Zac Cort: Restoring The Soul of Stockton by Nicole Stracek

The weight of the 2008 stock market crash was palpable across the country. In its wake, the housing market plummeted, resulting in thousands of foreclosures across the U.S. A sign perched inside a window at a local restaurant in downtown Stockton read “Service may be refused: this is not a hangout or a shelter.” It was a reminder to the community during the economic crisis that Stockton was slipping down further into the proverbial abyss.

In a downward spiral, unemployment rates doubled and violent crime was at an all-time high. In the midst of the recession, the city filed for Chapter 9. Stockton became known as the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy until Detroit filed in 2013. Both the 2008 housing market crash and the subsequent filing for bankruptcy resulted in a mass exodus of employees and spending cutbacks for the city. Stockton was no longer associated with the hustle and bustle that helped establish a prolific inland seaport on the San Joaquin River.

Impetus for Renewal
But a glimpse into the past is now a beacon for rebirth. After time, the city became a playground for creatives and savvy business entrepreneurs. Unique and bold murals started popping up in unexpected places. Business owners unwilling to give up on the beautiful city on the river began making their mark, establishing pop-up shops in unconventional locations. Retail businesses began to set up shop in underutilized spaces, turning traditional brick-and-mortar locations into local hotspots. The pioneers and innovators who call Stockton home were not ready to let the city’s reputation go down in flames. In fact, it was just the opposite. Those who were willing take a risk to change the status quo in Stockton began looking for solutions.

Among those willing to take a risk was real estate developer Zac Cort.

Born in Stockton and raised in the East Bay of San Francisco, Zac spent his formative years growing up in the East Bay area while visiting his father in Stockton on weekends and for summer visits. After high school, Zac began playing collegiate baseball at Long Beach State, where he would meet his future wife, Megan. He would later study at CSU Dominguez Hills, finishing his baseball career and graduating with a bachelor’s in business management. Early in his professional career he studied finance and the banking industry with vigor, working for industry giants Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns. However, his connection to Stockton and his interest in residential and commercial real estate continued to pull him in an entrepreneurial direction. In 2006, Zac left the banking industry and created Ten Space, originally known as The Cort Group, with the philosophy that investing in both people and properties was the key to success.

The First Building
Even with his success in other cities and industries in Long Beach and San Diego, Zac still felt the desire to take a chance on the city that was described by Forbes in 2012 as one of the “Most Dangerous Cities in America.” Zac’s first step back into his hometown was his purchase of The Metro Building. He quickly he learned that he would have his work cut out for him. Living in Southern California, for three years Zac traveled back and forth to Stockton, sleeping on an air mattress inside The Metro and showering at a nearby gym as he slowly worked to rehab and refurbish the building. “During this period of my life, it was important to me to learn as much as I could about the city. I had to jump in and learn the pulse of the downtown and understand what was holding the city back,” he noted. While everyone else was formulating their own opinions about the city’s struggles, Zac was living it. However, after the years of commuting, Zac realized that moving to Stockton was inevitable. “Convincing my wife, Megan, to move to Stockton was the hardest deal I’ve ever had to close,” he laughed. As parents to boys Lincoln and Lennox, Zac and Megan are official Stocktonians. “There is nothing better than being with my boys every day and participating in all of their activities. Whether it’s a school performance or coaching Little League, there is no event I want to miss as they are my pride and joy.”

A Renaissance in the Making
Zac’s vision and experience provided the foundation for Ten Space to flourish and the company began to expand. In 2012, Zac’s longtime friend Tim Egkan joined the team, with Stockton native David Garcia following in 2013. From there, the young, innovative development company spearheaded multiple projects that would help catalyze the reinvention of downtown, reaffirming their ideas for the great city of Stockton. The successful renovation of The Metro provided the foundation for additional projects Zac and his team at Ten Space would tackle.

