Skip to content
teaching artists

teaching artists

Melissa Baker

Inspired by her upbringing on her family’s cattle ranch, Melissa’s artistic style embraces abstract images found in nature. After graduating in 1999 with a fine art degree from the University of Wisconsin, Melissa returned to Napa Valley with her sister Mercedes, converted an old 1920’s hay barn into a working studio, and established the Ehlers Artists Collective.

In 2009, the Napa Valley Mustard Festival selected Melissa as “Artist of the Year.” She has exhibited in galleries, universities and museums from New York City to Buenos Aires and is involved in set design, movie making, and playing in a rock band, Samvega. Melissa feels very fortunate to be able to make a life with her sister and their amazing artistic family on Ehlers Lane and to teach drawing and painting at Nimbus Arts.


Mercedes Baker

A native of Napa Valley, Mercedes is passionate about exploring the many facets of art, from painting murals and stage sets, to bronze casting and the creation of found-object sculpture. She was educated at the University of Wisconsin and studied anthropology and traditional painting in Bali. Along with her sister Melissa, Mercedes founded the Ehlers Collective Art Studio in 2002, where she continues to paint and inspire others. Twice a year she tours the United States as part of the rock band, Samvega.

“Artists need each other,” Mercedes says, “We give each other courage and help each other remember that art is the mirror of humanity. It direclty correlates to our surrounding, both physical and emotional, and it allow us to process all things seen and unseen.”

Mercedes teaches drawing and painting at Nimbus Arts and exhibits her work both nationally and abroad.


Nikki Ballere Callnan

Nikki has been working in the arts and arts education most of her life. During her undergraduate studies at Sierra Nevada College, Nikki taught ceramics to children. The exposure to working with kids awakened a joy for teaching that has become a significant part of her life and career. Nikki also worked on developing her own art process and producing studio artwork.

After graduating with a BFA degree, she moved to Boston and began working as an arts coordinator for an after-school program. Nikki complemented this position with work as a teacher’s assistant in the ceramics department at the School of The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Later, Nikki became a Teacher Fellow at Nobles and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts, teaching seventh and eighth grade art and high school ceramics as well as coaching Field Hockey.  She also taught an independent study program with a ceramic focus, expanding her experience and further developing her skill-set in working with children of all ages.

Moving to California’s beautiful Napa Valley with her boyfriend (and now husband), Nikki built a small home studio and kept working in clay and the arts.  Later, Nikki began working at Napa Valley College as an Instructional Assistant in the ceramics studio, managing all aspects of the studio, making glazes, mixing clay, loading, firing and unloading kilns as well as helping students.  Nikki continued her studies, earning a Master of Fine Art Degree from San Jose State University, with a concentration in ceramics.

Nikki joined the Nimbus Arts crew after gaining her advanced degree and has been working with Nimbus ever since. She leads development of various art camps and classes and other arts programming for kids and adults alike.

Nikki and her husband have grown their small home studio into a successful full-time pottery business. They also continue to teach at Nimbus Arts, balancing their studio business with sharing their passion for art with students and the community. Nikki stays connected to young artists through a general arts class she teaches weekly at Howell Mountain School for kindergarteners through to 8th grade.

William Callnan

William Callnan earned a BFA from the school of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University in Boston in 2002. Since then, he has continually worked in the arts, teaching, doing public works and commissions as well as creating original artworks for exhibition and sale. In making ceramic work, William shows the touch of his hand in his finished works in order to convey his unique expression. His work strives to be original and speaks to the plastic nature of clay as a medium. Currently he is a ceramics and general arts instructor at Nimbus Arts. He exhibits locally throughout the Bay Area and works out of his home studio in Angwin, California. His work can be found in private collections across the country.

