cost urban living and compact communities were places where artists could live inexpensively and create art. The lifestyle was such that artists could gather to discuss, share and shape the vision of their art.
Many large metropolitan cities have since seen extensive gentrification and rising urban rents have forced the migration of lower income individuals and families from these areas. Together with the desire to live a healthier lifestyle “closer to nature” and the ability to remain connected to the world via the Internet, artists are moving to smaller, rural towns and many are fast becoming cultural hubs in their own right.
Bishop has a burgeoning art community that is steeped in the cultural traditions of the American West and those early intrepid adventurers who wrote about, charted and photographed this beautiful region – one of the most photographed in California. There is a common thread that blends the outdoor lifestyle, natural beauty, and old-world charm of Bishop that is inspiration for much of the art produced here.
Bishop is one of the many small towns across the USA that has come to epitomize cultural coolness with a sense of family values – all in a setting that is second to none.
There’s always something to enjoy here, whether it’s a three-day music festival, an open-air art walk through downtown, an arts & crafts fair, a visit to the workshop of a modern art furniture maker, a stroll through the gallery of a world-renowned photographer, attend a social painting class or photography workshop, listen to a local band at a local café or watch a theatrical performance, there is so much more than meets the eye.
Plan your weekend getaways around Bishop’s annual art events, or just make sure to be on the lookout and save some time for an Eastside art adventure. Start out at the Bishop Visitor Center and find when and where to go to get your art fix.
Galleries & Exhibitions
Well before explorers and settlers ventured into what is now called the Owens Valley, early Native American people were living, thriving and producing works of art according to age-old cultural traditions. The history of the first people of this land can be seen in the wonderful displays of art and craft at the Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center on West Line Street.
The center is a ‘living center’ that serves as a showcase for historical archives, artifacts and media as well as a place to gather, teach and continue the traditional ways. The museum gift shop offers locally made arts and crafts for purchase.
“We Honor our Past, Share for the Present, and Preserve for the Future.” Stop in and say, “Manahuu” (Hello).
“We believe that arts create a language that connects people and enriches lives – We are dedicated to advancing the arts in Inyo County by promoting appreciation, education, and collaboration – ICA brings quality programs and new experiences to our community – We provide a venue for local artists to show their work, for musicians to perform, and for the community to gather in appreciation of the arts – We are a non-profit organization which relies heavily on membership for our continued success.”
This non-profit organization has an extensive list of local artists on its website and the gallery is a showcase for their talents. The council offers its venue for art classes and sessions, it is the facilitator for ongoing art and music education for children of the community, and presents the Millpond Music Festival every September. Stop in at 137 S. Man St., Monday – Friday between 10am – 5pm and see what’s on show!
The gallery began as an exercise in interior décor to spruce up the chapel on South Main Street by Pastor John and his wife Laura. It has since become a space of beauty and tranquility. Art by the Chapel community members is tastefully exhibited and the lovely gallery is a place for all to come in, relax, and reflect.
Laura also scours thrift stores for beautiful and unusual artifacts and objects and most of the art and craft is available for sale. Sales benefit both the artists and the mission of the Chapel.
Two of the great historical figures of the Eastern Sierra, Norman Clyde and Smoke Blanchard, were longtime camp friends of Robert Clunie, a Scottish painter who fell in love with the Eastern & High Sierra. At the start of each summer over the course of several decades Clunie would pack all his art equipment up to the Palisades region of the Sierra Nevada. Here he would spend all day painting “en plein air” and many an evening in conversation with Clyde and Blanchard.
At a time when the photographers of the day, Ansel Adams, Cedric Wright and Edward Weston were shooting in black and white, before color film was more widely adopted and prior to the advent of large format color printing, Clunie’s bold, colorful paintings were inspirational.
The Coons Gallery began as the home and studio of Robert Clunie and is one of California’s oldest galleries and the oldest continuously operating art gallery in the Eastern Sierra. The gallery is named for a protégé of Clunie’s, Richard Coons, who bought the property in 1986 and developed his own style of realism for which he won numerous art awards.
The gallery is owned and operated by Wynne Benti, a multi-talented artist, writer and designer, and widow of the late Richard Coons. The gallery is a showcase for all three artists’ works and a glimpse into the life and history of artists in the Eastern Sierra. Viewing is by appointment.
