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A space for artists: Peninsula Museum of Art, Peninsula Art Institute settle into new Burlingame home
April 13, 2013, 05:00 AM By Samantha Weigel Daily Journal correspondent

More than a decade in the making, the Peninsula Museum of Art and the Peninsula Art Institute have found a new home. The 18,000-square-foot Burlingame location serves as a mecca for local artists and the community at large. Ruth Waters, the museum founder, chair and executive director, has been in the art community since the 1960s. She and members of the Peninsula Art Council gathered in 1997 to identify and assess the absence of a museum and performing arts center in San Mateo County, Waters said.  


Waters' dedicated dream was realized in 2003 when the city of Belmont offered a lease at the Manor House in Twin Pines Park. The small site served as a stepping stone toward the new location nine times larger.  


"We think of Burlingame as the perfect location for us and, in return, we expect to be able to contribute a valuable community cultural resource",  Waters said.  


The museum and institute are comprised of five gallery spaces, a library, a classroom, a store and 28 working artists’ studios.  


Unlike many large-scale museums found in San Francisco, coveted workspace is available onsite for some of the finest local artists. The studios are in high demand due to their accessibility and affordable rent prices. Occupying the workspaces is an array of artists working in various media including stone carving, jewelry, painting, photography, wood working and fiber.  


“We feel we have the opportunity to offer the community the best we can,” Waters said.  


Artists competed for the studio space that filled up months in advance and were rigorously chosen based on quality, diversity and originality, Waters said. Seven board members are responsible for evaluating candidates for both workspace and exhibitions. Each member is an artist, including Waters, who works in hardwood, bronze, marble and large-scale installations.  


Waters’ affinity for hardwood carving dates back to her childhood when her parents restored antique furniture. Waters hand chisels and sands large blocks of salvaged wood to create her sculptures.  


Millinery fiber artist Wayne Wichern is legendary in his field, having led workshops at the de Young museum and the prestigious Penland School of Crafts. He now works out of space at the Peninsula Art Institute where he will teach a class in exquisite hat making.  


“If you want to learn something well, teach the next person, because you have to be able to communicate the technical and, in many cases, the artistic influence as well,” Wichern said.  


Wichern has amassed more than 1,000 antique wooden hat molds in the 27 years he’s been in the business. Wichern had previously worked out of his home studio and was subject to storing many of his tools. Now a member of the institute, Wichern said he’s able to share in the synergistic inspiration of fellow resident artists. Teaching is both informative and rewarding, he added.  


“I learned a long time ago to give it all away, because you get so much more back,” he said.  


The museum personnel will offer both youth and adult classes to enrich the community and assist in replacing artistic outlets often dismissed in schools due to budget cuts, Waters said. Math and science have always been supported in schools and can be reinforced through nurturing the creative mind, Waters said.  


The institute is developing the “Leonardo Studio,” a program geared toward integrating the arts and sciences, Waters said. These fields are not mutually exclusive and success requires the creative ability to see outside the box, Waters said. Children from kindergarten to eighth grade will be encouraged to attend classes at the museum.  


“I think it’s going to catch on very well, it’s an approach that’s not commonly taken. It’s natural to this area, the brain power is just outstanding,” Waters said.  


The San Francisco and Berkeley areas have flourished in the arts and culture scene, while Silicon Valley became home to some of the most advanced scientific minds. Waters’ mission is to create a middle ground that will harbor the integration of both.  


Resources include a library where visitors can be inspired while browsing the 1,400 available books. A platen press center in one of the lower level studios is a unique facility with equipment publicly accessed in only two or three places in the North Bay, Waters said.  


The museum store is an economic support to local artists, some of whom are outside of the museum and institute structure, who can sell their uniquely crafted pieces. The halls lining the studios are decorated with examples of the artists’ works, encouraging visitors to peek in or chat with present artists.  


The facilities exist due to generous donations, experienced volunteers and docents who value the cultural arts. The Peninsula Museum of Art and the Peninsula Art Institute are there to entertain, support and enhance the local culture, Waters said.  


“We expect to bring in visitors to the Burlingame area, as well as provide a visual treat to the Burlingame residents,” Waters said.  


The Peninsula Museum of Art and the Peninsula Art Institute are located at 1777 California Drive in Burlingame. For hours, class schedules and more information visit www.peninsulamuseum.org.  


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