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Laguna Logo 2022

Mayor Bob Whalen energized about 2023 as he begins his fifth term

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The last time Stu News featured an in-depth conversation with Mayor Bob Whalen, it was January 2017. A lot has happened since then. (Stu News caught up with him again earlier this month as he traveled with his wife Kirsten to visit family in Northern California.) 

Whalen was elected to the Laguna Beach City Council in November 2012, and has served four terms as mayor, first in 2015, and again concurrently in 2019, 2020 and 2021. His current term runs until December 2024.

As he embarks on his fifth term as mayor, some priorities remain the same and – as would be expected – others are entirely new.

“Each term is different,” Whalen said. “It is driven by the issues the city faces. In 2020 and 2021, we were driven by the pandemic, which was unforeseen. Early in 2020, no one then suspected we’d have months and months of the pandemic. However, in retrospect, I’m very proud of how, as a city, we responded.”

Whalen referenced the OC Register report that Laguna Beach had one of the lowest cases of COVID per capita in the county, which he attributes to early and proactive response. 

Unless one has a reliable crystal ball, looking ahead to what 2023 and 2024 hold remains a mystery.

“Each term brings new challenges – some are known and some we’re not aware of yet,” he said.

Mayor Bob closeup

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Bob Whalen begins his fifth term as mayor

Public safety and arts still top priorities

At the time the 2017 article was written, Whalen’s focus was on public safety and the arts, and little has changed in that regard. “Public safety is always our top priority,” he said. “In 2019, we were able to complete the Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Report. Thirty-six action items were recommended and carried out. Providing dollars for fire safety is always at the top of the list.”

Undergrounding utilities on Laguna Canyon Road continues to be a passion for Whalen.

“For 10 years, we’ve been working on undergrounding utilities and getting bike lanes, pedestrian pathways and road safety improvements,” Whalen said. “We made progress last year. We are still pushing it, but it is an uphill battle. Our recent $35M grant application to FEMA was rejected by CalOES because Southern California Edison would not commit to a specific cost-sharing dollar amount for the project, even though the city and Edison had agreed to match the grant by a shared percentage. We have another opportunity for grant submittal in December 2023, and we will be working with SCE and Senator David Min to hopefully get this to the finish line. Public safety is of utmost concern.

“Also in 2016, we increased the hotel bed tax by 2% to create a revenue stream to fund a number of public safety programs. It has generated $10-15 million and will continue to generate funds. Our most important asset is our people, and as one of our first actions this year, the City Council unanimously approved a new wage and benefit contract with our Police Department. At its core, the agreement is about supporting public safety, and offering the Police Officers and other employees in our Police Department a compensation package that reflects their level of dedication and commitment to this community. I’d like to thank our city negotiating team, City Manager Shohreh Dupuis and the Police Employees Association for diligently working together toward an agreement that is strongly supported by our police employees and offers them the elevated compensation and quality of life enhancements they deserve.” 

Home is where the art is

Whalen’s passion for the arts strikes very close to home. Kirsten is a long-time (14 years) Festival of Arts exhibitor and graduated from LCAD. “She loves the Festival and living in Laguna,” Whalen said. “She’s busy with art and enjoying time with our grandchildren.”

Mayor Bob in City Hall

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Whalen’s home away from home 

“The arts and its rich history, continue to be an important part of our culture and the city strongly supports our vibrant arts community,” Whalen said. “The Laguna Beach Arts Alliance is a membership organization of about 25 cultural arts organizations based and working within the city.”

The Arts Alliance publishes the quarterly City Cultural Calendar, supports collaboration and networking, and serves as an advocate for the arts and to ensure the inclusion of the arts in all city planning. 

“The Arts Alliance is really a key part of our community,” Whalen said. “The acquisition of the property at 30516 S. Coast Highway (formerly St. Catherine of Siena School) is an opportunity to provide more opportunities for the arts programs and the focus is on how it will benefit the community. We’ll have three public open houses and public tours available in February and look forward to hearing from the community on use preferences during the coming months.”

