Hidden gem: Don’t miss the world of Scott McGrath on Sierra Art Trails (updated)
(I’ve updated this post by adding a video interview with Scott McGrath and photos of the other artists I got to visit at the 2019 Sierra Art Trails. See the end of the post for the new stuff.)
What a gorgeous day at Saturday’s Sierra Art Trails: perfect weather, great scenery, nice people, peanut-butter-filled pretzels, and only one instance of getting lost on the winding roads of Mariposa County. (Sign of the day, spotted on a private road: “Turn around. Your GPS is wrong.”)
Oh, and there was the art: oodles of it. The best part of Art Trails is getting to talk to the artists and see where they live and make their work.
One of my favorite things to do is pick a Trails stop that is as far away as you can get, and I was able to do that on Saturday.
Which brings me to quick pick that I’d like to get posted so that anyone out there today (Sunday, Oct. 6) on the final day of the Trails might be able to work it into their schedule. It’s fantastic. Here’s a rundown:
The Art Trails stop: McGrath Arts in Mariposa. It’s No. 70 in the 2019 Sierra Art Trails catalog. Owner Scott McGrath creates custom, hand-forged metalwork, often for fancy homes in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. The company creates reproduction and original artistic sculptures and functional art such as railings, lighting, gates, and arbors.
The scene: This is much more than a staid home studio, however. The visitor walks into an amazing, sprawling, hard-to-describe cacophony of towering metal sculptures, vintage treasures and unabashed creativity. Brightly colored fire hydrants mark the parking area, and dozens of free-standing sculptures — including one called “Radiation Man” — lead to the studio, whose front is an example of gorgeous brickwork and replicas of old-fashioned metal shutters (he calls them “Mariposa doors”) that helped protect the wooden buildings downtown from fire. Across the way, another building filled with nearly 30 years of stuff includes an antique metal roller machine. (“I’m pretty sure it’s from the 19th century,” he says.) Next to it stands a towering windmill, which is inoperable at the moment because a family of hawks recently built a nest just below the blades, and even though they’ve all flown away, McGrath doesn’t have the heart to remove it.
But wait, there’s more: Just inside the studio sits a 1929 Franklin automobile, partially restored, which was the last car on which McGrath’s father worked. (He loved restoring really old cars.) Walk through the kitchen to the back porch, and you’ll find brick steps — which McGrath laid, of course — leading to the compound’s most fascinating attraction. McGrath’s mountainside of a backyard offers an expansive walking trail and garden tour upon which is arranged a wonderland of sculptures, found objects and whimsical sights. It’s like the hole that Alice fell into turned out to include an antique store, junkyard, metal shop, demonstration garden and theme park, all mixed together.
Almost every step reveals something new to see: a metal tree bearing brightly colored glass bottles for fruit; fanciful spheres studded with marbles; vintage glass mugs strung on a chainlink fence like popcorn on a string; kitschy little gingerbread men; bright orange circular exhaust vents on pedestals that turn in the breeze; more glass bottles configured in weird and wacky ways; and, my personal favorite, three former liquid natural gas cylinders of varying heights positioned as if they are site-specific sculpture, looking like Cold War missile silos. A consistent theme is odd juxtaposition, with familiar objects turned upside down and plopped down next to each other in aesthetically pleasing but head-scratching ways.
The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.
The reception: McGrath, wearing a purple shirt and weathered black hat that made him look like a very hip Gold Rush prospector, is as amiable a host as you can find. (At one point, taking a break from studio duties to madly grate some cheese, he offered us part of his chicken fajita lunch as we walked through his kitchen.) He and his wife built the studio in 1992, and it kept expanding. It’s cluttered with family memories — his dad’s last car, and he tells us that his mother was instrumental in planning the backyard path — and, overall, the place has the look and feel of mad genius. It’s worth every extra mile to get there.
Addendum: I asked McGrath if visitors could see his studio even when it isn’t Sierra Art Trails weekend, and he nodded. “I’m almost always there,” he said. You might end up buying something one-of-a-kind.
VIDEO: Get a peek at Scott McGrath’s Mariposa studio
The rest of my Sierra Art Trails 2019 experience was great, too. I raced around on Saturday afternoon popping in here and there, always with great conversation and a deep appreciation for the talent on display.
I marked the occasion with some of the artists I visited: