Artful nonprofit Ship in the Woods seeking a new port

Artful nonprofit Ship in the Woods seeking a new port
RJ Brooks, co-founder of the nonprofit Ship in the Woods at his home and base for many of the organization’s shows and events. Brooks and the nonprofit will be looking for a new place to call home after five years at the property. Photo by Addison Stonestreet

SOLANA BEACH — The house’s past and present has been one steeped in a tradition of art and culture — it’s future, however, remains unclear.

What is clear is that the house, buoyed in between Solana Beach and Del Mar, that has sheltered a nonprofit geared towards creating dialogs and serving as an artist’s haven for new ideas, projects and collaborations will, in the weeks to come, be no more.

“So many memories,” said RJ Brooks, who lives at the house and is co-founder of the nonprofit A Ship in the Woods. “It’s hard to say what the best are. It’s been a lot of work — it would just be all the people that have been through here,” he said. “I think it’s just the sheer amount of people that have just come through the house over a period of five years.”

Five years ago, Brooks and Kiersten Puusemp found the house.

Brooks explained that it was the flow of the house that captured their attentions and suited their needs for wanting to create an artists retreat.

“The house itself was the reason why the nonprofit was created,” said Brooks.

With Puusemp having since moved to other projects, Brooks has come to fully inherent the nonprofit.

It started rather small — first with group showings. Brooks remembers the first event they had at the house — about 30 people showed up. At one of the home’s recent events, there were almost 450 people.

Though at the beginning, Brooks said he never had the intention of creating the nonprofit.

“Now, I guess I’m kind of stuck with Ship in the Woods for a while,” he said. “But it’s a great thing to be a part of.”

While Brooks and his associates knew they’d have to leave the home eventually, they’ve made the most of their time there.

But now, the current owners of the property, who are in Washington, D.C., are ready to move back, demolish the structure and build their dream home.

“It’d be sad to see this house go, but we don’t want to keep someone from their dream as well,” Brooks said.

While Brooks couldn’t say where they might be landing next, wherever it is, they’ll still be sailing under the moniker of Ship in the Woods.

The old mid-century home was built in 1954 by photographer Harry Crosby, with one of its owners being actor George Brent.

The home is rife with objects left behind from previous events — objects that will eventually need to be packed up: A geodesic dome covered over with the remnants of melted down candles, a side room wrapped floor to ceiling with vinyl wall paper from artists the de la Torre brothers, and outside a wooden structure dubbed the Rhodospin.

Working with the New School of Architectural Design to build the Rhodospin, the structure gives an experience of perception based on the work of Patrick Cavanaugh, a vision scientist, who also was one of the house’s guest lecturers.

“I think that’s the attraction for Ship in the Woods, is that it’s more of like an immersive experience of these interactive installations,” Brooks said. “It’s not so much just art that you put up on the wall kind of thing.”

A lot of the shows that are put on at the house are conceptual-based.

“It’s not just flat work, or landscape painting or ocean painting or surf stuff. It’s academic,” Brooks said.

For Brooks, a Pittsburgh, Penn. native, who came out to the West Coast almost 10 years ago, and without knowing too many other people out here, it was a chance for something different, he explained.

Now he knows a lot of people in San Diego and the work he and the others have done with their nonprofit have captured the attentions of plenty of artists, musicians, educators, scientists and idea-makers locally and around the country.

But Brooks said he feels what they’re doing in the art world is definitely having an impact, especially in the North County, by showing that art is not just something that’s in an institution or box gallery, that it’s part of everyday life and that you can have these dialogs within your own home.

In between seeking new ports, the group has been putting on events around the county. Their latest, scheduled for July 17, is at the Lafayette Hotel in downtown and will feature music by former professional skateboarder Tommy Guerrero.

They also are hosting an Indiegogo campaign through August to help raise funds for the nonprofit, including selling a 44-track music compilation from the bands that have performed at the house.

Brooks said he’s alerted his neighbors that they’ll soon be hoisting up their anchor.

Over the years, they’ve had “mixed” responses from the neighborhood, though mostly they’ve become friends with the majority of them, Brooks explained.

He said he could understand some issues with neighbors, namely parking.

But the neighbors who haven’t come to the shows don’t know what exactly goes on or the people that come, Brooks added.

Though he was quick to point out that it’s not a party house.

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