And there is something new on the horizon for the council.

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Laguna Logo 2022

Shelton Taylor and Scotty Wise make history with Club 222 by bringing ‘80s dance parties back to Laguna

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Picture this – an over-21 crowd waiting in a line all the way down the block just to get into a dance venue – a scenario reminiscent of the infamous Studio 54 in the ‘70s and ‘80s. However, this particular crowd is anticipating entry into Sueños on Ocean Avenue for the inaugural event of Club 222 on August 12, 2022.

“Passionate” may be an overused word, but Laguna residents and brothers Shelton Taylor and Scotty Wise are nothing short of fervent about their new endeavor. As founders of Club 222, their spirited and heartfelt vision in bringing the dance scene back to Laguna materialized last year. Their business has gained momentum during the ensuing months by expanding to three venues. 

shelton taylor outside Suenos

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

(L-R) Brothers Scotty Wise and Shelton Taylor in front of Sueños on Ocean Avenue. Wise is wearing a shirt designed by Michele Lantz.

“The first event was crazy,” Taylor said. “There were around 1,000 people, and a line all the way to the Union Bank sign.” 

There’s no doubt that 22-year-old Taylor, who is a musician, and 24-year-old Wise, a photographer, have the brains, talent and confidence to not only bring the vision to fruition, but to continue to grow their original model. However, their concept encompasses more than music and dance. Of course, they want to succeed and make people happy, but their larger vision is to blend art and music into unique and varied experiences.

shelton taylor closeup Scotty

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Photographer Scotty Wise 

It all started with the spark of an idea.

For two and a half years, Taylor played in every restaurant in town (and in Los Angeles) including Sueños. “I’d been bugging Sueños to consider the idea of an after-hours spot. I didn’t understand why, if people love live music, the restaurant would be closing at 9 or 10 p.m. They finally said, ‘yes.’”

With the approval to go ahead, Taylor brought in Wise and Club 222 was formed.

“The first thing I did was call Scotty because of his personality,” Taylor said. “He’s a people person and would be the face of 222 and run the door. It was divine timing. So I said, ‘let’s try it out,’ but it wasn’t until two weeks prior to the first event that we started asking artists.”

Before that time, their sole venture had been a silent disco at Helen’s, a speakeasy bar in South Laguna. “It’s Laguna’s best kept secret,” Wise said.

Truly the face of 222, Wise said, “I go person to person and do ground marketing. I go to every business and to city staff and personnel and introduce myself.” 

“Being a musician and living in Laguna, it’s so high end, musicians can’t play on the street anymore,” Taylor said. “This business is an artist’s vision. Over the past two to three years, I’ve played in every restaurant, venue and on every street corner in Laguna. I know all the locals from playing. I love art and the beauty that is natural to this place. However, there seems to be a war between art and commercialism, seeing art as an investment versus art (for its own sake). The solution would be to have venues to showcase them, so if you want to do art, you have a fair chance. So far, everyone appears to be receptive.”

shelton taylor crowd opening

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Photo by Christina Cernik

Opening night crowd in August 2022 

“The model for Club 222 is to not only bring energy back to Laguna Beach, but also maintain consistency, so we’ll be around forever,” Wise said.

The brothers’ collaboration is a perfect match. 

Taylor handles the business side. “An artist can still be a businessman,” he said. According to Taylor, “As the face of 222, Scotty can do exactly what he loves to do – dance, take photos and talk to people. He’s a celebrity photographer. At one point, almost every night, he was up in Hollywood meeting celebrities and staying at their houses. He’s part of the L.A. night scene.”

Background

Nowhere in their background was there a foreshadowing of the possibilities to come – in fact, just the opposite. Along with six younger siblings, Wise and Taylor were raised in a religious cult in the hills of Texas and every element of what they’re involved in now was forbidden by the cult.