In 2014, Ten Space embarked on a full renovation of the Newberry Building, the former home of the Newberry Department Store. Ten Space worked to recruit several local businesses to occupy the building, breathing new life into the old, historic building. Local businesses such as Papa Urb’s Filipino Grill and the Child Abuse Prevention Council moved into the building, bringing the people of Stockton with them.

However, the anchor tenant of the Newberry Building was spearheaded not by Zac, but by Megan Cort herself. As a mother to two young boys, Megan realized that an important element of the revitalization of downtown would need to include childcare facilities for the growing 20,000-plus workforce. “I realized shortly after we moved to Stockton that childcare was an issue for those who worked and lived in downtown Stockton. There were virtually no options for daycare in the city,” shared Megan. With the help of the team, Megan created a cutting-edge, industrially designed educational facility known as The Campus Downtown, which offers affordable childcare for ages 18 months to 6 years with early childhood development options including half-day curriculums and extended care for parents who need full-time childcare. A much-needed bright spot for the neighborhood, the childcare facility provides an essential solution for families who live and work in Stockton.

Award-Winning Projects
As time went on, Stockton began to show signs of recovery. With numerous projects under way, Ten Space was honored with their first award for their work on the Newberry. Following the Newberry, the team launched Huddle, a 15,000-square-foot coworking space that became the center of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. Characterized by its fresh design concept and open-plan co-working environment, Huddle paved the way for similar projects to flourish.

Next on the team’s agenda was tackling the historic Belding Building, built in 1916, which sits in the heart of historic downtown Stockton. The transformation of the 102-year-old Belding Building was a crucial step toward revamping Weber Avenue. Featuring unique retail spaces, the Belding Building is now home to Stockton’s first nano brewery, Channel Brewing Company, and the eclectic farm-to-fork restaurant, Cast Iron Trading Company, while the top floors are used by some of Stockton’s most innovative individuals and companies.

The Open Window Project
Embarking on another opportunity, Ten Space would end up with their largest project to date. The Open Window Project brings 1,000 new homes and 400,000 square feet of retail and commercial space to the heart of downtown. The project encompasses both new construction plans and the rehabilitation of the historic buildings, keeping the beauty that characterizes downtown Stockton with modern upgrades to meet the growing needs of the community. In early 2016, with the city council applauding their efforts, the Open Window Project plan was unanimously approved. In the same year, the Open Window Project was awarded the Top Project for Urban Design in the state of California by the American Planning Association. However, as the team enjoyed their successes, they also encountered an enormous heartbreak. In 2015, Tim Egkan passed away. “It was devastating. He was more than a business partner; he was my best friend,” shared Zac. “I struggle with the loss of Tim every day. I don’t know if it will ever get better.” Even with this loss, Zac fought even harder, knowing that the best way to maintain Egkan’s legacy was to finish what the team started.

The Heartbeat of Downtown Stockton
The sheer mass of the city’s downtown was one of the biggest challenges Ten Space encountered. But Zac, never wavering from his vision for Stockton, pushed forward. He developed relationships with city planners, the rail commission and local government officials as he worked alongside the community to develop a plan that would bring Stockton back from the brink. He continued to invest in properties, acquiring ones that other people felt had no worth. “I literally knocked on every door and cold called every owner within our footprint asking if they were interested in selling or partnering.” Zac explained. “Most people laughed or dismissed us when they heard our vision, but we kept at it, and eventually those same owners who doubted back then are the ones who want to partner on projects today.”

Zac attributes a large part of his success to hard work and staying focused. His long-term plan for Stockton is to give the city the downtown it deserves. “There is a pulse right now that is evident throughout the city. But what we need is to keep working toward bringing the soul of Stockton back.”

Downtown Stockton has the elements that all great cities strive for: arenas, museums, excellent schools and businesses. Those who have endured the last decade can now have hope that Stockton is making immense strides to improve the landscape. Today, the city on the San Joaquin Delta is thriving through the diligence of a few, but with the help of many. For those who are still wondering what the fate of Stockton holds, now is the time to be a part of the revolution. 