This is Bishop’s newest art gallery. It is the vision of one of Bishop’s local artists and art aficionado, David Tidwell. In a refurbished old building on North Sierra Highway a spacious and light venue provides room for a variety of current and modern works by artists from the area.
Fine art and furnishings range from glass and metal sculpture to ceramics, paintings and prints to tables and chairs, some art deco, mostly modern and all beautiful. The gallery is open from Thursday to Sunday between 1-8pm.
This intimate venue is about to celebrate its second anniversary as a center for thought, discussion, creation and exhibition of art in all its forms. Started by veteran writer/actor/educator Eva Poole-Gilson, the Imagination Lab presents classes, workshops, parties, performances, meetings and events to nurture art appreciation and further education in the arts. Subjects range from writing workshops, to painting classes, journaling to theatre play for children, music and dance to performance art. If you can imagine it you can create it.
Located in the Town and Country Center, 621 W. Line St., Bishop, “If you want to find out what’s going on at the Imagination Lab, come on down,” says Gilson.
Eateries & Establishments
Businesses whose core business is not art, but is in food service, technology or retail goods, have also provided space and opportunity for local artists to show their works. Fine art and craft enhance the ambience of the coffee shops, a brewery, bookstores and retailers as well as provide economic benefit for both the artists and merchants.
Stop into one of these fine locally owned and operated businesses and sample their wares and peruse the art; Black Sheep Coffee Roasters, Looney Bean, Mountain Rambler Brewery, Pupfish Café, Spellbinder Books, Thai Thai Restaurant at Bishop Airport, or The Sound Shoppe Radio Shack.
On buildings throughout Bishop the history of the Owens Valley is depicted on the exterior walls in the form of historically accurate and visually beautiful murals. The Bishop Mural Society was established in 1997 “to display our heritage in a spectacular outdoor art gallery surrounded by natural beauty.” Today there are fifteen murals, the most recent of which is made up of 421 sculpted ceramic tiles and mosaic, created by 216 community members. The society is a founding member of the California Public Art and Mural Society and mural projects are ongoing through the generous support of the community. Pick up a map at the Bishop Visitor Center or follow the links online on the society’s webpage.
Music & Theatre
There is no shortage of musical talent in Bishop and many musicians moonlight with bands, as solo artists, and DJs in venues throughout town. Restaurants, bars and cafés host performances that suit the venue’s environment and clientele and so offer up an eclectic mix of musical genres. Let the well-known songs from recent and previous decades carry you through time or be transported by the rhythms and lyrics of original songs from talented local songwriters.
Live music and DJs can often be heard at these great eateries, check out their websites or pop in and ask when and who is playing; Aaron Schat’s Roadhouse, Black Sheep Coffee Roasters, McMurray’s Sports Bar, Mountain Rambler Brewery, Wanaaha Casino, Rusty’s Bar, and Thai Thai Restaurant.
The prize winning Felici Trio is a classical music lovers delight. The group has performed over 350 concerts in Europe, South America and the US. For almost 20 years the group has been in residence in Mammoth Lakes and brings world-class classical music to Inyo & Mono counties. Through the non-profit arts organization, Chamber Music Unbound, the trio presents a full winter concert series, a summer festival with international guests, a chamber workshop, a music school and “Kids Concerts.” Performances are held in Mammoth Lakes and Bishop.
Two theatre organizations bring talent to the Bishop stage.
The Bishop Community Concerts Organization presents a series of internationally acclaimed artists for one-night-only engagements in Bishop. It also offers a reciprocity agreement for Season Members to attend other Community Concert Associations’ presentations (based on seating availability) in nearby California and Nevada towns. Performances range from classical musicians, traditional and folk ensembles, singers, entertainers and comedians.
Playhouse 395 presents an annual Spring musical and Summer Children’s Theatre workshop that showcases local talent from start to finish of every production. Local residents undertake every aspect and role from direction, set design, stage crew, and costuming to actors, singers and dancers. Audiences have come to treasure and look forward to each new production. Large-scale musicals such as Hello Dolly, The Wizard of Oz, Oklahoma, South Pacific and Chicago have been artfully and successfully staged. Work has just begun on Mary Poppins, the next production to hit the Bishop stage in March 2017.
