Meet a ‘Calistogan’ at Napa Valley Art Exhibit

Since moving to Calistoga in 2015, editorial photographer Clark James Mishler has taken hundreds of photo portraits as part of an ongoing “Portrait a Day” project that appears in the Calistoga Tribune’s weekly column “Who We Are.” Some of the photos are funny, some are poignant and all are uniquely “Calistogan.”

In March of this year, Mishler collected several of these photo portraits in a major exhibition at Calistoga’s Sofie Contemporary Arts. That show opened on March 8, and featured hundreds of portraits of locals grouped into categories such as At Work, At Home, Individuals, Family, Friends, Artists and Best Friends—which highlights Calistoga residents with their family dogs.

Like other venues in the region, Sofie Contemporary Arts was forced to close its doors as the Covid-19 pandemic forced the North Bay to shelter-in-place, and the exhibit was shuttered in mid-March. Nearly four months later, Napa County’s restrictions have eased, and Sofie Contemporary Arts is able to welcome back visitors for a new opportunity to see these portraits and to meet Mishler.

On Saturday and Sunday, July 18–19, Sofie Contemporary Arts hosts a “Meet the Artist” weekend, with the “Calistogans” exhibit on display and Mishler on-hand to answer questions and share stories about the scores of people who live or work in or near Calistoga.

Because of the very limited access to the exhibit, the gallery is offering a 40-percent discount this weekend to multiple purchases of the works. Increased sanitation measures are being implemented and all protocols for safety, including face coverings and social distancing, are required.

“The ‘Calistogans’ series is beautifully photographed and its technical and formal artistic elements are extremely satisfying, but Mishler also reveals the subjects and their surroundings in the most sensitive, authentic and appealing way,” Jan Sofie, gallery director and exhibit curator, says in a statement. “Some are quite funny and many extremely poignant, but the best part for me is that although the portraits depict simple moments and commonplace aspects of life we are all familiar with, they are also so intensely human, the viewer can’t help but be moved.”

The unframed works are installed clipped onto tiered wires, in their related groups. Sofie says this contemporary approach creates an accessible exhibition that both visitors and locals will appreciate.

“The idea here is that Calistoga is both exceptional and comfortable in itself,” Sofie says. “We wanted the exhibition structure and shape to communicate the sense of our strong, honest and beautifully diverse community that Mr. Mishler so deftly portrays.”

Before moving to Calistoga in 2015, Mishler spent several years in Alaska. In 1970, he first worked with a documentary film crew specializing in community development in the lower Yukon delta. In 1977, he took the job as layout editor at the National Geographic Magazine in Washington, D.C., though he soon returned to Alaska in 1979 and became a freelance editorial photographer, a profession he continues to practice and enjoy today.

Mishler’s “Portrait a Day” project also dates back to his time in Anchorage, Alaska, and he kept the project going on his first day in Calistoga in 2015. Mishler says that photographing those who live and work in Calistoga has made the transition smoother and greatly helped the couple assimilate into the community and meet many new friends.

“Beyond that, I think that these portraits in the Tribune have helped all of us better know our neighbors and, in some cases, made it easier for us to reach out across social, economic and cultural lines,” he says.

“I think the best reason for making a portrait every day is that it keeps me on my toes, gets me out the door and has taught me to be a better photographer,” Mishler says. “Most of all, I love meeting the people of Calistoga while documenting who we are at this time and in this place. I just hope to continue the project as long as I’m able to hold a camera in my hands.”

‘Calistogans’ displays with Mishler present on Saturday and Sunday, July 18–19, at Sofie Contemporary Arts, 1407 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga. 12:30–4:30pm each day. 707.942.4231.