Dr. Amy Bader: The Power of Resilience by Nicole Stracek

Life is composed of tiny, beautiful moments. Some may be incredibly sad; others may become the pinnacle of our happiness, and a few can surpass every other moment in a lifetime as something more. Unbeknownst to us, these moments are leading us down a path that we didn’t know existed. But in life, we don’t get to choose these moments. They happen, we deal with them, but how we deal with them is what defines us.

For Dr. Amy Bader, a defining moment was during her freshman year in high school. With her first semester complete, Amy found herself standing in the administration office, report card in hand. Even though she had signed up for a pass/no pass option for a typing class, there was an error on her report card. Seven classes, six As and one C. Nervous and a bit shy, she explained to the woman sitting behind a desk about the error and asked if it could be corrected. She told the woman, who seemed very uninterested in fixing the error, “What if I go through all of high school with all As and have this one C…in typing?” said Amy. The woman replied sarcastically, “Oh, like that’s going to happen.”

Her high school counselor happened to be just outside the door and overheard the conversation. The counselor swiftly took over, scratched out the grade and changed her GPA back to a 4.0. “In that moment, I realized that no one should be allowed to tell you that you can’t accomplish something,” Amy said. With quiet determination, she went on to graduate from Lodi High School as valedictorian, but she jokes it was also a little bit out of spite.

The Road Less Traveled
As Amy grew up in Northern California, her dad, a beloved dentist in Lodi, taught her about the value of hard work, perseverance and the importance of always getting back up when you get knocked down. Her mom struggled with health issues and was eventually diagnosed with leukemia. “It became evident to us that conventional medicine wasn’t going to be enough. There weren’t any good answers at the time of her diagnosis. Chemo was hit and miss and her oncologist admitted, conventionally speaking, there were no good options.” With that, her mom and dad, along with Amy and her brother, Chris, set out on a quest to keep her mom as healthy as possible.

Traveling the country, they visited with natural and holistic doctors, hoping to find solutions. However, their quest abruptly came to a halt when Amy’s father suddenly passed away. “You are never the same when you lose a parent at a young age,” shared Amy, who was barely 25 at the time. “My dad taught me the value of working for fulfillment, not just making a living. It became crystal clear to me when my dad passed away what type of people I wanted in my life, and what type of person I wanted to be, and how I wanted to live.” Moments that inevitably shape our lives remind us how important and sacred life is. Thankfully, 35 years after the diagnosis, her mom’s leukemia remains in remission.

The Road Less Traveled Part Two
With her straight As, Amy was accepted to the University of California at Berkeley, where she pursued a degree in business. After college, while working as an accountant in San Francisco, she continued to focus on her mom’s health. Deeply concerned about her mom, she spent a lot of time outside of work researching natural medicine. “Studying nutrition and herbs became my hobby. And, my coworkers started coming to me with questions about natural remedies for just about everything,” she reminisced. However, when her boss teased her that she had a talent and she would make an excellent doctor, something inside her clicked. Three weeks later, Amy resigned from her job. She moved home to Lodi and completed her pre-med classes at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. But before she could finish her conventional medical school applications, a shopping trip to Costco changed her path once again. “I was carrying a giant package of toilet paper, of all things, into my house with a book I had bought on natural medicine sitting on top. I ran into a doorway, the book fell on the ground and opened to the page on naturopathic medicine.” It was in that moment that her past, present and future collided.

The Doctor Who Wants to Hear Your Story
With a feeling of having had the stars align, Amy went on to study naturopathic medicine at the National University of Natural Medicine, or NUNM, in Portland, Oregon. After the rigorous four-year program, she completed her residency in family medicine. Even with years of medical school training and 17 years of practice, she describes herself as not that “doctory” at all. Amy, whose friends call her “the people’s doctor,” ultimately found that listening to a patient’s story was the core of delivering great healthcare. “Every patient comes to me with a unique story: passions, stressors, symptoms, challenges. I want to understand as much as I can, so I can help my patients feel heard, transform and be well,” Amy affirmed. She is passionate about helping people who are challenged with chronic disease, using all the tools naturopathic medicine has to offer.