Festivals & Events
The next Millpond Music Festival will celebrate its 25th anniversary as Bishop’s most prestigious three-day music festival. Presented by the Inyo Council for the Arts this festival brings an eclectic mix of music by performers from many parts of the country and abroad. Held at Millpond County Park in September every year, a time when fall colors are typically at their best, it is both intimate in its setting and grand in its surroundings. With the towering peaks of the Sierra Nevada as a backdrop by day and an impressive canopy of stars and the shining Milky Way by night this festival is all about the mingling of music and Mother Nature.
Every Memorial Day Weekend since 1969 Bishop pays tribute to its Wild West heritage and presents the annual Mule Days festival. Art, craft and music are a big part of this celebration of the mule. Performers from the local community and celebrated artists from further afield entertain audiences in halls and on stages throughout the festival venue. A crafts fair is held on the grounds of the beautiful Bishop City Park providing an opportunity for local & visiting crafters to show their wares. This is a weekend full of old world fun and new world art vision.
Another great weekend for homegrown art and craft talent is the annual Labor Day weekend Tri-County Fair. This fair is a traditional old-style country fair where residents vie for ‘best of show’ in a great variety of creative disciplines, including; cooking, photography, quilting, décor, and flower arranging to name just a few.
An annual event that stimulates the eye and sweetens the taste buds is the annual Bishop Chocolate Art Walk. It’s a night on the town when businesses stay open late and provide a venue for an artist or group to show or perform their art form and serve up sweet chocolate treats.
To paraphrase a well-known quote, “[Art] is in the eye of the beholder.” Of the many fun and interesting events held in Bishop art, or beauty – as the quote is more accurately expressed, is often a central theme. Events such as the holiday season Street of Lights Party, or the Fall Colors Car show, or the Banff Film Festival are all visually stimulating and beautiful in their own right. Look through our list of annual events here to find out more about them all.
Made In Bishop
Born from a desire to “transform ‘Product’ into ‘Art’” this locally owned and operated design and printing firm specializes in high quality, hand-fed, letterpress products printed on vintage equipment. Translating art from digital files to analog processes is also an art form they have mastered. Their skill and experience as designers and printmakers spans the decades from pre-digital to current technology and the blend is more than retro, it is timeless. The Project Room also houses a gallery for artists and the current and past shows can also be viewed on the company’s website.
Todd began woodworking at the age of 7 and by 18 years of age was a professional woodworker. Like so many great artists of the past, Herman Miller, Le Corbusier, van der Rohe, and many others, whose prodigious talent produced such well-known functional art pieces, Todd’s craftsmanship and creativity results in exquisitely crafted pieces of modern art furniture. Todd says, “I feel lucky to be working in this grey area of art and furniture.”
John Milo Webber has brought the art of the sea to the mountains of Bishop. Raised in a household of artists, the son of a well-known actress, singer and dancer mother and photographer and film editor father, John spent his childhood on the beaches of Malibu. A career in the commercial fishing industry allowed him to master the art of shipbuilding and so develop a love of woodworking. He has opened a shop and gallery in Bishop where, inspired by the natural beauty of the Sierra, he uses his eye for design and his shipwright’s skills to create unique and original hand-made objets-d’art.
Are you a painter? Yes or No – this is the place to go. It’s the place to relax and socialize and, most of all, paint. Join a class, schedule a group or book a party. All art supplies and some refreshments are provided and at the end of the session you will go home with a painting signed by you.
Quilting is an age-old art form and this retail store provides a vast array of materials and a wealth of knowledge for both beginner and experienced quilters. First opened in June Lake in 2006, owner Barri Sue Gaudet moved to Bishop in 2009 where she continues to serve a talented community of quilters and crafters. Stop in and see how the craft and the Sierra can inspire you.
The Next Big Thing
Collaboration of arts and artists has always been a feature of vibrant cultural communities and Bishop is no different from the great art cities of the world. Artists convene to discuss art and challenge the status quo, merchants offer avenues for expression, and collectors search out trends.
To find out more about all the artists and venues discussed here click on the individual links provided throughout this article or read more about the many activities and attraction in Bishop on our website. Come in to our Visitor Center at 690 N. Main Street in Bishop for maps, brochures and answers to your questions.
Support our local artists and crafters. You never know … you may just get an early original of the next big thing.