Mexican artist Efren Gonzalez will give a presentation of his own work, Mexican art and history at a free potluck dinner at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23.

I know next to nothing about art, but one of my favorite places downtown is the Ashland Art Center. Its gallery highlights a diverse range of work, including jewelry, paintings, sculpture and textiles. The center also sells art supplies, offers classes and provides a studio space where you can pop in and see local artists at work. What I like best is that the environment is friendly and relaxed. I've even brought my kids in there tanked up on cupcakes, and no one looked horrified.

In late September, the art center is holding what organizers hope will be the first of many workshops with artists who are both well-known for their craft and well-regarded as teachers. To kick off the series, Mexican artist Efren Gonzalez will give a presentation of his own work, Mexican art and history at a free potluck dinner at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23.

Gonzalez is well-known in Mexico for the clay murals he creates in his hometown of Ajijic, a fishing village not far from Guadalajara. The murals, which measure about 8 feet high and can be as much as 18 feet wide, are made in sections, then fired and assembled at the site.

"His murals are really cool, they are very large-scale," said Sarah Burns, program director for the art center. In the days following his presentation, Gonzalez will offer clay-mural and painting classes. Students will learn to create small-scale murals in the three-day workshop, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily Sept. 24-26. Cost is $240, which includes clay and other materials.

"One of our studio artists saw his work at the Efren Gonzalez Cultural Center in Ajijic," Burns said. "She was blown away by his art and they made an instant connection. Efren teaches adults and kids, and does a lot of what we do at the art center, offering studio space, a gallery, and classes.

"His mural technique is incredible and the classes are open to all levels."

Gonzalez also will lead an oil-painting workshop from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 27-28. Burns said the workshop will provide a good opportunity for people who want to try oils without the expense of purchasing a lot of paint, as Gonzalez will be providing the paint for the class.

"People are going to love it. His style is vibrant, intense and cheerful," she said. The oil-paint workshop will cost $160, and those interested in taking both workshops can receive a price break.

As far as future workshops, Burns said the art center is looking for artists in a variety of media.

"It's part of our mission to bring in great artists," she said. "There are so many aspects to the art center and we would love to have more visiting teachers."

Burns said she is delighted with how well the art center is doing since it began over a year ago. "It's amazing. People are taking classes, buying art, making art, really using this great space," she said. "We are a nonprofit and mostly staffed by volunteers. It's a labor of love for so many people," she added.

The Ashland Art Center is at 357 E. Main St. For more information or to reserve a space at Gonzalez' free lecture or workshops, contact Burns at 541-621-7767 or visit the Ashland Art Center website,

Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at