Co-directors & Teachers

Rosanna Wilson-Farrow
Rosanna Wilson-Farrow
Art has been the connective thread running through my life since early childhood. I was an artistic and inventive child, and have always needed to create things by hand. My parents were both accomplished in creative careers, and I grew up in France, where I moved at age six. In Europe I was exposed to a vibrant culture and beautiful art. Yet what most inspired me to become an artist was a precious experience painting weekly at a very progressive children’s art school in Paris. It was a visionary, nurturing place, and a true refuge from competitive, authoritarian French schools and society. Each child was treated with the utmost respect, and I found acceptance, appreciation and happiness there. The memory of this wonderful experience would stay with me, and I yearned to experience it again as an adult. In high school, I was a school photographer and had my own darkroom. At sixteen I began my undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, majoring in art, and later continued my art studies at Sonoma State and UCSB, with a focus on printmaking, drawing and painting. I earned a BFA in studio art from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and continued studies in graphic design, printing, scientific illustration and photography. I also pursued graduate courses in Psychology and Art Therapy from Antioch University. In Santa Barbara, I worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer for several years, and as a museum artist at the Museum of Natural History. I moved to Mendocino with my husband and two young children in 1988. Motherhood created a break in my career path, but living a creative life was still woven throughout. I taught painting and crafts in the after-school program, and worked briefly as a special education aide at the Grammar school. In partnership with my friend Kristin Otwell, I started a handmade clothing and craft business for children. The joy of sharing art and crafts with my own daughters further sparked my desire to teach art professionally. In 1999, I started teaching at Art Explorers, and it was a good fit from the start. My art interests are broad, and I continue to explore new mediums and techniques, which I often share with our students. My students inspire me as well, to be more free, playful and unselfconscious. I had long dreamed of recreating my treasured art experience I had as a child in Paris, and to share it with others someday, coming full circle in life. Co-directing and teaching at Art Explorers would become the surprising fulfillment of that dream.
Maria Trombetta
Maria Trombetta
I grew up in Sonoma County, but spent many summer vacations with my grandparents, exploring the beaches of the Mendocino coast. I love Northern California and am so fortunate be able to call this place home.
I’ve been interested in art, writing and psychology since I was a kid—I blame my parents—my mother is a poet, my father is an artist and worked for 30 years as a psychiatric technician at the Sonoma Developmental Center. I started volunteering in Special Education classrooms as an aide in 1996, and have worked in the Human Services field since then.
In 1998, I was given the opportunity to study Art History and photography in London. I spent a few years traveling around Europe and learning all kinds of life lessons. I decided to pursue a degree in journalism, to be able to tell stories that needed to be told. I graduated from San Francisco State University in 2006 and wrote for the Oakland Tribune and the Sonoma Index-Tribune.
I am so honored to be able to be a part of Art Explorers—when we moved to Fort Bragg in 2008; I fell in love with the program and the beautiful work that was being created there. The students’ dedication to their art is nothing short of amazing. I find that being here at Art Explorers inspires me to work harder on my own creative endeavors and injects me with optimism.

Former Co-Directors / Teachers

Kristin Otwell
Kristin Otwell
I think I’ve always felt like an artist. Since childhood, I have loved to draw and make things. I come from a family of many artists; my sister is a jeweler, my father dabbled in stained glass, painting, and photography, my mother was a fine seamstress, and my aunt was a weaver and a university art professor. I grew up overseas mainly in the Middle East and South India, as my father was in the Foreign Service. I returned to the U.S. to go to college. When I enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, CA, it seemed that majoring in art was the only option that made any sense. Looking back, I realize that my path after college was guided by invitations from friends who led me to volunteer with Creative Growth (one of the first art programs in the country for artists with developmental disabilities) and to work at a school for severely disabled children. I received a B.A. in Art from Mills College and also studied Scientific Illustration at U.C. Berkeley. My passion for art, education, and serving individuals with disabilities merged when I met Joan Burleigh, who had a dream of creating an art program here on the coast. Together we laid the foundation that grew to become Art Explorers. I feel enormously lucky to work with a staff of truly gifted, generous and kind-hearted people and with students who share their very souls with us, making each day in the studio a unique and enlightening experience! My primary medium is watercolor, which I use in a very controlled manner. For several years I painted close-up studies of succulent plants and had exhibits of these at both the Oakland Museum and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Over the years, I have branched out to other subject matter and to other media, but still consider watercolor to be my true love. I am a founding member of Partners Gallery in Fort Bragg, CA where I currently show my work.
Joan Burleigh
Joan Burleigh

Teachers

Ellen Witherite
Ellen Witherite

Ellen Ruth Witherite

(February 25, 1943 – May 28, 2015)

Ellen Witherite, our beloved teacher for close to 20 years, passed away on May 28th, after a yearlong struggle with cancer. She was dedicated to Art Explorers, and always gave 100% of herself in her work. Clearly she loved being a teacher, and was gifted at it. She was genuine, and generous with praise, and all of our students liked her. She was happier here that she had ever been at any job (and she had many). Ellen was also a talented artist, and made beautiful intricate paper cutouts, inspired by nature, literary and mythic themes, as well as yearly Chinese zodiac animals.

Ellen was known for her brilliant, expansive mind and her open loving heart… a wonderful combination. She was completely accepting and respectful of all different kinds of people, including the disabled population at Art Explorers. She read voraciously and was fascinated by everything in the world; she was the definition of a “generalist.” Sharing her broad knowledge gave her great pleasure. She was so cultured…she loved language and words, and could sing songs in English, Spanish and French, quote easily from poetry, the Bible, ancient myths, children’s books, films, or literature. She shared personal stories, as well as her knowledge of art history, history, science, and the natural world.

As a keen observer of people and human behavior, she thought philosophically about many things; yet most of all, Ellen lived life with a childlike wonder, spontaneous enjoyment, and a playful, endearing sense of humor. She was outgoing and charming, so had a multitude of friends, and everywhere she went made new friends easily. Above all she loved nothing more than connecting with people… this was the fullest expression of her joy.

Ellen’s radiant smile and her sparkling blue eyes will be seared in our memory forever.

Emily Runion
Emily Runion
Arlene Reiss
Arlene Reiss

Substitute Teachers

Sarah DeAngelo

Heidi Baldassare

Peggy Ray