Nick Cann

Nick Cann has been creating graphic images since 1965. After studying at San Jose State University, L’Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, and The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Nick began his career at MGM, illustrating sets. He spent the next 30 years in Los Angeles as a freelance designer-illustrator. He has designed sets for Diana Ross, Gene Wilder, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, and has been commissioned to do murals and assemblages for Hyatt Regency in Buffalo, NY, the New Orleans and Dallas airports, Bonanza Steak Houses, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Nick has worked for Stephen Spielberg and Tom Cruise, and has designed posters for the San Francisco Ballet and sets for the Stapleton Ballet. Since coming to the Napa Valley, Nick added Erin Martin Design, Jeni Olsen Design, and many Napa wineries to his clientele. In 2006, he began teaching calligraphy and drawing to students at Nimbus Arts.

Joseph Close

Joseph Carl Close is the son of Susan and Patrick Close, this native of Columbus, Ohio has spent the better part of 20 years immersed in a variety of creative disciplines ranging from oil; painting, hand blown glass and steel sculpture. Close’s penchant for tinkering and drawing were fostered by a love of Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion works, Sci-Fi comics, mythology and the industrial trades. His father’s profession as a Local 189 Pipe Fitter and pop culture were heavy influences that led him to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh where Close studied Industrial Design Technology. Searching for a less commercial means of creative expression, Close changed direction and taught himself anatomy and began a passion for oil painting. This course change led him to Canton, Ohio where he nurtured skills as a painter by sharing studio space with established painters such as Marti Jones Dixon and Marcy Axleband. During these years, Close also was part of helping Ken Carter, glass artisan, build his hot glass shop, KC

Glass, from the ground up. Earning 2nd Gaffer, Close worked for and with Ken Carter for 9 years in an intense Hand Blown Glass environment that focused on production works and traditional Venetian glass techniques. There he was taught steel fabrication that enabled him to produce several public art commissions for the city of Canton and Massillon Ohio.

As a stand alone artist, Close has integrated oil painting, steel and glass into several solo shows depicting a blend of mythology and personal experience captured with 2-D oil works, as well as 3-D installation. Wanderlust and the pursuit to meet, learn and engage with artist and craftsmen near and far, Close has landed and set roots in Saint Helena, CA. where he has taken up residence at Ehlers Society founded by the Baker Sisters. Here Close hopes to lend his skills and experience to help keep the arts alive and well in the community, as well as continuing a lifelong endeavor to tell a story through visual imagery.


Margaret Dennett

Margaret Dennett has been teaching Art and Drama for 20 plus years in the Napa Valley. On her retirement from NVUSD in 2017 she has become an instructor of Art and Ceramics at Nimbus in St Helena. Her retirement has also given her time to delve into her own art, which includes painting, printmaking and ceramics. Margaret created the Art and Drama programs at New Tech High and has vast experience in theater production as well as her love for art. She has kept a strong connection to the community through her love of teaching. Her personal art is ever evolving and her sense of place is a major personal theme in her art as well as her love of nature.

Paulo Ferreira – In Loving Memory (1953-2023)

A native of Lisbon, Portugal, Paulo has lived in Mozambique, England, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and the United States. His professional experience includes theater production and management, graphic design and marketing, commercial illustration, 3-D product design, and environmental design.

From an early age, Paulo’s artistic expressions took form as Painting and Sculpture. The aesthetics of his work are derived from the many different cultures he has experienced. Sculpture is a form of art that requires one to think in space without boundaries or handrails and where the agility of a young person’s mind can discover its freedom.

For Paulo, teaching at Nimbus since 2012 has been a wondrous involvement in the world of unfettered creativity where both the teacher and student are gifted with the amazement at their creation of art.

David Garden, Jr

After majoring in film production, David created award-winning shorts as a film editor at Colossal Pictures in San Francisco. In 1998, David moved to Napa Valley and in 2005, when he heard about a new art center called Nimbus Arts, he jumped at the chance to become an instructor. He has been jumping ever since, working with students and bringing the joy of art to the Napa Valley community and beyond. “I am grateful for the freedom to include a variety of arts and sciences in my curriculum,” David says. “From outer space studies to toy-making, puppetry to music, alternative energy to game design, Nimbus Arts helps me ignite the creative spark.” Although David is 6′ 2″ tall, he lives in a chicken coop. “The close quarters are a constant reminder to watch out where I’m going and to observe the world around me.”

