James Aschbacher lived and breathed goodness. He had a particular and unique knack for spreading this goodness, and his own brand of joy, all over town. If you happen to be enmeshed in this arts community, then you very likely knew and adored him; if you didn’t know him, you still benefited from his joy. It’s everywhere, in the vivid colors and whimsical creatures in his murals all over Santa Cruz. I don’t know how long his nickname has been “Art Boy,” but that moniker – used by everyone from his friends to his dear wife Lisa – says it all. Art was his life, and he brought boyish glee to everything he did.

I’ve been in James’ living room, surrounded by dear friends, eating food from his hearth and laughing so hard at his jokes I had to clutch my belly and remember how to breathe. I saw how tenderly he loved Lisa, how dearly he loved his friends, particularly the Arts Council’s Ann Ostermann. James was Ann’s rock when Ann took over running Open Studios fifteen years ago, and a friendship was born the likes of which rarely grace this earth. I saw Art Boy in action as he demonstrated his self-taught techniques to curious onlookers at his studio, watched him support Ann as they worked to strengthen Open Studios over the years, and just two weeks ago, I had the wonderful pleasure of facilitating a panel where he shared his decades of wisdom with fellow Open Studios artists.

He was so kind, so smart, so funny, so vibrant. So alive.

A few days later, James had a stroke that took his life.

Last year, on Ann Ostermann’s 15th anniversary of running Open Studios, I asked James to write something about her for us to include in a full-page ad we placed in the Artist Guide to honor her years of service. In true Art Boy form, James sent me his dictionary definition of Ann, which included not just “Get It Done Gal” and “Master Organizer” but also “Laugher Extraordinaire” and “All-Around Fabulous Person.” James wanted to celebrate all of who Ann is.

I wish I could do the same for James. At the moment, all I can do is wander within this empty, aching hole in my heart, stunned by his loss. But I’ll also do my best to honor him, in the only way I know how:

James Aschbacher (n.) (1951 – 2018): 1) Art Boy 2) Bringer of joy 3) Maker of extraordinary pizza 4) Self-taught artist who inspired a generation of Open Studios artists and patrons 5) Devoted husband to beautiful Lisa 6) Friend to so many, and so dear to our own Ann Ostermann 7) Master Charades player 8) Toaster of champagne 9) Breaker of hearts, now that he’s gone.

Art Boy, we will never stop missing you. We love you so much, and we are so blessed and grateful for the time we got to know you.

– Michelle Williams, Executive Director

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