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Artist community hosts open house party

on January 24, 2011

Mike Taft isn’t an artist in the traditional sense. But when his entire live-work apartment complex was having an open house art party on Friday—one that he founded and organized—he was of course going to find a way to entertain the crowd. “I’m grinding down a piece of plywood with an angle grinder,” the industrial designer said with a grin.

Taft is a resident of Cotton Mill Studios, a factory-turned-loft apartment building on the east side of 880 in Oakland. On Friday evening, Taft and other tenants hosted a few hundred people at the second “F3” event, for which many of Cotton Mill’s artistic tenants open their doors to the public to show off their work and, of course, their sweet digs.

The Cotton Mill, once the largest employer in Oakland, was converted into a 74-unit residence in 2005. The spaces are cavernous and radiate industrial hip — they’re high-ceilinged affairs with walls of windows, sturdy wood floors, and spiral staircases. They’re especially convenient for big projects by large-scale artists — sculptors, painters, photographers, fashion designers, videographers, industrial designers and the like.

Dee Adams, a painter, designer, and a resident of Cotton Mill Studios, stands in front of her work at F3, the apartment building’s newly launched art show.

One of those artists is Dee Adams, who shared her paintings (for sale), and also her personal collections (not for sale) with F3 visitors. Art-lovers wandered through Adams’ mammoth loft, looking at her work as well as her multitudes of colorful glass vases, old school headphones and vintage lunchboxes.

Adams’ paintings are modernist canvases, mostly square in shape and often oversized. They feature solid strips or boxes of bright color, bold reds, yellows and blues. They hang from the walls of her apartment, lean against walls and sit on easels, giving the space a flamboyant aesthetic.

Adams, who also works at Yahoo! as an interface designer, described living at Cotton Mill as “a dream come true.”

“My art is such large format, that for years I have been looking for a place where I would have the wall space to display it, much less have people in a place looking at it where I could decorate it to my taste,” she said. “They’re going to have a hard time getting me to leave.”

On another floor, Cotton Mill resident Zoe Hong manned a sample sale where she and other fashion designers, both from inside the building and out, peddled new collections, jewelry and accessories. Hong, an Anchorage, AK native whose design aspirations started in early childhood, had her new line for spring on display that included an ornate white dress drenched in silver beadwork. “Twenty hours of hand beading,” she said, gently touching the fabric. “It’s a lot of work.”

While the visual artists were the toast of the evening, there are other breeds of entrepreneurs in the building. David Abernathy, for example, runs a financial services and consulting firm for the medical cannabis industry out of his apartment. Abernathy, the marketing director for F3, added that there were a few other demos taking place.

“Next door we have a pole dancing instructor, who’s doing a pole dancing demo,” he said. “And we have a couple that are both yoga instructors, and they’re doing a yoga demo.”

Libby Patterson sells her organic perfumes out of her Cotton Mill loft at the most recent edition of F3.

Finally, there was Libby Patterson, a resident of the first floor who spent the evening showing off her skills as a “quantum alchemist.” Patterson makes organic aromatherapy scents that she can customize to her clients. She instructed F3 visitors on how to best “molecularize” the scents by dabbing some perfume on the palm, rubbing their hands together, and taking a sniff. In one corner of the loft, a friend of Libby’s gave Tarot readings, and in another, Carlos Aparicio, a massage therapist from Alameda, treated interested visitors to a healing treatment he came up with himself.

It’s a bit far out for some, but the residents of The Cotton Mill like their variety, and F3 was born of a desire to show it off.

“We were sitting around outside a fire one night and one of my neighbors came up with the idea of having an art show,” Abernathy said.

The neighbor, Taft, assumed the title El Presidente of F3 and lit a fire under the project. “I’m a doer,” Taft said. “It frustrates me when everyone thinks something should exist but no one wants to go ahead and do it.”

After polling other residents, getting permission from the building owner and drawing up a few plans, F3 went from talk to a full-fledged night out. Not only does the event feature plenty to entertain the eye, but the organizers thought about their guests’ more basic needs. At the behest of one of the residents, gourmet food truck Jon’s Street Eats parked outside for the entire evening. A well-appointed bar on wheels, known to its Cotton Mill creators as Party Karty (or Arty Karty, in this case), moved between floors purveying drinks for the price of a “suggested donation.”

“This event is so important,” said Adams. “It’s time for Oakland. San Francisco gets all the love, but I will support Oakland to the day I die. People need to know more about emerging art, especially in the East Bay.”

The next F3 will be held in April. For more information about the event or Cotton Mill Studios, visit

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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