WALNUT CREEK -- Just as soon she moved to the East Bay, Karen Leoni knew immediately that she was fortunate to live in a plein-air painter's paradise.

A relatively new resident to Walnut Creek, Leoni thought her new city would be the perfect location for the California Art Club's next show. So she suggested the idea to fellow CAC members, who live all over northern

California, and now the public can view the work of 27 artists in the show "Small Scenes," through Jan. 26 at Renditions Art Gallery.

"I enjoy and respect being part of a group that is over 100 years old and was

established by the California Impressionists, who often painted plein-air," said Leoni, a member of the CAC's club's San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. "Today the group offers exhibits and activities in which I like to participate in. It is wonderful to get together with folks of like mind and paint together whether it be for a few hours or for a few days."

From its inception in 1909, the club -- one of the oldest and largest fine art organizations in America -- has embraced the untraditional in promoting the merits of the traditional fine arts of painting, sculpture and drawing, said Madeleine Aguilar, CAC's exhibition coordinator. Its founding members were a handful of professional artists who migrated to Los Angeles from the Midwest and the East Coast, drawn to the Golden State's natural beauty and year-round sunshine. With conditions that were ideal for outdoor painting, these pioneering artists gave birth to a new artistic movement, now known as "California Plein Air," Aguilar said.

"More than a century ago, early California Art Club artists inspired the first art movement to be defined as uniquely California -- California Impressionism," she said. "This Impressionistic style involves painters working outdoors in order to capture the ephemeral moment when natural lighting illuminates scenic vistas of the Golden State."

An impetus to establish the club was the desire to include women painters and sculptors for exhibitions and fellowship -- a particularly groundbreaking move at that time, as similar organizations were comprised exclusively of male painters, Aguilar said.

CAC is one of the largest art communities in the country, with approximately 3,000 members, said Richard Lindenberg, co-chairman of the San Francisco Bay Chapter.

The club arranges for juried member shows at museums and galleries, holds monthly and quarterly paint-outs at various Bay Area locations, hosts an annual painting retreat in West Marin each fall, and produces a biannual two-day symposium with nationally known artists as demonstrators and panelists, said Lindenberg, a Novato resident.

He said his own plein-air work is representational in style.

"Many of my paintings come from an emotional place in my heart, and it is wonderful when viewers can connect with that sense of place," he said.

Michael Reardon believes that art is nourishment for the soul.

"I hope that my work feeds the imagination of viewers and collectors," said Reardon, who starting drawing early in life but never had the opportunity to go to art school, instead graduating in architecture.

But soon after graduating, he decided to become an architectural illustrator, and partly as a result, became an artist.

Reardon, an Oakland resident, works in watercolor, not the prevalent technique used by most CAC artists. Because he was an architectural illustrator for 33 years, his work tends to depict architectural situations, especially regarding the quality of light.

"Through this network, I have had the opportunity to view and study the work of many highly-skilled artists as well as meet many wonderful people," he said.

California Art Club's 'Small Scenes' exhibition
  • When: Through Jan. 26
  • Where: Renditions Art Gallery, 1383 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek
  • More Info: http://www.californiaartclub.org/