“We broke free and came to a judgment-free zone that wasn’t like our past,” Taylor said. “Around five years ago, at the age of 17, I had already left home and headed for California. I came here to figure it out, and I was crashing on people’s couches, and then connections landed me in line for American Idol in LA. Then Scotty came out here.”

shelton taylor closeup taylor

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

 Musician Shelton Taylor has been playing around town for several years

Taylor made it to the top 20 in American Idol.

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Laguna Logo 2022

Jheri St. James: Belly dancing is her art and destiny 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

What do a traveling notary and a belly dancer have in common? That may sound like a riddle or a trick question, however, they do have one extraordinary woman in common – long-time (50 years) Laguna resident Jheri St. James. 

Her two passions seem an unlikely combination, but they have served St. James well. She continues to enjoy a four-decade career as a belly dance instructor as well as five decades as owner of Jheri Secretary Notary-to-Go. 

St. James established her business in 1972 and since 1986, has been teaching belly dancing via the Laguna Beach Recreation Department (she also teaches yoga). St. James is the leader of JJ & the Habibis Laguna Beach Belly Dancers, who perform at the annual Fête de Musique and other venues.

Jheri St closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Jheri St. James

“Because I teach through the recreation department (or re-creation), I always emphasize the fun factor in classes and with JJ and the Habibis Laguna Beach Dancers.I consider it my art and my destiny,” said St. James, whose classes are held at the Susi Q Community Center. “Belly dancing is much harder than it looks.” 

A representation of both of her endeavors, St. James’ tiny 300+ foot “Gypsy Vardo,” (as she calls it) in Downtown Laguna is a perfect reflection of her life – enchanting and exotic, however, a pristine corner is dedicated to her business. 

The word “Vardo” derives from the Iranian word vurdon, for cart or wagon. Gypsy Vardo living is a trip back in time to a place where highly skilled craftsmen were commissioned by wealthy Romani (Gypsy) or Carnival owners to create magnificent livable and movable works of art. 

Jheri St belly dancing statue

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Belly dancing statue is just one of the many unusual items in St. James’ collection

Although it lacks wheels, St. James “Gypsy Vardo” is certainly a work of art. Wherever one’s eyes fall, there are unique objects – costumes, masks, statues and dazzling lights from Turkey. “There are lights all over the city in Istanbul,” she said. 

First came the business

“I started the business in 1972, so I could stay at home with my baby. I put an ad in the Pennysaver and then used a borrowed IBM Selectric typewriter to write a meat newsletter,” St. James said. “As a vegetarian, this was an interesting combination of events. Things certainly have evolved since then, equipment-wise, and I have worked for so many generations of families in Laguna Beach, helping students with papers, firemen with applications, and all kinds of interesting projects and people. The business has supported me my whole life.” 

Both of her daughters went to Laguna Beach High School. Jasmine, her older daughter, lives in Ohio, and Sarah lives in the desert. St. James also has a foster daughter, Jacqui. in Portland, Ore.

Jheri Secretary Notary-to-Go business services have included manuscripts (books, scripts and poetry), transcripts (DRB, City Council, memoirs), legal documents, resumes, databases, screenplays and editing/writing.

Jheri St office

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

One section of St. James’ “Vardo” is dedicated to her business

Raised on a farm in Ohio, St. James’ family grew their own food, and she was free to roam the woods and explore. After her father became unable to maintain the farm, she was sent to a Catholic boarding school. Like many girls of that era, she learned to type and it eventually paid off. 

“I moved to Cleveland and was there for 10 years. I had a pair of high patent leather boots and my toes were always cold,” she said. “I thought, ‘I need to be in a different environment.’” 

So she traveled west to San Francisco and stayed for four years. “Sadly, I missed Woodstock, but I met a man at the Altamont Speedway Festival featuring the Rolling Stones in 1970 and we came to Laguna in 1971.”

Jheri St lights

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Turkish lights

Belly dancing

“In 1982, I turned 40 and became a grandmother,” said St. James. “I thought I needed to do something wild to keep going and moving. Belly dancing is good for self-esteem, and it’s fun and adventurous.” 

