Where the Art is

Midtown Ventura’s homegrown gallery.

By Andrea Kitay—Photos by Gaszton Gal

Living room eclecticism, with sculptures by Michele Chapin and Julie Knutson, skateboard by Lucy Cortez, and paintings by gauvin, Carole Milton, and Elisse Pogofsky-Harris.


n a tightly knit section of Midtown Ventura where neighbors are friends, art aficionado Denise Sindelar and her husband, Jim, are quietly building one of the county’s most expansive private collections of local artwork. From the locally made spider-web stained glass door to the backyard where metal sculptures stand like soldiers guarding the dozens of palm and orchid species Jim rescues, the pair might as well be living life straight out of “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” California style.

On the patio: paper mache, wood, and acrylic work by A. Reina.

Sindelar began collecting in the late-eighties, and her relationships with local artists have often blossomed into friendships. Her original exposure to Ventura’s art scene was through venues like the Palm Street Gallery, the Momentum Gallery, and exhibits at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard. Although not an artist herself, she opened “The Upstairs Gallery” in Downtown Ventura with partner Natalie Siman, keeping the doors open until 2004 when she would trade in her entrepreneurial life for a position administering the City of Ventura’s Visual Arts program, among others. “Retail is a hard slog,” sighs Sindelar. “My husband is really the stabilizing force that has allowed me to pursue my art addiction.

Jim Sindelar’s Deconstructed Piano.

“When you’re young, money is tight and buying art seems like an impossibility. But when I saw my friends buying clothes on layaway, it gave me the idea to see if art galleries would do the same. They did.” Sindelar decided early on that rather than choose art based on its potential future monetary value, she would surround herself with what moved her. That philosophy still guides her today.

Window Sculpture by Hiroko Yoshimoto, ceramic work by Kara Davis, stone sculptures by Michele Chapin.

The tiny 900-square-foot house is packed with books and art; even the kitchen’s recent renovation received the requisite Sindelar nod to art: a new venting hood installed above the vintage, fifties-era Merritt and O’Keefe stove was painted in a Day of the Dead theme by Ventura muralist M.B. Hanrahan. Recycled glass countertops with an iridescent subway glass backsplash and vaulted ceiling give the diminutive galley-style kitchen the illusion of being larger than it is. Cork floors provide insulation and a softer step under foot.

The den showcases photography by Schaf, mixed media by Debra McKillop and dm Spaulding, etching by Cornelis Botke, prints by Mathilde Ziegler and J. Roundtree, paper construction by Jennifer Korsen, and watercolor by Susan Petty.

Despite the home’s diminutive size, the sheer number of paintings, sculptures, and photographs lend it a gallery feel. Every wall showcases paintings, etchings, and photographs, the only unifying theme being skeletons, which I see tucked on top of the icebox, on a book shelf, in a painting. In the living room, self-taught, mixed media folk artist gauvin is the most represented. A fan of Van Gogh, gauvin painted his own version of the artist’s 1887 self-portrait with a twist. In the gauvin version, commissioned by Sindelar, hubby Jim’s face replaces that of Van Gogh. The piece is startlingly Van Gogh-esque in its use of tones and hues. Another gauvin, titled “Waiting for Vincent,” is painted in gauvin’s trademark silver acrylic on a black background. The portrait depicts an 1880s-era African American woman in silver, and is striking as the paint catches the morning light of the living room.

In the living room: (l. to r.) sculptures by Jane Mckinney and Quincy Neri; painting by Carole Milton; mixed media by dm Spaulding; print by Anna Porakova; photo by Schaf; paintings by Jorge, Jeff Hughart, Elana Kundell, Jason Mahakian, and Aimee French; and graphite work by Jane McKinney.

But Sindelar’s taste isn’t restricted to paintings. She has several works by local photographer Steven Schaefer, whose black-and-white prints are the result of old-school style film and development techniques. Less traditional media in the collection include works by Diane Bennett in the assemblage style, a technique Sindelar explains goes a step beyond collage. Cardboard, recycled materials, tin signs, and found objects are just part of the artist’s coterie of tools. In the bedroom, a set of assemblage works by Holly Charlon titled “Summer” and “Winter” are mounted behind glass. Each is a miniature version of dresses held static in a sort of 3D. The detailed use of lace, intricate beading, and rose petals is held in place with wax, giving the dresses the illusion of being in motion.

Mixed media by Catherine Coan, fused glass by Robert Eyberg, and mixed media works by Holly Charlon adorn the Sindelar bedroom.

Nationally recognized artists also grace Sindelar’s walls, including a Kitty Botke etching titled “The Gift.” Botke is the granddaughter of Jesse Arms Botke, the thirties-era Santa Paula-based painter whose ornate gold leaf paintings and etchings of ornamental birds are exhibited in both in the Museum of Ventura County and the Santa Paula Art Museum.

“Buy what you love,” says Sindelar, reiterating her philosophy that it’s best to invest in art that moves you; collecting is not about potential monetary appreciation. “That’s the only [art] advice I offer my friends.”


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