(Top photo) Vice-Mayor Fred Robinson, Jennifer Heighton, Executive Director, Santa Paula Art Museum and Mary Alice Orcutt Henderson (center of photo) along with other Art Museum Board Members and Chamber members cut the grand opening ribbon on Sunday. (Photo bottom left) Many pieces by Jesse Arms Botke were on display. (Bottom right) Many pieces of local art were on display, including this piece by Douglas Shively.

First dazzling look at new Santa Paula Art Museum

February 17, 2010
Santa Paula News

Invitees got the first dazzling look at the Santa Paula Art Museum at a sneak preview of the show, featuring those who started the community down the public art path, at receptions held Saturday. “It’s amazing,” SPAM Board President Mary Alice Orcutt Henderson said as she swept the main gallery with her eyes; “it was here all along!”

The historic Limoneira building on North 10th Street has been transformed in recent months into a series of galleries to house the city’s famous art and other exhibits, a venue that took almost a decade to find. Over the years two alternative sites were considered, but hopes were dashed each time until Limoneira Company offered their building.

“Finally!” exclaimed Bill Orcutt as he passed through the gallery Gift Shop with its offering of books about the famous featured artists, artworks, accessories featuring bright yellow lemons and other items highlighting Santa Paula, jewelry, and imaginative things for the kids.

The 10-years in the making museum, said Maria Bombara, “just takes your breath away!”

A fascinating display showed what was uncovered during the renovation of the 1923 Roy Wilson Sr. designed-building - from horseshoe and tobacco pouch to a newspaper embedded in concrete.

There are five separate galleries, and each was sporting art created by the founders of the Santa Paula Art Show, Jesse Arms and Cornelis Botke and Douglas Shively, who in 1937 launched the show that resulted in almost 400 works collected by the city, Santa Paula Library and the elementary and high school districts. Other artists were also displayed in the series of galleries and admired against a backdrop of harp music played by SPAM Board Director Xavier “Big X” Montes, who also has a prize-winning painting on display. 

Inside the vault turned gallery is a history of the show shown through newspaper clippings - one such publication shows four paintings, each displayed nearby. A sign above the door notes the sponsorship of the Chino Valdes family, but the vault, noted Florence Valdes, “has no money in it!” 

“This is really unique!” said SPAM Board Director Guy Cole as he looked around the brick-walled back gallery holding the Santa Paula Society of the Arts Best of Show exhibit. 

“It is,” said Supervisor Kathy Long, “just marvelous! So beautiful, it just warms my heart.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen it,” said Limoneira Company President/CEO Harold Edwards, “and I’m completely impressed! They’ve done a beautiful job... it’s a real tribute to the people who put this together and the community.”

Mayor Jim Tovias said the museum is “another great addition to Santa Paula. If you take the truck out of the Super Bowl commercial,” which prominently features the city, “this is it, it puts the community together” in a way that “sets the city apart... it’s the community that makes this such a special place.”

Limoneira Company Board President Alan Teague was admiring the art perfectly accented by the main gallery’s pale avocado-green walls and the high ceiling and windows. “I remember working here crunching numbers with about 25 other guys,” and the transformation of the space, he added, “it’s amazing.”

“It’s so wonderful, we’re so happy to be at this point,” said SPAM Executive Director Jennifer Heighton. “It’s been a long week,” and “a very long 10 years to get here.”

“I’m mysteriously ecstatic; our vision has come through,” said Board Director Doug Nelson, the architect for the project. Anita Nelson was also impressed: “When I think of Doug with those plans spread out for 10 years on our dining table, well, this is amazing.”

“Incredible,” said SPAM Guild member Laura Araiza.

“Welcome,” said Mary Alice Orcutt Henderson, “to our fabulous museum. It was 10 long years in the making, and far exceeds” what was ever imagined. 

At the end of the initial SPAM organization meeting, Henderson said Justice Ed Beach “stood up and made an incredible offer,” a donation of $100,000 in memory of his late wife, Janet. And over the decade since, “We’ve only spent $192 of it a week!”

Organizers almost lost hope when “the stock market tanked and avocadoes failed,” but Henderson said that’s when “our White Knight,” Harold Edwards stepped forward and offered the building. And, she added, “What really made it happen was Ginger” Gherardi, who led the fundraising and organization effort.

Henderson also thanked interior designer Yvonne Babcock, Wilson’s grandson Chris Wilson and Chuck Teague who oversaw the renovation, and “one person who deserves our total love and dedication,” Jennifer Heighton. “We put this on you, the novice, and you’re a complete expert now!”

Henderson also thanked museum supporters, noting, “I’m so happy you’re here to see the result of your generosity!”

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