In addition to serving on the board of Nimbus Arts, David is also a board member of Arts Council Napa Valley.

Max Harper

I like to draw. ALOT. I didn’t grow up wealthy, had sort of a troubled childhood, and subsequent adolescence. I lacked much academic opportunity, due to constantly moving. Drawing wasn’t just an escape, but a reflection. Creating sprawling, complicated images that are very personal, is a way of processing, keeping record, and navigating an often confusing, contradictory, and inconsistent world. I was never sure where I would end up, so I traveled light, resulting in commonly discarded pens, pencils and paper, becoming my creative tools of choice, and nobody cared if you stole them. I’m a direct artistic descendant of underground and Outlaw illustrators like Robert Crumb, Antonio Prohias, and Sergio Aragon’es colliding with the monochrome nightmare landscapes of H.R. Giger, Laurie Lipton, and Horror Vacui auteur, Phil Kunto.

I frequently ran with Street Artists inhabiting the Bay Area. I admire their courage, creativity, and even athleticism summoned to create large expressive, convoluted projects. Anonymously, and thanklessly, they added vibrant color and energetic beauty to a dreary urban, or aggressively corporatized landscape, all under the shadow of our craft being classified as criminal vandalism.

When I’m not drawing, I’m hiking around mountains with my dog, or quietly reading.

My unique life path caused me to instruct, and listen from a place of deep empathy, aspiring to be the art teacher I always wished I had. I love gently guiding kids’ innate critical thinking, and problem-solving ability with creative, team oriented projects. It helps isolated kids feel part of something, so they know that by working together, their ideas, and individuality, can change the world. I encourage students to learn the basics, and then set them free to make their own projects, to explore, and play with what they have learned.

Nimbus has shown me that there is a place for everybody. Even someone as strange, and free thinking, as me. I look forward to meeting you there.

My name is Max.


Emma Higgins

Emma is a Calistoga native who takes inspiration daily from all the beauty of this valley. With an multi-disciplinary artistic and culinary education from the City College of San Francisco, she has come to realize that art is everywhere you look. From sharing a family recipe to working on a collective art piece, it is the human experience of creating and expressing together that has kept her active in the arts. She views developing art skills and an interest in the arts to be as fundamental as food to create a full, vibrant life and community. She celebrates the Arts’ liberating and healing properties and hopes to ignite that spark in others.

Lisa D. Hinz

A licensed clinical psychologist and a registered art therapist, Lisa earned a doctorate at Louisiana State University and a postdoctoral certificate in art therapy at the University of Louisville. For 25 years, she has been helping people with eating, weight, and lifestyle concerns achieve their goals for optimal health in body, mind, and spirit. Lisa appreciates how the creative process allows people to access deep inner wisdom and facilitate profound change without getting caught up with lots of words. She is an adjunct professor of art therapy at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College and the author of two books, Drawing from Within: Using Art to Treat Eating Disorders and Expressive Therapies Continuum: A Framework for Using Art in Therapy.

Lisa facilitates SoulCollage™ at Nimbus Arts. “I love the relaxed and accepting atmosphere at Nimbus,” Lisa says. “It can be very intimidating for non-artist adults to pick up art materials for the first time in years. Nimbus provides the perfect supportive place for this to happen; there is never judgment, only encouragement to trust the process.”

David Krkljus

David Krkljus is a local artist and photographer who receiving his BFA from Pacific Union College. He went on to receive his MFA from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. David currently works here in the Napa Valley as a commercial photographer. Encaustic painting is a medium that provides a great source of creative joy and has been dear to his heart since first studying the medium at PUC. During his post graduate studies he combined his photography with the encaustic medium, and continues to expand these techniques in his current work.

Michele Laurence

Michelle’s introduction to the world of art, color and design began as a child.

In the early 1970’s, her mother founded a school for the decorative arts in San Francisco specializing in 18th century painted finishes for furniture and interiors, teaching both professional artists and lay people alike for over thirty years.

After studying art history at the University of Oregon, Michele returned to San Francisco and began working for designers and private clients, gilding and painting furniture and interiors.