With two private practices, one in Lodi, the other in Portland, where she lives with her beautiful daughter, Zoe, Amy is also an attending physician and adjunct faculty member at NUMN, where she teaches medical students the importance of naturopathic medicine and the value of listening to patients. Amy was also a founding co-director of NUMN’s Integrative Skin Care Clinic, where she trained naturopathic medical students and residents to treat patients with dermatological challenges. In addition, she shared her wisdom and medical advice through a column she wrote for NaturalPath, an online health and medical resource. As a contributor to magazines, podcasts, newspapers and more, she offers her extensive experience and advice to others about the benefits of natural medicine. She is known for going above and beyond for her patients, making house calls, offering telemedicine, and helping patients who come to her from all over the country.

The Passion Project
Newly divorced, Amy found herself at another crossroads. On a walk with a good friend, she talked about being newly single, the importance of staying healthy and aging gracefully. “We were laughing about how our grandmothers used to chew on chicken bones and looked great. From there, we immediately started brainstorming on how we could get more collagen into our daily diets,” shared Amy. Her friend, Elizabeth Zieg, had graduated from culinary school, and with Amy’s background in natural and herbal medicine, their strengths and expertise collided. “We found ourselves in a manic moment! Before we finished our walk, we had already come up with some recipes for delicious treats that incorporated collagen.” Amy knew she was on to something great when Zoe, who was five at the time, ate the collagen-infused creation she had made as a beauty-enhancing food for herself. “She didn’t know what it was, but she ate the whole thing and then asked for more,” Amy reminisced.

Made with Love and Collagen
Amy began educating her patients on the benefits of adding collagen to their diets. “Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies; it’s the foundation of connective tissue such as skin, bones, tendons, ligaments and cartilage, even teeth and blood vessels. Around age 30, collagen starts to break down faster in our bodies than we can produce it,” she added. However, the methods of consumption were a bit challenging.

In a serendipitous moment, one of Amy’s patients who had recently had back surgery mentioned that she was encouraged by her mom and surgeon to take collagen supplements for her joints before and after surgery. Armed with collagen powders and pills, she confided in Amy that she was searching for a more convenient and enjoyable way to get collagen into her daily diet because the current methods were not making it easy. “I shared the collagen and tea recipes with her and encouraged her to make them at home. She explained that with busy schedules, she and countless others would want to be able to grab and go. It’s a real need. The rest is history,” shared Amy.

Seeking the same answers as Amy and Elizabeth, Bassima Mroue became the business guru they needed to turn their ideas into a brand and their passion project into a real-life company, Real Beauty Food. From there they developed a line of drinks and treats called SkinTē®, packed full of collagen, tea, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. “We wanted our product line to be developed with the cleanest, healthiest ingredients that we could be proud of,” Amy confirmed. “But it’s not just about health and wellness. We want to speak to the beauty of character. We believe that what we consume every day, from food to ideas, directly impacts the way we show up in the world.”

Real Beauty Food and SkinTē®
As the trio gets ready to launch in 2018, they are thrilled with the reaction from early consumers and supporters of their SkinTē® line. One of their first investors and advisors is Leslie Blodgett, creator, founder and former CEO of bareMinerals. “Leslie was the first to believe in us. It means the world to us to have the support of such an incredible thought leader.”

The corporate culture the team seeks to nurture is one of innovation, inclusiveness, flexibility and fun. As a busy entrepreneur, doctor and single mom, Amy still makes sure that, Zoe, now 11, is at the center of her universe. “If there were one lesson I would want my daughter to take away from my personal experiences, it would be the power of resilience. I found my voice in my 40s, and I don’t want her to wait that long. I want her to advocate for herself, to speak up when it matters most, and to always get back up when life knocks her down,” shared Amy.