At the suggestion of a friend, she went to Orange Coast College, which had – and continues to have – a great art and dance program. “The belly dancing class was a small group of 15 ladies. It was so unusual. I was intrigued,” she said. After conquering the beginning and intermediate courses and earning her AA, she decided to try her hand at teaching in 1986 and hasn’t stopped since.

During the 1980s, St. James spent many years dancing at the Sawdust Art Festival.

In a 2019 Stu News article, St. James said, “The Sawdust is the first and maybe only venue to welcome belly dancing as the art form it truly is.”

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Laguna Logo 2022

Tattoo artist Rick Coury and the intricate art of single needle tattooing

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Poet Sylvia Plath, who had seven tattoos, once said, “If the body is a temple, then tattoos are its stained glass windows.” 

No one takes the explanation of tattoos as a sacred reflection of the soul more seriously than Laguna tattoo artist Rick Coury. Known professionally as Rico (he works out of Lo Cal Tattoo Studio), Coury said, “I put love into every one.” 

tattoo artist closeup

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Rick Coury

 “I’m known for specializing in single needle tattooing,” Coury said. The permanency of Coury’s artform isn’t one he takes lightly. “It’s a fine and precise technique, and there’s no room for error.”

Single needle tattoos are characterized by the high levels of detail that can be achieved in comparatively small designs. This approach diverges from the standard “bold will hold” ideas of American traditional tattooing that emphasizes bold lines and vibrant colors to create the stylized depictions of pinup girls, swallows and tigers. Modern single needle tattoos use an approach that is reminiscent of pencil drawings, with smooth shading and hyper-realistic details. 

“It’s more like fine pencil drawing with aged characteristics,” he said.

“Only in California and New York will you find single needle technique.” 

tattoo artist fine detail

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Single needle technique involves delicate details

Always involved in art 

Even though it is now his specialty, Coury found his way to this technique only after an apprenticeship with tattoo artist Carl Delariva, which resulted in the blending of different styles into his own style.

Coury, who was born in Laguna, went through the LBUSD and graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 2013. However, his family roots in Laguna go back even further. His dad Rick, who owns a tile company, moved here around 35 years ago. His mom Denise is an executive assistant office manager at Nokes and Quinn Lawyers in town, and his older sister Jenni, an equestrian, (who still lives here) keeps the books for his business. 

So how did Coury end up as a tattoo artist?

“I have always been drawn to art. I was constantly doodling in class. I’ve been doing art my whole life,” he said. “When I turned 18, I got a lot of tattoos (right out of high school) and I met tattoo artist Carl Delariva and started a one-year apprenticeship with him. He did the portrait of my grandfather – Coach Dick Coury – on my leg. I eventually merged two styles and started doing fine lines with black and gray with the single needle technique.” 

If he hadn’t become a tattoo artist, Coury said that he would have gone into something related to art, possibly architecture.

tatto artist grandfather

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Portrait of Rick’s grandfather, Coach Dick Coury, done by Carl Delariva. Coury was a coach at Mater Dei High School and USC (to name a few), and was with the NFL for 30 years.

In response to the question of how many tattoos he has, Coury responded, “Past the point of counting, they’re all becoming one.” 

Coury started his career at 19 years old. “I’ve been doing it seven or eight years. I came to this shop six months after the apprenticeship.” There are eight other tattoo artists, all independent contractors, in Lo Cal Tattoo Studio.

Clients

“Clients usually come in with a few references for the tattoo they want,” Coury said. “Then we sit down and collaborate and settle somewhere in between. I try to make it my own and sketch it out.”

Contrary to the traditional technique, single needle tattooing only takes a fraction of the time. “I work from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and do five clients a day, and 30 a week. This style is minimal and light and the clients easily handle it.”

tattoo artist wrapping

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Wrapping a tattoo for the healing process (with close friend and artist Larry Stewart)

The majority of Coury’s clients come via word-of-mouth recommendations or through social media (Instagram).

“I’ve been building clientele during the last four or five years,” said Coury.  “They know what I’m good at, delicate subjects such as little animals, with a lot of detail. In an hour or less, they have a subtly placed accessory.” 

