Spotlight Columns

The art of living life to the full

By From page B2 | June 21, 2017

Giovanna Stark, owner of American Visions Art Gallery in Folsom, leaves a tremendous legacy in the national and local arts scenes. Courtesy photo

It’s funny how we humans pursue success.

There are many ways to go about it.

No matter the approach, a successful life (from what I’ve also observed) takes tremendous heart. It requires action and a level head. And it’s not easy.

So, what are some of the fundamentals in crafting the “life of no regrets?”

As a child, I memorized a poem written in 1809 by R.L. Sharpe. It goes:

A Bag of Tools
Isn’t it strange, that princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common-folk like you and me,
Are builders for eternity?

To each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass, a Book of Rules;
And each must make ’ere time has flown,
A stumbling block or a stepping stone.

That poem comes to mind more and more as each decade rolls by. Each of us is that shapeless mass. The Book of Rules is the faith we live. Our personal credo.

And the life we craft … will it be something useful or worthless in the grand scheme of things?

Sometimes, it is useful to look to others. People who seem to have it all together.

Giovanna Stark
(March 16, 1944 – June 9, 2017)
This summer our arts community suffered a tremendous loss and I lost a good friend.

I met Giovanna “Joann” (née Tofanelli) Stark when she established the American Visions Art Gallery in Folsom more than 10 years ago.

A native of Italy and raised in Grass Valley, she radiated grace, authority, class and kindness. The gallery was a reflection of its creator — quality items, lovingly curated in a range of affordability for everyone. Quality for every budget.

Over the years, artists with national reputations and local artists came to Sutter Street to open shows. Giovanna had a kitchen right in the gallery that served up wine, Italian sodas, hors d’oevres and other goodies — including her Tuscan cooking. Music was always a part of those events. Above all, her receptions featured her talent for celebration.

Upscale culture came to Sutter Street. It was — forgive the pun — a stark contrast to the bar culture on that thoroughfare.

Goal setting
Giovanna knew her own mind. She knew what she wanted, and what she didn’t want. There would be quality throughout. Pure and simple.

Her motto? “Art soothes the soul.”

When I asked Giovanna about her background and why she wanted to open an art gallery, she simply explained that she had a background in education and wanted to help artists and the public at large to experience that art. After raising her family and becoming a widow the decade before, she wanted a “career change.”

What an understatement.

Crafting a life
Giovanna used her energy to make a difference in many venues, as it turns out.

At the state Capitol, she advised the staff of governors with special skill crafting bipartisan solutions. She loved innovation, working with legislators to create the heart and hand KIDS license plates to benefit children’s services.

Governors and the Legislature embraced her policy recommendations, including establishing city and county childcare planning councils. Giovanna assisted more than a dozen California counties to write their First 5 Children and Family plans.

She founded a non-profit, Government Action and Communication, to bring research and best practices to the state Capitol.

Take the lead
She was a mentor to young people who now provide leadership in health, social services and education.

By the early 2000s she was in demand at international conferences as a keynote speaker on children’s rights. During the 1980s and 1990s she organized the Christmas Project, matching youth in foster care with donors providing clothing, games and other essentials.

Leave a legacy
Giovanna leaves behind a large family and thousands of lives she touched in the political, educational and artistic worlds.

In her name, the family is establishing a Youth Scholarship Fund for Arts and Innovation to enable promising teens to be the first in their family to attend college. Donations may also be made to The Water Project (water for African villages) or The Wildlife Care Association at McClellan. Visit for contact information.

Persevere in love
I’m sure my friend had a few moments when she stumbled along the way and wondered how she would accomplish the creation of her own stepping stone. But she kept at it, through everything.

Giovanna had tremendous heart. She loved people.

And that made all the difference.

May perpetual light shine upon you, dear Giovanna. Your memory is a blessing.

Send your event for consideration in Susan’s column to [email protected]

Susan Laird

Discussion | 3 comments

  • Ginessa StarkJune 30, 2017 - 9:39 am

    Susan, thank you so much for this editorial. You gave a voice to much of what this family wants to say about our mother. Such sweet and thoughtful notes.

  • Jack HaileyJune 30, 2017 - 12:12 pm

    Susan, a beautiful column about a life well lived. Thank you.

  • Joanna StarkJune 30, 2017 - 12:44 pm

    Thank you for the touching reflections on our mother's life and legacy.



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