“It is in those moments that life suddenly turns that you realize your path. If you are in touch with your intuition and willing to learn from it, whether it’s good or bad, it will keep you moving in the direction you are meant to move in.” ■

Published in HerLife Magazine, Central Valley, CA

January 2018


Lynda Winter of Great Spectacles: The Art of Eyewear by Nicole Stracek

A fabulous pair of glasses can give an everyday outfit a stylish upgrade. Whether it’s sophisticated or youthful, conservative or fashion-savvy, the right eyewear can enhance your personality and lifestyle.

Established in 1990, Great Spectacles is an upscale optical boutique in Stockton’s Lincoln Center. Owner and licensed optician Lynda Winter provides customers with exclusive eyewear designs that are both stylish and functional. She knows that a great pair of glasses can make or break an outfit, and with a coveted inventory of frames from designers such as Chanel, Bottega Veneta, Chrome Hearts and more, Great Spectacles has something for everyone.

With nearly 50 years of experience, Lynda got her start in the optical business through a twist of fate. “At age 18, with a new family to support, I reached out to a staffing agency for a job. I was placed with an optometrist; little did I know it would be the start to a career that I love,” shared Lynda.

Great Spectacles was a passion project for the eager entrepreneur. “After 20 years of working alongside three different optometrists, I gathered everything I had learned, passed the state board exam and opened my own business,” shared Lynda. Obtaining enough credit to fulfill her venture would prove challenging. “When I began my optical business, women didn’t receive lines of credit. I opened Great Spectacles on a Macy’s card with only $500 in credit,” revealed Lynda. Winter built up her credit over time, never shying away from the expensive, hard-to-find styles along the way. With a focus on exceptional customer service, she meticulously built her inventory using her keen sense of style and procured styles by some of fashion’s most-admired designers.

“Finding styles that my customers wanted was my goal. I listened and learned, and then worked to secure select vendors that could give my customers a variety to choose from,” confirmed Lynda. “When I first opened I was in an out-of-sight, out-of-mind location,” Lynda revealed. Relying on word of mouth, she grew her business and made a name for herself in Northern California.

In 2002, Great Spectacles moved into Lincoln Center; with a new space to design, Lynda added her own personal touches. “I wanted to blend comfort with more modern and stylish attributes,” she shared. Lynda’s keen eye for great style is evident both inside and out. With the front door painted hombre green, the color symbolizes growth and uses feng shui harmonious ideals by keeping the entrance free of obstacles. The overall design invites a calming experience in which customers experience an eclectic atmosphere of elegance and comfort.

“My mission is to help customers feel beautiful, comfortable and catered to,” noted Lynda. Visitors can also revel in her unique vintage collection of eyewear on display. “I have collected vintage and designer eyewear for years, and I love rotating out the display case. Almost daily someone comments on how unique and beautiful the collection is.”

In 2017, Great Spectacles received the Merchant of the Year Award by Sims-Grupe, a recognition of businesses in Lincoln Center that best represent their business and community through involvement, marketing and social media, customer experience and store excitement.

In her spare time, Lynda has served on a variety of boards and is a member of the Junior League of San Joaquin County and an active member of Haggin Museum Junior Women’s Corporation.

The team at Great Spectacles knows the importance of finding eyewear in a pressure-free environment. “We are a customer service business, not a sales business. Helping customers find something that fits and feels comfortable is our number one goal,” noted Lynda. “We help customers find styles that fit by assessing their bone structure, eye color and lifestyle. It’s important to me that customers can take their time to browse.”

People from Central Valley and beyond turn to Great Spectacles to find great styles. A memorable customer was rap artist Snoop Dogg with his entourage. “Snoop Dogg was in town for a meeting with the mayor and came to the store with a group of people. One of my staff members was across the street and was worried about so many people coming at once. She called security, and although we didn’t have what he was looking for, the experience was memorable!” said Lynda.