Coury’s clients range from 18-85 years of age. The 85-year-old got a small dolphin tattoo on her foot.

Family members are also on his client list. “My mom has a tattoo of my birthday flower and my sister’s birthday flower on her arm. The initials J and R are designed like a ribbon around them.” His sister Jenni has several small country-related tattoos such as a cowboy boot and hat.

“Tattooing is my passion, in addition to art, beach time (surfing and skim boarding) and family,” Coury said. 

It’s no surprise that some of his clients are celebrities.

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Laguna Logo 2022

Holiday tradition for two decades: Laguna resident turns house into a wondrous winter wonderland

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

What would a holiday winter wonderland be without Santa, snowmen and reindeer? The house on Park Avenue and Wendt Terrace has all that – and much more. In this holiday decorating scheme, there is also a mermaid, a palm tree and an Akita dog. It’s Christmas, Laguna style. 

This spectacular and joyous display is cherished by the community, and wind of its demise has locals in an uproar, which is not surprising. No one would dispute that it’s a particularly important time to carry on traditions, as they hold special significance and harken back to – what one might consider – simpler times. 

holiday tradition full view

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The Park Avenue and Wendt Terrace house 

For 20 years, John Matus has been creating this magical display and adding lights and decorations to his home at Top of the World. According to Matus, this may be the last year. Even at 78 years of age, he said, “I still climb up and down the ladder and put all the decorations up myself.”

To keep the holiday tradition ongoing, friends and neighbors have offered to help, but Matus said, “It’s a liability issue. I’d rather do it myself.” 

However, he admits this year, he paced himself. “It took more hours, 20 rather than 15. I usually start the day after Thanksgiving and have them done by the weekend. This year I started a week before and did it in stages.”

holiday tradition john and christine

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John and Christine

The house is a unique attraction. “Every year neighbors come by and say how much they really enjoy it,” Matus said. “Sometimes people stop just for the lights and say how much they love them and please don’t stop doing it. It’s a pretty popular walking spot for people going up and down Park Ave.”

In the last two decades, there was only one year they didn’t go up. 

“All the years that I have put them up, the decorations have made me and Christine feel the enjoyment,” Matus said. “The only time we have not decorated was 2020 because of COVID. We were bummed and couldn’t get in the Christmas spirit.”

Matus moved into the house 25 years ago (Christine has lived there for 23 years). “I got to California when I came back from Vietnam and got stationed at the Marine base at El Toro,” he said. “Christine and I both grew up on the East Coast but we each love the weather and the small town of Laguna Beach.” In 1977, she drove cross country to Southern California from Massachusetts. 

The two met while they were real estate agents at Lee and Associates here in town and both retired over a decade ago. 

holiday tradition mermaid

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Christmas mermaid 

“I started doing lights when my children were young because they liked it so much,” he said. “After they were grown, and I moved to Laguna and Christine (Bowen) became my life partner, I started decorating again in earnest. Christine loves Christmas and she loves the lights and the sparkle of the whole celebration of Christ.” 

It appears the sparkle of the celebration isn’t the only radiance she loves. “John puts a sparkle into everyone’s life, he puts the sparkle in mine,” Christine said.

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Laguna Logo 2022

Larry Stewart: Honing his craft in contemporary artwork for the past decade

By DIANNE RUSSELL

On Thursday, Dec. 8, Laguna artist Larry Stewart flew to New York for his first visit to “The Big Apple” and his inaugural exhibit at Hudson Yards Gallery. “They’ve represented me for two years,” he said. “It’s a really rad space and I’ll have two pieces on exhibit.” He has also shown his work at the Virgil Catherine Gallery in Chicago and is represented by Five3Gallery here in town. 

“I’ve been with Five3Gallery for five years, but they’re closing, so I’m looking for a new gallery in town to represent me.”

larry stewart large painting

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Courtesy of Larry Stewart

Stewart at the recent exhibit at Hudson Yards Gallery in New York

These are impressive achievements for someone who has been supporting himself as a full-time artist for a mere year and a half. 

