Art’s a Driving Force at Cactus

Oct 27, 2011

Six and a half years ago, Sandra Mastroianni went down to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina—the land of waterfalls and butterflies—and fell in love. Literally.

She met an artisan, fell in love, returned home, quit her job teaching, and opened Cactus Gallery & Gifts in Eagle Rock. Her initial focus was selling her then-husband Abraham’s jewelry, followed by Christian Vega Rojo’s paintings, and everything took off from there.

By Keely Benkey Reichmann

Mastroianni began finding and displaying local artists like Walt Hall (The Sappy Studio), whose paintings are now the shop’s most successful sellers. Also adorning the walls are fantastically painted dolls by Sheri de Bow, hobbit-like puppet-types by Keely Benkey Reichman, and a powerful, almost disturbing face carved from a bulbing branch (with roots still attached) by Ulla Anobile.

Cactus has put on 75 art shows in its seven years. “Art,” Sandra says, “is my driving force.”

As it is the season of El Dia de Los Muertos, the shop’s art emphasizes the skeletal part of our anatomy. Assemblages by G.S. Khalsa are reminiscent of Day of the Dead folk art but with a finer edge, and Lacey Bryant paints faces with lovely details, seriousness mixing with whimsy.

By Lacey Bryant

The store is open and airy with a casual air, especially when we arrived to find Sandra taking down the “I’ll be back in ten minutes” sign and unlocking the door as she was returning from picking her daughter up from school. Their white poodle eventually followed us inside, the front door left open, welcoming.

Ofrenda by Kristen Johannesen

The centerpiece when you walk in through the bright blue front doors is this year’s ofrenda. It was made by Kristen Johannesen to honor her grandmother Emily Facko, worked in the local public schools. To honor her years as a librarian, the base of the ofrenda is an old card catalogue. A papier mâché model of Grandma Facko is framed by a golden halo made of #2 pencils! Patrons are invited to write names of their deceased loved ones on orange paper butterflies that “fly” out from the apex of the ofrenda (attached to fishing line). It’s a truly stunning piece. (Johannesen also builds ofrendas at Hollywood Forever.)

As we shot pictures, a neighbor came in with her three white poodles. Fourth grader Naima brought out treats and sat on the floor with the dogs while Sandra chatted with her friend. All that was needed was some cups of bold yerba mate and a plate of alfajores (shortbread cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche) and we could’ve settled in for the day.

The love of art, her neighborhood, and the life Mastroianni is living extends even out onto the sidewalk, where she had the artist Mary Clark Camargo create a mosaic on the public trash can!

Mosaic by Mary Clark Camargo

Cactus Gallery & Gifts
4534 Eagle Rock Blvd, Eagle Rock
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
For more information, visit





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