Robert Buelteman

Robert Buelteman speaks in his darkroom at his Montara home. He is among hundreds of Bay Area artists who are inviting the public into their studios over the next three weekends.

It is immediately apparent when you first step foot into Robert and Julie Buelteman’s house that you’ve entered the home of artists. 

After being greeted by the couple’s rescue pug, Pearl, your eye is drawn to the photos and paintings that fill the walls. A partially finished embroidery project sits on the coffee table as if you’d just interrupted Julie Buelteman midstitch, which you probably have. 

She is known on the coast for her jewelry, but the artist identifies more as a maker. She doesn’t let one medium define her, a fact made apparent by the books that line the walls of her studio and the varied projects she embarks on. 

After studying art and art history at Long Beach State University, she actually didn’t create for a long time. It wasn’t until her kids started school, that she, along with a couple of friends, began making jewelry again. Now the artist has people who come year after year to her shows to buy her creations. 

This weekend the couple will be opening their home as part of the annual Silicon Valley Open Studios that includes more than 50 artists from Pescadero to Pacifica in its first weekend of events. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday local artists will be welcoming visitors into their homes and studios in one of the biggest art events of the year. 

“I love having people over,” she said “It’s a great way to see people and show them what you’re up to.”

Robert Buelteman says his wife is the more social of the two but finds he really enjoys opening his studio and participating in the community art event. He will be showcasing his film photography, a venture that started 50 years ago over a friend owing him $100. 

“In 1972 that was quite a bit of money,” said Robert Buelteman. “I was very upset and he said, ‘Well, I’ll give you my camera.’ And I said, ‘I’ve never taken a photograph, I’m not interested in photography, I don’t want your camera.’ Then it came down to the last day (before I left) and I figured if I don’t get something, I’ll probably never see the guy again. So I took the camera.” 

Feeling swindled, Robert Buelteman embarked on a road trip to Colorado to attend college and begrudgingly took the camera with him. 

“During that trip, I looked through the viewfinder at the snowy mountains of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah and had a genuine, I don’t know what you would call it, a transformation, a cathartic experience,” he said. 

“An epiphany,” chimed in his wife. 

“I looked in the camera and saw everything I’d ever done, and everything I would ever do in that moment, and knew that I had come home,” Robert Buelteman said. “Everything just evolved out of that.”

Since, Buelteman made his reputation as the first artist in history to be granted permission to enter the Crystal Springs Reservoir, where he took almost 10,000 photographs that eventually became the first of his three books. His black-and-white film photographs of the Peninsula, of the still largely closed off watershed, and at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program reflect the photographer's interest in nature. 

The photographer is one of a few who don’t do anything digitally, creating everything with film and paper, and he proudly says he has never sold a photograph made with a digital device.  

At 848 Drake St. in Montara the Bueltemans will be selling original prints, books, posters and a variety of hand-made jewelry.  


Emma Spaeth is a staff writer for the Half Moon Bay Review covering community, arts and sports. Emma grew up in Half Moon Bay before earning a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Oregon.

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