Customers can swoon over new styles from Tom Ford, Face à Face, Anne et Valentin, Chrome Hearts, Gucci and more. Lynda constantly seeks the latest trends. “Audrey Hepburn wore simple black sunglasses designed by Oliver Goldsmith in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Goldsmith still produces the Audrey, which we stock. Right now, pearls are very on trend,” she said. “In 1913, Gabriella (Coco) Chanel placed pearls on her sunglasses. It was the beginning of the ‘modern women’ wearing pants, black dresses, sunglasses with pearls and her classic interlocking double CC. Today, Chanel frames with pearls are one of the styles customers ask for. Only 340 stores nationwide carry Chanel eyewear, and I’m very proud to be one of them.” 

Visit Great Spectacles at 622 Lincoln Center and

Published in HerLife Magazine, Central Valley, CA

April 2018

Leslie Crosby: A Mother’s Love: The Courage to Commit Fully by Nicole Stracek

May is National Foster Care Month, dedicated to acknowledging foster parents, family members, mentors and the welfare professionals who play a role in enhancing the lives of children in foster care. Choosing to become a foster parent can help children who need a home find stability; it can build lasting connections that broaden the scope of what constitutes love, motherhood and family.

Leslie Crosby and her husband, Kevin, had a plan. She would stay home with their two children until they reached school age and then she would make her way back to teaching pre-school. But a four-month-old baby boy named Nikko armed with a big purple pacifier changed everything.

In 2004, shortly after their daughter Molly was born, Kevin took a new position with a local fire department. The couple realized that she didn’t necessarily need to go back to work. “We knew that we were okay financially and with Kevin’s new work schedule it just made sense for me stay home with the kids,” said Leslie. A visit with a good friend who had recently adopted an infant domestically changed Leslie’s path again. “She asked me if I had ever thought about doing foster care. My initial response was no. I had never thought about it.

“The next thing I thought was, ‘I could never do foster care because I would get too attached to the kids,’” revealed Leslie. “After talking with Kevin about doing foster care he immediately didn’t think we could make it work. Our house was too small, our car was too small, we had two kids, a dog and a busy life. But the seed had been planted.” With a deep connection to her faith, Leslie felt that if foster care was something they would pursue as a family, Kevin would need to be the one who made the decision. A few months later, over a lively conversation during a Christmas dinner with family, the subject of foster care became a topic of discussion. “We went home that night and the first thing that Kevin said to me was, ‘Maybe we should go to an orientation before we say no.’”

Along Came Nikko and Nyah
Shortly after being placed on the list as an eligible foster family, Leslie received a call from the social worker. “The only information we had was that his name was Nikko and that he was four months old,” shared Leslie. “He came to us with this giant purple pacifier and he was such a good baby.” Although Nikko’s case plan was set for a two-month period, two months turned into nine months; after a year the county began look for a more permanent option for Nikko. “Each month the social worker would call to check on Nikko and she would ask, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to adopt?’ And every time we said no. We kept saying that we make really great foster parents.”

Over the summer, Kevin was home with a work injury and he spent a lot of time bonding with Nikko. “It was right before permanent placement was set up when the social worker called and asked again if we wanted to adopt Nikko. I called Kevin at work and after a long pause he said, ‘We need to talk.’” Nikko’s adoption was made final in November 2012. The couple’s older children, Austin and Molly, also fell in love with Nikko.

“Austin and Molly are amazing kids. We couldn’t do any of this without them. They are the ones who make the biggest sacrifices and they both take on their roles in the family with such grace as they embrace this life we have chosen,” shared Leslie. As time went on, the couple was told that Nikko had a mild form of cerebral palsy. Today, Nikko is an active seven-year-old who is persistent, funny, sweet and full of joy. “He really taught us so much about what it means to be a parent.”

The couple continued to do foster care, often taking children and infants that come from traumatic situations and children who have special needs. When Nikko was three, the Crosbys felt another calling to adopt. “I woke up one morning and he wasn’t in his bed. Frantically, I searched the house looking for him, eventually peeking in on the big kids’ room. There he was, curled up with Austin. As I stood there with my heart racing I felt God clearly whisper: Molly needs a sister like Austin has a brother. In May 2016, the Crosbys adopted their second daughter. “Nyah is a whirlwind of sass and joy! All in a good way, of course,” laughed Leslie. “She is tenderhearted, intuitive and in touch with her emotions. She seems to always be in tune with what’s going on in the family. She really is our heartbeat.”

