Summer Art Project: Locals from Alice Sutro

Nearly two dozen new guests have checked in to Harmon Guest House, and they likely won’t be checking out any time soon. They’re all familiar faces around town. One is an older man (wearing a walking boot to help heal a sprained ankle) reading the morning newspaper. Another is a young girl talking on the phone. A third is a chic woman heading out on a day of shopping.
And as lifelike as these 22 people are, they’re actually artwork, made with tempera paint on glass.
The exhibition is the brainchild of local artist Alice Warnecke Sutro, who creates line drawings depicting everyday people doing everyday things. In this case, she said the creations facilitate the “Freaky Friday” notion of locals and other people who live in Healdsburg coming in and taking over the hotel—a space generally reserved for visitors.
“They are people we know, people from the community, people like us, wandering the hallways doing whatever hotel people do, looking for the pool or having a glass of wine or talking on the phone,” she said.
Sutro has specialized in line drawings for most of the last decade. To her, the line itself is part of the narrative.
“The line is allegorical for the interpersonal interaction behind each piece,” she said. “The environment, the conversation with the subject—it all affects my body and changes how my line ends up on the page. Maybe the line is hard and angular. Maybe it’s more sensitive. Maybe it has temerity. Maybe it imbues the piece with a liveliness that I wouldn’t get if I were drawing in an isolated studio.”
All told, Sutro has drawn 57 characters in and around Healdsburg. Earlier this year, she created similar line-drawn men and women on windows in the front of the Little Saint building (the one formerly known as SHED Healdsburg). Last year her line drawings also were part of the Illuminations exhibit around downtown Healdsburg; that exhibit projected the drawings in an animation that unfolded on the wall of a building at night.
The Illuminations exhibit that inspired HGH founder Circe Sher to commission Sutro for a project in the hotel.
Sutro responded with a plan to capture locals in the transient space of the hotel. The way Sutro sees it, the installation highlights a hotel’s forever question with a comical inversion: How to get to know a place well enough to feel like you’ve seen it like a local? In this case, of course, the locals are now part of the hotel.
The installation went up over the course of a few days in early June. Sutro invited locals to HGH and asked them to perform quintessential hotel scenes. As these people went about their business, Sutro drew them from life in her signature style.
The figures now adorn glass walls and windows throughout the hotel, and all of them are visible in public areas. They will remain on these surfaces through August.
Sutro’s Shibori-style tie-dye t-shirts | Available at Harmon Guest House or online
Looking forward, Sutro’s next exhibition will apply a similar technique to more historical figures—this time at the Bank Building in downtown Guerneville. Her great-grandfather was the architect of that building, and to commemorate the structure’s 100th anniversary around July 4, she’ll draw him and other characters on plexiglass panels that will hang from the eaves.
When she’s not creating artwork, Sutro is making wine from Warnecke Ranch Vineyards, her family’s property in the Alexander Valley. Under the Sutro Wines label, she makes a complement of reds and whites, and the Sutro’s flavorful 2020 Sauvignon Blanc is on the menu at The Rooftop.
She also leads unique hike-and-taste experiences at her family’s ranch.
Starting this summer, HGH even sells Sutro-branded merchandise: Shibori-style tie-dye t-shirts. Sutro calls the color-combination “geode.” Not surprisingly, she said she sees it, too, as art.
“The overall package crosses boundaries fluidly in places that are kept apart: hotel tourism, contemporary art, winemaking, and merchandise,” she said. “I’m grateful that [Harmon Guest House] is willing to bring them all together into one.”