Stewart admits he is almost always painting or consumed with some other aspect of art. “I ask painters if they are full-time artists. You can’t be unless you paint 40 hours a week. I paint around 60 hours a week (or more). When I’m not, I’m attending to other elements of the art business.”

larry stewart large painting

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Larry Stewart in his studio

Was he apprehensive when he began painting full time? “I was worried, yes, but I’ve been able to pay my bills and rent on time – it seems a piece of art sells just when I need it to. The things that have happened made me realize I made the right choice. It was a domino effect. My paintings are big on Wall Street and I work with a few people in pop culture. It only takes a click for my work to be seen and for one piece to go viral.” 

There’s a lot to be said for social media and exposure. Stewart has a big following on Instagram. “I can put something up and immediately 11.4K people are looking at it,” he said. “It’s not like in the past when artists had to carry their work into a gallery. Now the art world is more saturated because of social media. It’s easier to get art out there, but a lot of people are trying to be consistent.”

larry stewart large painting

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Stewart’s signature bull skull

Stewart’s paintings are large, colorful and carry a message. Known for his bull skull and Native American paintings, they all have something to say. 

“The bull in the well-tailored suit represents maintaining balance,” he said. “The bull and the suit each represent an opposing side of life. The suit represents handling the business part of life, staying locked in to be as successful as you can. The skull symbolizes being at the end of life and realizing you were promoting and making money and didn’t take time to be fulfilled or experience joy or appreciate attachments to family and friends.”

Deep Laguna roots

Born and raised in Laguna, Stewart has family roots that go way, way back.

Not many folks can claim that their grandfather arrested Timothy Leary, however, Stewart can. “My grandfather was Neil Purcell, the Laguna Beach Police Chief during the time of the brotherhood, and he arrested drug guru Timothy Leary,” he said. Purcell started with the LBPD in 1968 and served as LBPD Chief for 14 years, the longest serving police chief in LBPD history. 

“His last hire before he retired in 1997 is now our current Police Chief Jeff Calvert,” Stewart added. 

larry stewart large painting

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Larger than life paintings

Stewart claims his artistic talents were passed down from his grandmother Judy Blossom, an artist and real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway. Those creative attributes were then inherited by his dad Lance Stewart, volleyball and sand volleyball coach at LBHS, who is also an artist. His mother Dani Purcell is a real estate agent at Team Laguna. 

“My dad played three sports at Laguna Beach High School – football, basketball and volleyball,” Stewart said. “He went to the University of California, Berkeley and graduated with a degree in fine arts. He sold a lot of art, but to support his family, he had several jobs including real estate and coaching.

“He’s getting back into painting. Every Sunday we get together and paint and watch football and sometimes we collaborate on a painting. We work well together; when I came home in the summers from college, he built a studio and he would give me pointers. We want to get a portfolio together. One of the paintings we collaborated on sold.” 

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Laguna Logo 2022

Larry Stewart: Honing his craft in contemporary artwork for the past decade

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

On Thursday, Dec. 8, Laguna artist Larry Stewart flew to New York for his first visit to “The Big Apple” and his inaugural exhibit at Hudson Yards Gallery. “They’ve represented me for two years,” he said. “It’s a really rad space and I’ll have two pieces on exhibit.” He has also shown his work at the Virgil Catherine Gallery in Chicago and is represented by Five3Gallery here in town. 

“I’ve been with Five3Gallery for five years, but they’re closing, so I’m looking for a new gallery in town to represent me.”

larry stewart closeup

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Larry Stewart in his studio

These are impressive achievements for someone who has been supporting himself as a full-time artist for a mere year and a half. 

Stewart admits he is almost always painting or consumed with some other aspect of art. “I ask painters if they are full-time artists. You can’t be unless you paint 40 hours a week. I paint around 60 hours a week (or more). When I’m not, I’m attending to other elements of the art business.”