Misconceptions About Foster Care
Ironically, a statement Leslie dislikes hearing the most is “I could never be a foster parent because I would get too attached to the kids.” After becoming a foster parent, Leslie realized it’s supposed to feel that way. “You’re supposed to get attached to the kids. You are absolutely supposed to get attached to the kids and fall in love with them. And it’s supposed to hurt when you say goodbye because it means you are loving them with everything you have and that’s what the kids need.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about being a foster parent is that it takes a special person to do it. “I’m not amazing. I’m just like everyone else. The only difference is, I chose to say yes.” Asking for help has been one of the hardest things Leslie has had to overcome. “The people who drop everything to help us are just as much a part of this as we are. Our family and friends have embraced everything with enthusiasm. Our parents, our friends, our church. There is no way we could continue to do this without their support.”

Challenges of Foster Care and Adoption
Often with very little notice, Leslie will get a call about an infant who needs emergency care. “It can be hard to make it all work and it’s hard when they leave,” she shared. Learning to parent children from traumatic backgrounds is also challenging. “At first, we assumed that you can parent all of your children the same way. But what we realized is that each child has different needs, especially when they have experienced trauma or adversities in their first home.”

Helping people understand how and why to use respectful adoption language is also difficult at times. “It can be difficult when people ask me questions about our kids. People often don’t realize how to approach the subject of adoption, sometimes asking which one of my kids are ‘real’ and which ones are adopted.” But to Leslie they are just that, her kids.

To learn more about how to become a foster parent, please call 209-465-KIDS.


Published in HerLife Magazine, Central Valley, CA

May 2018


Robert Kelley: Giving Art to the Community by Nicole Stracek

French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” For artist Robert Kelley, his artwork offers a glimpse into his mind. Bold and unique, his work provides a path to see the beauty behind the madness.

With pieces that are soft yet gritty, his portraits are eloquently melded with the unexpected and unconventional. Those who enjoy his work embrace the sublime nature of humanity that he vividly portrays. Collectors as far away as London, England, and as near as the Central Valley revel in his beautiful, thought-provoking images. However, the moment Robert’s work takes center stage, he quickly pushes the focus back to his roots.

Piece by Piece: Giving Back
To Robert, there’s no place like home. Born and raised in Stockton, his love for art was nurtured by his father, also an artist. As a child, Robert found solace in creativity, but as he worked through a variety of jobs his love for the art and creative outlets continued to pull him back. Robert attended the acclaimed Academy of Art University in San Francisco to study illustration and attended UC Davis for graphic design. As his career as artist continues to unfold, he thrives on his local ties to the community to help him stay grounded.

“Because I have been given something that is unique and special, I find that giving back is part of what helps me grow as a person and as an artist,” shared Robert. He enjoys using his gifts as a method to help others. Whether it is through his presence at local art collectives or businesses, he finds solace through charity work. He donates his artwork to a variety of local charities; the pieces are often auctioned at events, with the proceeds raising funds and awareness for children’s homes and hospice centers, the March of Dimes and more. He also belongs to a local art collective, The Art Expression of San Joaquin, where he spends every Wednesday night teaching free drawing classes to budding artists. “My work is just one aspect of who I am. I get involved in a lot of community events, teaching and donating pieces to help raise funds for charities because it is important to me that I am giving back to the community.”

Sober and Strong
The creative mind can be a passionate and chaotic melting pot, and many artists throughout history have struggled with addiction. From Ernest Hemingway’s notorious drinking ways to Frida Kahlo, who struggled with addiction to pain killers and alcohol, it’s no secret that great talent can come at a price. “It’s important to know that addiction is real,” shared Robert. “But it doesn’t have to be who you are.” As a recovering alcoholic, Robert continues to find comfort in his sobriety. “Every morning I wake up with this realization that I take very seriously: I am sober. It really keeps me grounded. If I’m not sober I can’t make art; I can’t be a father to my kids.”

