Riegels invite public to tour their creative space in Granite Bay

By: Laura O'Brien Press Tribune Correspondent
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Meet the artists
Susan Tonkin Riegel:
Mike Riegel:

19th Annual PlacerArts Autumn Art Studios Tour
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 9-11. Artists’ studios and group shows.
Cost: $10 adults, free students grades K through 12

Workshop on “Herbal Body Care”
When: Saturday, Nov. 17 and Saturday, Dec. 8
Where: Red Barn Studios, 6605 Shady Lake Lane, Granite Bay

Granite Bay artists Mike and Susan Riegel open their studios to the public this month for PlacerArts’ 19th annual Autumn Art Studios Tour. The couple has found a balance of supporting each other’s work by providing feedback and getting out of the way as needed.

Mike Riegel’s sculptures of figures guard the Riegels’ meditative property off of Auburn-Folsom Road, including their studios, a yurt and their home.

“We work next to each other and it’s a wonderful situation because we can enjoy watching each other develop a piece and then comment on it as it’s getting made,” Mike said. “We encourage each other to get in the studio.”

PlacerArts Executive Director Angela Tahti said the Autumn Art Studio Tour is for people of every age. Reasons for visiting the artists in their studios range from purchasing art to enjoying the journey of the tour amidst the fall colors.

“We really wanted to invite the public to have an up close and personal view of the artists in their working environment to induce an appreciation of the education, tools, materials, and discipline necessary to produce original art,” Tahti said.

The Riegels participated in the first art tour and are back this year for the third time. Mike’s sculpture utilizes his skills in blacksmithing and metalsmithing, along with figure drawing. His public art and commercial commissions include sculpture for the North Natomas Regional Park and sculptural iron gates and banisters for the Embassy Suites and Hyatt Regency hotels in Sacramento.

Susan Tonkin Riegel is known for her mixed-media pieces, which she said draw upon her active dream life and incorporate imagery from personal relationships.

“The work is really personal,” Susan said. “I think a lot times (people) connect with the layers, colors and textures.”

While her art has deep meaning personally, Susan said hers or any piece of art still can make a connection with an art buyer.

“Sometimes people cannot verbalize what has drawn them to a piece, because it speaks to them on a spiritual, emotional, psychological or intellectual level that even they cannot articulate,” she said. “A strong personal connection is the most common reason art is purchased.”

Susan has been awarded residencies in countries including Switzerland, Mexico and China. She will work at the de Young Museum in San Francisco next year. Her recent exhibition at the Alex Bult Gallery in Sacramento, “California to China: Mixed Media Drawings and Paintings” featured 23 of her pieces.

Mike joined his wife for her residency in China this summer. He supported Susan’s work time by shopping and cooking. He also sketched.

“I really wanted to get in a place where there are no distractions so I could immerse myself in my art and in another culture,” Susan said.

Teaching has provided Susan and Mike’s livelihoods. Susan has taught drawing and water color at Sierra College. Mike is a professor emeritus at California State University, Sacramento. The couple met in the art program there.

Mike explained the process in his sculpture.

“We don’t have any formulas for the things that we make,” he said. “Ideas come from when you’re working.”

Sources of inspiration for Mike’s work have included his father as well as his daughter’s departure for college. Of his parents, Mike said, “They’re really important to me so as much as I try to take them out of my work they’re always creeping back in.”

Susan shared qualities she likes in a piece of art.

“I really admire the artists that speak from the heart and that expose who they honestly are,”

 she said.

The Riegels work in separate spaces under the same roof, named Red Barn Studios. Susan has run art workshops for kids here for 18 years, although her son, Jess Riegel, has recently taken over the program. She began offering adult art workshops in 2007.

“I feel like in today’s world people are just so hungry for connecting with their creativity,” Susan said. “A lot of people are in denial that they even are creative, but everybody is.”

The rest of the family helps with the workshops, including Mike and the couple’s two grown children Jess and Allison Riegel, a filmmaker/unicyclist and multi-media artist, respectively. Workshop topics have included jewelry making, journal making, painting and batik. This month, Susan and Allison present “Herbal Body Care.” Due to popularity, they added another workshop on the same topic for next month.

The PlacerArts Autumn Art Studios Tour features 55 artists this year. Tahti said the tour application assesses the quality of an artist’s work and safety and general accessibility of their studio. Other featured Granite Bay artists include Mya Louw, who works in oil, pastel and acrylic, and Tom Caswell, new to the tour this year, who creates ceramic art and pottery.