Her career then took her to Sun Valley, Idaho where she acted as the creative director for a custom furniture company. After two years, Michele returned home to take over the family business and to teach full time.

At the same time, Michele continued to work for private clients and designers on both residential and commercial projects. She designed her own furniture that sold through designer showrooms. She also taught and lectured at Filoli Gardens in Woodside, and at both the Furniture Mart and Design Center in San Francisco.

In 2002, after moving to St Helena, Michele opened Muse, a unique shop specializing in luxury knitting yarns, needlepoint and textiles, which she operated for twelve years.

Michele’s passion for the arts stems in part from the joy she has personally experienced in working with her hands; and from the well-being and happiness she has witnessed in her students over the years, as they have connected to their deepest selves through the creative process.

Kiera Louttit

After moving to the Napa Valley in elementary school, Kiera began taking classes at Nimbus Arts. By the time she was in high school, a growing love of creating art led her to attend the Oxbow School, a semester art school in Napa, where she thrived in both the studio and the classroom. The project-based learning at Oxbow ignited her passion for education, inspiring her to pursue a Montessori teaching credential for elementary students after receiving her Bachelor’s in Environmental Science from the University of Boulder. Now she combines her interests in education, science, movement, and the arts as a teacher in the Adolescent Program at the St. Helena Montessori School and as a yoga instructor at Hot Yoga Calistoga.

Kari Martin

Kari Martin grew up in Southern California and moved to Angwin in 1992 to attend Pacific Union College where she studied art, food science, and advanced sewing.  She met and married a native to St. Helena in 1996 and raised 3 daughters together. Kari ran a licensed home daycare using a preschool curriculum while her children were young. In 2012 Kari became the Art Director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga for K-12 grades.  While teaching art there, she submitted student artwork to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Local, Regional, and National Fine Arts Competitions which won multiple awards over the years. In 2016 Kari was recognized as the #1 Art Director in the Nation for BGCA.

Kari joined Nimbus Arts in February of this year and loves teaching our Ro Sham Bo program.  She loves all mediums of art and says, “Art has always helped me through processing difficult emotions, and I enjoy sharing that feeling with others.”  When asked what she is looking forward to with joining the Nimbus teaching artists team, she replied, “I love children and their artwork, but I’m excited to have the opportunity to teach art to adults and push myself to new challenges”. Kari’s teaching style makes art approachable and exciting to any age group. When Kari’s not teaching art, she enjoys cooking, roller skating, gardening, tending to her chickens and dogs, hiking, camping and boating with her family.

Dave Massaro

A true Napa Valley native, Dave has been working with the metal arts and fabrication for over ten years. His work primarily consists of industrial scraps of steel but it also composed of stainless steel, brass, copper, bronze, aluminum and other types of metal. Voted one of Napa Valley’s Top 25 Most Interesting People by Napa Valley Living, his passion for life and art are visibly transmitted through the welding and plasma cutting classes at Nimbus. His work can be seen on the St. Helena High School campus as well as in local galleries. 

Jessica Mennella

Jess Mennella is a perfumer, flower essence therapist, and educator for whom the world of beauty and the vibrational power of nature are inextricably linked. A longtime student of world-renowned natural perfumer, Mandy Aftel, Jess has also studied flower essence therapy with the Flower Essence Society. She established FLWR Napa Valley in 2018 to offer exquisite scents designed to enable the wearer to step into the world as their true self. 

Eric Muensterman

A northern California native, Eric Muensterman grew up in an art filled home. His mother was a fashion designer and award-winning quilter while his father was a master woodworker. It was in this atmosphere that he began to draw and eventually find his medium as a carver. Growing up in Santa Rosa and attending the SRJC, Eric studied photojournalism. After school, Eric went into the outdoor industry and worked for CamelBak and The North Face, but art was never far from his mind. He continued to carve and create on a small scale. In 1998 he began focusing on Halloween and carving pumpkins. In 2001 Eric was invited to carve pumpkins at the Danville Jubilee and has been a key feature at the event ever since. Each year families seek him out to view his newest creations and learn about his techniques. He enjoys working with adults and kids alike and has taught many students how to approach pumpkin carving in a whole new way. Eric’s love of teaching his craft is what brought him to Nimbus Arts. 