Was he apprehensive when he began painting full time? “I was worried, yes, but I’ve been able to pay my bills and rent on time – it seems a piece of art sells just when I need it to. The things that have happened made me realize I made the right choice. It was a domino effect. My paintings are big on Wall Street and I work with a few people in pop culture. It only takes a click for my work to be seen and for one piece to go viral.” 

There’s a lot to be said for social media and exposure. Stewart has a big following on Instagram. “I can put something up and immediately 11.4K people are looking at it,” he said. “It’s not like in the past when artists had to carry their work into a gallery. Now the art world is more saturated because of social media. It’s easier to get art out there, but a lot of people are trying to be consistent.”

larry stewart bull skull

Click on photo for a larger image

Stewart’s signature bull skull

Stewart’s paintings are large, colorful and carry a message. Known for his bull skull and Native American paintings, they all have something to say. 

“The bull in the well-tailored suit represents maintaining balance,” he said. “The bull and the suit each represent an opposing side of life. The suit represents handling the business part of life, staying locked in to be as successful as you can. The skull symbolizes being at the end of life and realizing you were promoting and making money and didn’t take time to be fulfilled or experience joy or appreciate attachments to family and friends.”

Deep Laguna roots

Born and raised in Laguna, Stewart has family roots that go way, way back.

Not many folks can claim that their grandfather arrested Timothy Leary, however, Stewart can. “My grandfather was Neil Purcell, the Laguna Beach Police Chief during the time of the brotherhood, and he arrested drug guru Timothy Leary,” he said. Purcell started with the LBPD in 1968 and served as LBPD Chief for 14 years, the longest serving police chief in LBPD history. 

“His last hire before he retired in 1997 is now our current Police Chief Jeff Calvert,” Stewart added. 

larry stewart large painting

Click on photo for a larger image

Larger than life paintings

Stewart claims his artistic talents were passed down from his grandmother Judy Blossom, an artist and real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway. Those creative attributes were then inherited by his dad Lance Stewart, volleyball and sand volleyball coach at LBHS, who is also an artist. His mother Dani Purcell is a real estate agent at Team Laguna. 

“My dad played three sports at Laguna Beach High School – football, basketball and volleyball,” Stewart said. “He went to the University of California, Berkeley and graduated with a degree in fine arts. He sold a lot of art, but to support his family, he had several jobs including real estate and coaching.

“He’s getting back into painting. Every Sunday we get together and paint and watch football and sometimes we collaborate on a painting. We work well together; when I came home in the summers from college, he built a studio and he would give me pointers. We want to get a portfolio together. One of the paintings we collaborated on sold.” 

Stewart graduated from LBHS in 2013. “As a kid, I was constantly doodling on my notes instead of writing,” he admitted. “I was always into design. In the future, I hope to have a line of clothes. The college I went to, Lindsey Wilson in Kentucky, was known for sports not the art program, which was small with only 50-60 students in the program. I played baseball and studied graphic design. The college drew from really good players from Mexico and Puerto Rico. I made friends with the head of the art department and I was given a lot of leeway because he could see that I was obsessed.”

larry stewart headdress

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One of Stewart’s Native American paintings

Before he became a full-time artist, Stewart held a variety of jobs and traveled around. For two years, he bartended at the Lumberyard. He exhibited at the Sawdust in 2018 and still works there as a bartender during the summer. “I love the atmosphere and hanging around with artists.” He lived in Hawaii (in Oahu) for two years and spent one summer in Fairbanks, Alaska. “I loved it. The sun was still out at midnight,” he said.

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Laguna Logo 2022

Sukhi Dail: Turning seeds of imagination into magical pieces of art 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Thirty years ago, at the end of a long, adventurous journey – one that included leaving India with only $5 in his pocket, riding the Orient Express, teaching and working at Hanna-Barbera studios in Hollywood – the sculptor, painter and lifelong philanthropist Sukhdev (Sukhi) Dail finally settled in Laguna. 

Dail readily admits he’s a nature lover. “I had a friend who lived here, and I was in awe of the beauty of the coastline and the wilderness.”