Today, Robert is three years into his sobriety. Through his personal tribulations and experiences, he finds that working with others can have a profound effect on how people deal with their own addictions and insecurities. Whether he is using his experiences to help aspiring artists or local charities, each moment is a blessing that Robert uses to fuel his artwork. “If my experiences can help just one person, I know it was worth it to put it out there,” he shared.

Behind the Canvas
The vulnerability of his subjects shines throughout his pieces, offering those who admire his work a glimpse into the mind of the man behind the canvas. From his human subjects to animals to historic landmarks, Robert’s pieces are as unique as they are beautiful. Working with tempera, pastel, graphite and charcoal, he adds and remove layers of material with water, alcohol and even coffee to convey emotion, energy and honesty that demand attention. With clever titles for his pieces, he continues to explore the vulnerable aspect of human nature, most notably his female models.

“I try to use subject matter as something that evokes emotion out of people. When I start out, I usually take from a vision, or a fragment of something that strikes me and use underlying objectives that are all around me. I then ask myself, ‘What kind of emotion can I extract out of people? How can I move them?’ he confided. Titles for pieces such as Radical Surrender and Spiritually Sick give his work an added element of mystery with a witty twist. His piece titled Dubium Sapientiae Initium, a phrase pulled from French philosopher René Descartes, translates as “Doubt is the origin of wisdom.” The charcoal portrait depicts a woman with three faces superimposed on one another, a metamorphosis of the mind.

The Beauty of the Breakdown
It’s clear that Robert’s work isn’t filtered through rose-colored lenses. His current collection of exquisite charcoal portraits of female models has gained a substantial following in the Stockton community and throughout Central Valley. As an accomplished portrait artist, he approaches his work with an element of emotional arousal and uses everything that inspires him as his muse. From music to movies, to fashion and everyday nuances, his work is sometimes referred to as edgy or dark, but Robert tends to avoid the hype.

“It isn’t about being dark or edgy. But you are not going to get past one of my pieces of artwork without stopping and developing some sort of opinion. Love it or hate, I want know about it.” However, his passion for helping others through his ties to the Stockton community transcends his personal needs and wants as an artist.

Connecting Through Art
Art is always in the eye of the beholder. However, it can also heal wounds and provide an outlet for those who are hurting. The idea that his artwork could help others through difficult times speaks to Robert’s overall objectives as an artist. Through the power of his work, he was able to help a family in the Stockton area through a difficult time.

“My work was on display at a local bar. A man who attended the event saw my work and reached out to me. He shared a heartbreaking story about his younger brother, who had passed away five years earlier. Because the death of his younger brother continued to have a profound effect on the family dynamic, he commissioned me to do a portrait to give to his parents as a Christmas gift. The man said, ‘It’s time for my parents to heal.’ Seeing the effect his work had on others helps Robert stay grounded, giving him a chance to use his gift to connect with people. “Watching how my work evokes an emotional response in others has helped me become the person I am today.”

Don’t Look Before You Leap
For an artist, honing a craft can take a toll. Physically, mentally and spiritually, the idea is to take risks and to have faith. However, that ideal is sometimes easier said than done. Through teaching, Robert hopes to help future generations of artists develop their gifts as he provides advice and instruction, sharing his talent and experience. His advice for those who are struggling as an artist is to trust their gifts. “Most people will stand at the edge of something they are afraid of waiting for a safety net to appear. The goal is to have enough passion, enough trust to know the net will appear after you jump.”

No matter where his work takes him, Robert continues to stay loyal to his roots. “I’m a product of Stockton. It is the connection I have to our amazing community that helps me grow as an artist, and, most importantly, as a person.”


Published in HerLife Magazine, Central Valley, CA

April 2018