Oscar Aguilar Olea

In the mid 1970s, along with 20 other student artists from the Academia de San Carlos in Mexico City, Oscar took to the street. The group gave themselves the name SUMA and began to use the fences of Mexico City as their canvas. With the attention the murals attracted, SUMA was invited to show at local galleries and museums and the group was part of the first biennial for young artists in Paris. SUMA also caught the attention of artists like Rufino Tamayo, Juan Jose Arreola and others, and won a place in the evolution of Mexican Art.

Following his involvement with SUMA, Oscar dedicated several years to research techniques, studying egg tempera al fresco, oils, watercolors, etchings, drawings, woodcutting, and sculpting. As an artist and teacher for Nimbus Arts, Oscar applies the techniques he learned and brings his expertise representing the human figure.

Vincent Serrano Pagniucci

Vincent Serrano Pagniucci studied Illustration at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL and earned a BFA in 2006.  Vincent began painting landscapes plein air and gained gallery representation at the M Gallery of Fine Art.  In 2008 he moved to San Francisco and began filling sketch books with drawings of people and city scenes.  Vincent uses as wide variety of mediums and has taught community art courses at City College of San Francisco, College of San Mateo and Chabot College.  

In 2016 Vincent relocated with his wife to Napa, CA.  He currently teaches at Nimbus Arts, Napa School of Music and Sunrise Montessori of Napa Valley. You can view his artwork here.


Aaron Pollard

Aaron is a multi-faceted artist who creates in a number of mediums ranging from music to painting, writing, sculpting, photography, graphic design and printmaking. While working at the Napa School of Music where he teaches private lessons for guitar, ukulele and bass. In the past he has helped many artists along their own artistic journey collaborating with filmmakers, fashion stylists and designers. He performs frequently at venues around the bay area, writing and producing full length albums. His creative drive leads down an innate path of curiosity where he has to constantly battle with obstacles and overcome them. Aaron is both a student and teacher who is focused on community enrichment through the healing properties of expression through art.

Erin Ramsey

Erin Ramsey was born in raised in Durham, North Carolina where she gained an early appreciation of the power of community and homegrown vegetables. After studying theatre for many years, she decided to pursue her culinary interests at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where she emerged with a Bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, and a husband, Kipp Ramsey, to boot.

Erin moved to Napa with her husband in the summer of 2010 and was immediately enthralled in its myriad of culinary opportunity. Upon her arrival to the valley, she joined the team at Robert Sinskey Vineyards and has since relished her position managing the biodynamic winerys’ culinary program; a veritable stage for farm to table practice and creativity.

She embraces all opportunities, such as those provided by Nimbus Arts, to enthrall Napa’s youth in the many culinary adventures inspired by its incredible community.

Kipp Ramsey

Kipp plays in the very busy intersection of farming and food purveying activities at Long Meadow Ranch. He is the guy who knowledgably plans, delivers, prepares, and presents the bounty of Long Meadow Ranch from vegetables, fruits, honey and eggs to freshly made olive oil to grass-fed beef and lamb.

A native of Madisonville, Kentucky, Kipp moved to Mississippi to attend Ole Miss, where he received a bachelor’s degree in applied sciences with an emphasis in hospitality management. After graduation, Kipp moved to New Zealand where he worked in orchards and vineyards while traveling, skiing, fly fishing, kayaking, camping, and hiking. Upon return from traveling abroad, Kipp decided to pursue his love of cooking and service at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York where he graduated with a degree in culinary arts.

After years of experience, Kipp has learned the importance of “less is more” when preparing seasonally driven food by focusing on the ingredients and letting them shine.

Leticia Russell

Leticia Rosado Russell, is an artist, educator, and trainee in art therapy. Leticia is passionate about creating community,  and sharing ways to enhance well-being and the joy of self-learning through the artistic imagination. She loves teaching art courses that allow participants to engage in storytelling through art making. Leticia works in the mediums of collage, print making, watercolor, book making and altered books. She is the founder of a weekly open art studio experience, For Art’s Sake, with the mission of creating community and reducing stress through art making.

