By Judith Ernst


Find a few pieces of original art that you love. They don't have to be expensive. They can be paintings, sculpture, ceramics or whatever delights your eye and intrigues your imagination. Then design your interior around these pieces of art, adding furniture, floor coverings, window treatments and all the other items that create an ideal home environment.


This is advice given by some interior designers, and it's a plan you can implement during the 20th annual Orange County Artist Guild Open Studio Tour. You'll find handmade furniture, turned-wood pieces, paintings, photographs, sculpture, functional pottery...just about anything you can imagine!


The Orange County Artist Guild Open Studio Tour takes place Nov. 1-2 and 8-9 on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.


"One of the great assets of Orange County is the breadth of arts offerings available, including the annual Artists Guild Open Studio Tour," says Emily Kaas, director of the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill. "Few communities can boast access to such a variety of artists, styles and media."


Launched in 1995 with just 28 participating artists, the guild now has 120 members. Eighty-five are opening their studios during the first two weekends of this month.


These serious artists, women and men from their 30s to their 70s, excel, showing their work at galleries and other venues. Many are award-winning.




Treasures can be found at every location. During a visit, you'll get a chance to meet artists, learn about their creative process firsthand, and view their work up close. Then, if you wish, you can purchase pieces directly from the artist on location.


Attendance is always free, and people who just want to look are as welcome as those who are looking to buy.


How do you go on the tour? To begin, look through the tour brochure, available at many shops, businesses and public places around Orange and Durham counties as well as www.orangecountyartistsguild.com. It's near impossible to get to all the locations, so decide which studios you want to visit, and make a plan.


Orange County is spectacular this time of year, with mild, sunny weather and bright fall colors. You may want to travel across the entire county or you might prefer to target a few studios that are close together and easily accessible.


If you feel like winging it, drive around until you find one of the bright yellow and purple signs with balloons. Follow the arrows that mark the way to the studio door. Venture inside to discover a local talent. This is one of the few times a pop-in visit is not only welcomed, but encouraged.




  Many people attend year after year. Jackie Helvey, founder of Carrboro.com, has been checking out the tour since 1997. Sometimes, she ventures off the beaten path, exploring studios in more rural areas of the county.


"Every year amazes me," Helvey says. "The talent here is pretty incredible."


Another regular tour visitor, Martha Brown, started going because her friend, Trudy Thomson (studio No. 68), is a participating member of the guild and on the tour. Brown owns fused glass art pieces as well as jewelry and scarves that she's acquired over the years from Thompson.


In addition, Brown likes to decorate with whimsical pieces, so she has purchased items that she displays all over her house.
Home is many things: a residence where we live with family, a place of refuge and comfort from the public sphere, a retreat to recharge and refresh. To fulfill these roles, it's great to surround ourselves with the objects that reflect our personalities, things we love and that make us happy.


"We've got enough in the world to stress us out. I like things that make me smile," Brown says, noting her ceramic art from Cathy Kiffney (studio No. 19).



Another way to look at art in relation to one's home is to consider the example of Herb and Dorothy Vogel. One of the most remarkable private collections of modern art was acquired over many years by this New York couple, who bought from local artists.


In the documentary "Herb and Dorothy," we learn that, contrary to all expectations, the Vogels were never rich. In fact, Herb spent his entire career working for the U.S. Post Office and Dorothy was a librarian for the Brooklyn Public Library.


They both loved art, so they cultivated friendships with many creative types who happened to become icons in the modern art scene in New York. The Vogels filled their house with these amazing works.


Catherine Lazorko, who works for the town of Chapel Hill, says, "On the open studio tour, you discover and connect with art where it was produced and interact directly with the maker. I fancy myself as Dorothy Vogel, purchasing art for the sheer love of it."


When you visit studios during this year's tour, you, too, can imagine yourself to be Dorothy Vogel, filling your house with master works created by the Triangle's very best.



Judith Ernst is a ceramic artist and member of OCAG whose work is at studio No. 67 during the tour.