Inside the Wax Barn of Roberta Lee Woods

Doll heads, antique books, and lots of wax. Meet the artist this weekend in the South County leg of the Open Studios Art Tour!

Roberta Lee Woods' Wax Barn is not hard to find. On a sweltering morning in Watsonville, I catch a sweet whiff of bee's wax, and follow it around the side of her house.

The garage-sized studio she's dubbed "The Wax Barn" is painted a pretty blue, and I find the artist and her three small dogs inside with the lights off, seeking refuge from the already-90 degree morning heat. 

Today, she's going through some of her masterpieces, choosing which ones to cart to her other studio on 17th avenue in Santa Cruz, where she'll be participating in the 2012 Open Studios Art Tour with about 15 other artists this weekend.

She divides her days between the two studios.

"It's pretty much all I do. I'll go into Santa Cruz and work for five hours and then I'll come back here and work," said Woods, picking up a watercolor from her painting days which she plans on covering with wax.

The Wax Barn is where the magic happens.

"There isn't ventillation at the other studio so I come here to do a lot of the wax stuff," said Woods. 

Propped on a wooden bench next to an open window, Woods keeps her cauldron of hot wax medium, and a large palate to hold a muffin tin of different colors while she works, painting layer upon layer and hitting it with a blow torch between layers. (Naturally, her favorite step.)

Woods has a love affair with old and pretty things. She incorporates old stamps from her grandfather's stamp collection, various bits of textiles and beautiful papers, mica chips, leaf skeletons, and the spines and pages of antique books into her work with wax. *see photos with article to really get the idea. 

"I come to my studio sometimes and people have left me old books, and just piles of stuff," said Woods. 

Woods is a collector, not a hoarder. All of the neat things she's collected (things like a keg top she hauled back from Holland, polished antique cameras and ancient miniature Bibles) are neatly displayed among the tasteful art collection in her house, which is made up of her own works as well as work given to her by artist friends. 

In her backyard, a bench made from refurbished wood shines in a new coat of cobalt blue paint. This is when I realize just how much fun Woods really has—with everything. She tells me she's constantly playing around with the objects people give her, like the old doll heads she's experimenting with.

"I like taking them outside and letting the weather kind of beat 'em up. And then I just wrapped her head in cheese cloth and burnt their hair off... aren't they creepy?" says Woods, thoroughly amused. *feature photo of article

Yes, and just in time for Halloween, too. 

Woods also makes necklaces and jewelry, and that's how I first met her, when a friend gave me one of her small, rectangular pendants made with leaves, textiles and shellac, and framed inside a glass locket. 

"Beads can be a problem for people," said Woods.

She doesn't mean herself... although she once spent three hours filling an on line shopping cart with gorgeous beads before coming to realize she couldn't actually spend that much money on beads, and deleted it with a swift click.

Her beads are kept in the main house, carefully sorted by color and make. She's got beads made from recycled bottles in Africa, and sand cast beads, and beautiful soap stone carved animals.

A huge fan, Woods says Giant's season is her most prolific time for making necklaces.

"If there's a giants game on that's where I make a lot of my necklaces, in front of the TV," she said.

But really, Woods' "prolific time" is all of the time. Her work is forever evolving, from her painting days of college and typography to her innovative work with encaustics and textiles.

The small trinkets, boxes, necklaces and small works she sells at affordable prices, ranging from around $20 to $80, depending on if they're framed or not. This is one reason why Woods has life-long fans.

The other is that she just rocks. 

Going into her 15th or 16th year in the Open Studios Art Tours (she's lost count, she's done so many), Woods still looks forward to it every year, especially because she loves the collaborative show on 17th avenue, which is a popular stop on the tour.

"You really get to interact with the public. It's really fun because we get a variety of people because they're all coming down to look for someone else," said Woods.

When she isn't watching the Giant's win, or working in Santa Cruz or the Wax Barn, Woods is often teaching classes at Palace Arts or the Arts League where she recently became a board member.

Check out Woods' work at the 17th Avenue Studio this weekend, Oct. 6 and 7, and the third weekend, Oct. 20 and 21, along with the art of a dozen or more other great artists!


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