Feather River Art Camp: Making Art, Making Friends

The Feather River Art Camp for adults has been offered each summer since 1991. Held at the Oakland Feather River Camp on the Spanish River in Quincy, the week-long camp is billed by Oakland-based director Karen LeGault as the “perfect joyful blend of fine art, creativity, nature, restoration, fun and camaraderie.”  A group of my friends attended the camp this past June. All first timers, we signed up for a week of plein air painting in the beautiful environs of Quincy with Oakland and Mendocino-based artist Carol Tarzier. 

Many of the over 125 campers that signed up this summer have been attending the art camp for decades.

Each camper registers for a specific morning class and can attend optional demonstrations, workshops, and other art activities in the afternoon and evening. Thirteen classes were offered in June 2024, ranging from mixed media and ceramics to plein air painting, sewing and felting, to nature journaling, bookcraft, glass bead-making and glass collage. Afternoon and evening sessions included charcoal portrait drawing, t-shirt screen printing, pine needle weaving, nature walks, abstract painting, and glass mosaics.  Horseback riding, archery, and swimming were also offered. Evenings included traditional camp activities such as an art supply swap, a talent show, and disco-bingo.

Lodging is rustic, a cot and set of shelves in a platform tent with optional electricity, and three meals a day are served in the “Chow Palace.” Depending on the weather, campers endeavor to stay warm or cool, as we did in the 90+ degree weather during our time at camp, to avoid mosquitoes, ants, sunburn, and to sleep through the numerous Union Pacific trains that rumble through the campground at night. 

Walking to breakfast our first morning in camp, we observed a dozen sewing machines and ironing boards already set up under the pines.

Sewing

Under the direction of Oakland-based designer Meaza Haile, the sewing class produced kimonos and tote bags, learning to sew and mend, reuse fabrics, and to decorate clothing with scraps and decorative stitching. Owner and founder of 8AM Fashion, Meaza narrated a fashion show after our last dinner in camp. A dozen campers proudly walked the runway in their newly completed garb.

Helen Choi painting alongside the Spanish River

Helen Choi painting alongside the Spanish River

Wet Felting

Wet felting was taught by Auburn-based textile artist Terry Shearn. Her teaching area was set back into the trees, which explained why, on our first full day, we saw about eight women filling gallon-sized buckets with hot water at the bathroom and carrying them down the hill. Terry uses wool locks, mohair, thread, and recycled sari silk to create three-dimensional sculptural objects and garments, and colors the felt with natural dyes. On the last afternoon of camp, her students set up a display of felt hats, art vessels, fingerless gloves, and slippers. One camper completed a turquoise vest.

Pine Needle Basketry class work

Basketry class work

Basketry

Pine needle basketry was taught by award-winning basket artist Carolyn Zeitler, who demonstrated the basics of forming a coil using raffia and Coulter pine needles. The foot-long needles are sewn together using a waxed polyester thread to make flat coasters and gently curved bowls decorated with various stitches. The activity also attracted many campers to an afternoon workshop where dozens of coasters were created.

Mosaic

In an evening workshop, campers used a white glue to affix glass tiles and beads onto a wood panel around a small, centered mirror. Berkeley-based glass and mosaic artists Jenna Kurtz-Medina & Jesse Medina taught a weeklong glass mosaic class, in which students learned to cut and break glass, design an original mosaic, and glue and grout a 12” by 16” wall artwork.

Plein Air

A first-time teacher at the camp, Carol Tarzier led our group to the Q Trail in Quincy, and we hiked up about a half mile with our easels, paint supplies, sunhats, and plenty of water to where we could see the whole town. Carol provided a painting demonstration in the 90-degree heat, before we set up our own easels to paint. In the afternoon we found a shady spot alongside a bridge over the Spanish River, where we painted the beautiful scenery, lunched, swam, and enjoyed an impromptu early happy hour.

Our group included five of Carol’s current students and two others from San Francisco and Portland. As the days passed, we bonded over shared art-making experiences, good instruction, morning coffee, the quirks of our lodging, bug bites, laughter, and good wine. We were just like the long-time campers sharing old friendships and making new ones.

For more information about Feather River Art Camp and its talented artist-teachers, visit https://www.featherriverartcamp.com/. The camp is offered every summer in June.

Carol Tarzier demonstrating charcoal portrait drawing

Carol Tarzier demonstrating charcoal portrait drawing

Feature image: Carol Tarzier demonstrating at the top of the Q Trail