Deirdre Shibano

Well known for her beautiful Landscape paintings in plein-air, Deirdre Shibano is also an award-winning artist, specializing in portraiture and figurative work. Her work is in private collections across the United States, and abroad.

Originally educated at the Art Students League in NYC, she received the Merit Scholarship Award for Excellence and The Ford Foundation Grant, among other noteworthy recognitions.

Art Critic, Brian Sherwin notes: “Artist Deirdre Shibano’s plein-air paintings are marked by an alluring sense of calm. Her work invites viewers to take a step back in order to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of nature. This wonderful sense of calm is carried over when Deirdre explores the human figure — her figure paintings offer a point of introspection. Her body of work is simply a joy to observe.”

Equally important to Shibano, is her dedication to teaching others the skills and insights that she has discovered through her many years of painting …

Recently awarded The California Artist of the Year by Tosca Arts & Culture…  Deirdre Shibano is a member of: Oil Painters of America, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, The Portrait Society of America, and National Oil & Acrylic Society. Ms Shibano is represented at Studio Gallery in SF, CR Fine Art, and Xanadu in Arizona.

Please visit: for additional information regarding awards and exhibitions.

Neil Sucheck

Neil Sucheck has been collecting production knives for about 30 years. He had never found exactly what he wanted in a do-all EDC (every day carry) knife, so back in 2015, he and his wife found a blacksmithing class through The School of Visual Arts in Brooklyn, NY, which offered knife making classes. He took two blacksmithing classes and a bladesmithing class, and he found his passion.

After that, he became a Teacher’s Assistant for the classes, and about 2 ½ years ago started to teach the classes himself.

Claire Tiwald

Claire Tiwald is an avid traveler and artist creating multiple forms of visual art. Armed with her BA in Art from Nebraska Wesleyan University creates photographic realist portraiture, sculpture, art dolls, collages, inks, and digital paintings. She uses all these skills to create her comic-books. “Sequential art is an open road: comics can be a venue for both childish whimsy and more serious adult themes.”

Her work was featured at the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum in 2013 and the Lone Star Studios collective in Oakland. Currently she is self-publishing her first full length graphic novel Age of Avarice, which currently has content published online at Her full artist portfolio can be found at

Claire is always available for commissions and is teaching comic booking and other art mediums at Nimbus Arts.

Nancy Willis

Nancy Willis is a painter and printmaker living and working in the Napa Valley.  Willis explores themes of intimacy and social connection in her works on paper and canvas.  The rituals of daily life are referenced in her work through recurring motifs such as the dinner table, bed or chandelier. Her work was recently exhibited at the Startup Art Fairs in LA/SF and Chicago. In addition to her painting tours to France and Sundance, Willis is part time faculty at the Culinary Institute of America/Greystone, the Napa Valley College, and Nimbus Arts.

In addition to her studio practice, Willis has been the guest curator for two large museum exhibitions. In 2011, Discrepancy/living between war and peace, examined beauty and Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Her 2015 project, NOURISH brought together 25 artists, 9 chefs and a live stream from a three-Michelin starred restaurant in France.

Willis was awarded consecutive ACNV Community Fund Grants for 2017 & 2018 for her project, Conflict Zone. In 2018, Willis travelled to Houston to create monotypes with Iraqi Yazidis now living in Texas. Conflict Zone will be exhibited at Brookhaven College as part of the annual Southern Graphics Printmaking Conference in 2019. She is currently working on Phase Two of the project, creating paintings in response to the Yazidis’ monotypes.

Amanda Wright

Using white stoneware and neutral colored glazes, Amanda creates traditional forms charged with a modern spirit. It is utilitarian art intended for everyday use. After leaving her job as a fashion designer and relocating from southern California to Napa Valley, she discovered her passion for ceramics. Amanda’s pottery career began in her small home studio in northern California and can now be found around the world.

Back To Top
Translate »