SHOWTIME — Cheryl Costantini and Mikio Matsumoto of Nichibei Potters are the duo behind the Japanese pottery and stoneware business.

As Sonoma County Art Trails approached this October, local artists sat down with Sonoma West Publishers to discuss how they got started, what inspires them and what they like the most about the longest juried open studio tour in the country.

Returning for its 35th consecutive year, Art Trails allows art lovers and residents alike the chance to visit personal studios and connect with potters, sculptors and painters like Sebastopol’s husband and wife duo Cheryl Costantini and Mikio Matsumoto of Nichibei Potters, Headldsburg’s Robert Weiss and Windsor’s Rosa Diaz-Serrano.

While the three all pursue vastly different aspects of art, they all agree on one thing — that the 35-year-old event is a great way to connect with people from all walks of life over art.

Art Trails open studio dates: Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 12-13 and Oct. 19-20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cheryl Costantini and Mikio Matsumoto of Nichibei Potters, Japanese pottery, stoneware

This husband and wife team have been participating in Art Trails almost since its inception in 1985. This year marks the 34th year the two will have been participating in the self-guided open studio tour.

Costantini first heard about the program from her colleagues when she and her husband were returning from a six-year pottery study in Japan.


Japanese pottery and stoneware from Nichibei Potters.

When they moved to Sonoma County her husband also took up pottery and they’ve been full-time ceramicists ever since.

The duo uses a 10-hour firing process for their work and fire the kiln around 32 times a year.

Their work is in about 60 or 70 stores across the country.

“Another way of explaining it is what we are after, and what we’re after is making things that are timeless in nature and are accessible and have simplicity, elegance and durability,” Costantini said.

She said the other goal is to be able to put art in people’s hands and not have someone look around and say, “Oh, this is really beautiful but I could never afford that.”

“There is always something. You could leave here with a little cup for $18,” she said.

Costantini, a born and raised San Franciscan, started getting interested in clay when she would visit the Russian River as a child.

“I was the kid that sat on the side of the river digging in the clay,” Costantini said.

She would dig so far in the sand that she started to notice the different colors and textures of clay and her mother explained that when you heat up clay, it retains its molded form.

Since then, “I’ve always been intrigued with and in love with clay,” she said.

While Costantini never took art classes in college, she ended up studying pottery in Japan, where she also met her husband.

So what is she working on right now? Costantini said she is experimenting with natural clays and mixing it with porcelain clay to get variations in color or speckles. Right now her husband is working on hand-thrown and carved pieces.

When asked what inspires her she pinned down her answer to the freedom from amassing so many different skills.

“So as you amass skill you’re free, you are able to make anything you want, so it’s actually my own skill that is my inspiration because it enables me to make the shapes that I see in my head,” Costantini said.

She added that remembering the practical nature of pottery and appreciating that natural beauty is important.

For Art Trails this year she is also looking forward to making connections with people through art.

“The nice thing about Art Trails is that all are welcome. People that are wealthy, people that aren’t, people that have huge collections. It is across the board. It is an even playing field,” Costantini said.

Studio: 1991 Burnside Road, Sebastopol

Not wheelchair accessible

Contact info: 707-280-9814

You can Follow Nichibei Potters on Instagram @nichibeipotters.

Robert Weiss, Crystalline glazed porcelain pottery

Healdsburg artist Robert Weiss, a U.S. pioneer in crystalline glazed pottery, has been participating in Art Trails for many years and has been creating pottery for 50 years.


POT SHOT — Potter Robert Weiss has been doing crystalline glazed pottery for 50 years. When he’s not prepping for Art Trails, Weiss’ favorite thing is working on his art scholarship program for Healdsburg High School students, a program he started in 2002.

“I was one of the first people in the U.S. to start developing crystalline glazes for my own use and that was way back in 1967,” Weiss mused. “Back then there were no computers.”

Nowadays the process is much easier, Weiss noted. He uses high-tech kilns with computers to precisely control the temperature.

Weiss’ intricate pottery process starts by mixing up the glaze and firing a piece. The item is then put back in the kiln.

During that period the kiln is heated to 2,350 degrees and is later dropped down to 2,000 degrees and is held at that temperature for six-hours in order for the crystals to form. Weiss repeats this method eight times.

“It takes so long and most people do not want to spend the time on it, but for me it is all about the final product,” Weiss said.

In order to get the desired crystalline glaze outcome, the glaze has to flow off the base and onto an attached riser.

According to Weiss, “Underneath the riser we put a little catch basin so the glaze actually flows down and off onto the catch basin.”

The risers are heated with a torch, separated and grinded off at the end and then polished.

While it certainly takes an artistic vision to complete pottery, Weiss said there is also a lot of chemistry involved.

“I have zinc and silica in the glaze and when they melt they find one another because there’s a positive and a negative charge and they form what’s known as a covalent bond (the sharing of electrons, positive and negative, to form a molecular bond) and that’s the nucleus of the crystal, that is where it starts growing,” Weiss said.

In terms of what Weiss likes the most about Art Trails, he said he likes the opportunity of having folks come to his studio.

When he’s not prepping for Art Trails Weiss’ favorite thing is working on his art scholarship program for Healdsburg High School students.

He started it in 2002 when his oldest daughter graduated high school and noticed that they only had one art scholarship available.

To date the Weiss family has given away 74 scholarships since 2003.

Studio: 2550 Jack Pine Road, Healdsburg.

Wheelchair accessible.

Contact info: 707-431-7550

You can follow Weiss on Instagram @Robertweissprocelain.

Rosa Diaz-Serrano, surreal oil paintings

Surreal artist Rosa Diaz-Serrano has been doing art since she was a child and has been participating in Art Trails for almost two decades.

For Diaz-Serrano, her interest in art started in her hometown of Mexico City.


IN MEMORY  — Painter Rosa Diaz-Serrano focuses on oil paintings and garners inspiration from family. This painting is in memory of her younger brother who died of polio at a young age.

“My grandfather painted and as children we watched him and he gave us paint and we’d just sit at the table. My aunt was also always sitting in front of an easel and I thought, ‘I want to be like her,’” Diaz-Serrano said. “I loved it and I went to school and I knew I wanted to pursue it.”

She went to college in Mexico City and participated in many exhibits where one of her professors served as a helping hand in the gallery world.

Later Diaz-Serrano met her husband and they moved to Sonoma County for his work and since then she’s been participating in Art Trails.

Diaz-Serrano uses mostly water colors, pastels, ink, color pencil and acrylic paint in her work. She also uses scratch boards and block printing and does collage work.

She said she gets her inspiration from many things: events, people, movies, music or simply from her family.

Diaz-Serrano talked about one piece she did that was inspired by the death of her younger brother who had polio.

She said she wanted to paint something to “Represent his wonderful soul with no limitations.”

In regards to opening her exhibit to the public, she said she enjoys Art Trails for a couple of reasons.

“I like to see the people. I like to explain my work and connect with people,” Diaz-Serrano said.

She added that it is interesting hearing about how people may see her work differently than she might.

Studio: 333 Alden Court, Windsor

Not wheelchair accessible

Contact info: 707-838-3896

You can follow Diaz-Serrano on her website at

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