The Tannery has been in operation since 1856, when James Duncan and William Warren first opened the Tannery’s doors as, well, a tannery. During its 145 years of operation it changed hands repeatedly before closing its doors in 2001. After an extensive clean up to remove all the toxic chemical waste produced by the modernized tanning processes, it reopened in 2009 as artists’ lofts aim at providing low-rent housing for artists who might otherwise be forced to seek housing elsewhere. The grand opening and ribbon cutting for the studios in June 2012 kicked off a community of artists from all genres.
The catalyst for Catamaran’s existence as a part of the Tannery was a desire for a more social art. Most of the studios here are separate, quiet places for the artist to work undisturbed. They show their pieces on the walls, they work in the back. As a literary reader, though, Catamaran is by nature a project that must be worked on by many, submitted to by many, and seen by many. The stories and poetry are written by Pulitzer Prize winners, bestselling authors, Guggenheim Fellows, and fresh faces. They are tastes of what many do not have or take the time to seek out and read at great length. The art featured is for people without the time or access to a museum or gallery to take home, admire, marvel over again and again.
Catamaran’s offices in the Beam House are across from the café in the Tannery, and today we can smell the dark perfume of coffee and the sprightliness of sandwiches and salads drifting across the courtyard. During its time as a commercial tannery, however, the Beam House saw hides thrown over beams and scraped to prepare them for further processes. Though the hides had been tanned from the time of the Spaniards with tanoak and limestone solutions harvested locally, by the seventies hides were being tanned with chemical processes.
Today it’s hard to imagine that this campus was ever a working tannery. Children’s camps roam around, artists sit with friends in the café over coffee and tea. The entire place has been cleaned up and renovated with skylights, floor to almost-ceiling windows, and rugs cover painted floors. The only place that still speaks to its unfinished time is the as-of-yet unrestored historic Hide House. The building is incomplete, native plants grow haphazardly in the lot, and a banner implores you to ‘Help Build This Theatre!’ Plans show a cleanly renovated theatre, but for now it is almost out of place with the rest of the campus’ red-painted buildings and clear walkways.
These walkways connect the studios, especially during First Friday events (You can find out more on the Tannery facebook page.) Catamaran sits on the courtyard, in the middle of all of the art. People chat in the courtyard outside our door about projects and collaborations. A two second walk takes you to a studio used by an artist who works with found objects, a minute walk takes you to a studio shared by old friends, one who works with leather, one who works with paint. Talking with the artist, whose pieces have an open and bright aesthetic, she mentioned that she learned to work with leather from her dad, who would take her to the tannery to buy leather. Now the space that used to be the leather shop is repurposed, as everything was, and her studio sits between old leather shop and new dance studio. At Tannery World Dance Center children and adults alike learn classical, modern, and folk dances. Leather, paint, printing, dance, they all come together as if in Ceridwen’s cauldron to create the atmosphere Catamaran both creates and emulates.
Catamaran is, first and foremost, a collection of art in multiple genres for people, artists and corporate types alike. It features Tannery artists because that is the community it is from, and born in, and because so many Tannery artists unconsciously follow Catamaran’s quintessential West Coast themes: artistic spirit, freedom, environmentalism, and innovation. We are a voice of the Tannery, itself is a hub built on these four ideals, from the idea of the place, to the clean up, to what it is today, and will be tomorrow. We work to amplify what our neighbors are saying, and provide a forum of artistic treasures.
Check out some more information on the Tannery from the Santa Cruz Sentinel.