Residents may be aware of Dail’s work from his public art installation Seabreeze (2015) overlooking Main Beach. “It captures the human spirit, in awe of the beauty,” he said. Although it’s his only public art piece in Laguna, he has created other public art throughout his life. His prototype of a larger work Where is My Forest? took second place in the Laguna Art Museum’s 2022 Art & Nature competition.

sukhi dail closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Sculptor and painter Sukhi Dail came to the US in 1968 

Sprinkled with colorful anecdotes, Dail’s tales of his younger years and travel escapades are as mesmerizing as his works of art. “I grew up in the countryside – farmland – in India and rode my bike 10 miles to high school,” Dail said. “I was an artistic child and liked to fix things. My father was a medical doctor. He wanted me to be a brain surgeon, but every time I saw blood, I passed out. So, he put me in art school.”

After graduating from the Delhi College of Art, Dail took a teaching job at the Teacher’s College. “But I got tired of the repetitive nature of teaching,” he said.

In 1965, his need to create sent him on a journey to Paris to see the French Impressionists. Crossing the forbidding Persian Desert, the car he and a friend were travelling in, ran out of gas. Due to a sandstorm, the road was invisible, and they ended up walking six miles with no water and without finding a gas station. Tired and thirsty, they stumbled upon a settlement that saved their lives. 

sukhi dail house

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The stained glass artwork on the front of his canyon home on Arroyo Drive is from the 1970s 

“We spent a few days in a hotel in Iran, then ran out of money and went to temples, which provided good food and shelter. The car gave out, and we wondered, without money, how would we get to Europe?” 

Unfortunately, the adventure had significantly stalled. They were broke and still in the vicinity of India. 

“I had a cousin in Tehran and he sent me 100 pounds, so we got a bus to Istanbul, to catch the Orient Express,” Dail said. “On the train, we met an antique dealer from Brussels, and he invited us to Brussels. So we stopped there and looked at the galleries and museums – it was a completely different world. Everyone was happy and friendly, and they loved Indian songs. I walked the streets looking for a job, and I got one after three days. I’d say, ‘I’m an artist, are you looking for an artist?’”

“I got a job copying paintings by the artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec for the owner of a studio who had night club and wanted the paintings for it, to cover the dance floor,” he continued. “He showed me a book with 50-60 paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec and asked if I could paint like that. In my early days, I had practiced copying masters. I was fast, I could sketch one in 15-20 minutes and color it in two to four hours.”

sukhi dail with elephant

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Dail with his sculpture, “Where is the Forest?” 

If one believes in serendipity or karma, the chance meeting on the train with the Brussels’ antique dealer was fate.

“What is written will happen, we had no plan to stop there,” Dail said. “It just happened.”

In Brussels, Dail attended the Royale Academic Des Beaux Arts in order to have a place to create, as well as to obtain a higher degree in art education. He held his first European exhibition at the Gallerie Romain Louis in Brussels. Upon graduating, he decided to cross the Atlantic for the Americas.

Landing in Canada, he had his first experience in animation. Dail met his late wife of 48 years, Croatian-born Marija, who was in the arts and cinema, in a studio in Canada. “It was love at first sight,” he said. 

He has two daughters, Mirna and Vera and two sons, Mavi and Pixote.

sukhi dail self portrait

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Self-portrait in his gallery 

Marija was the inspiration for Seabreeze, Dail’s public art piece. “When she saw the Taj Mahal, she lifted her scarf over her head in awe,” he said. “Seabreeze represents a mythical spirit who emerges from the sea, happy and graceful. It is something that people can relate to.”

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Laguna Logo 2022

Ruby Samson launches fundraising initiative SEA Your Future in hopes of changing lives 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Fifteen-year-old Ruby Samson, a sophomore at Laguna Beach High School, is understandably busy with studies, surfing and working. That’s one of the reasons she cherishes her time alone on the water and those encounters sparked the name of her fundraising initiative SEA Your Future. Its goal is to provide the experience of surfing and the ocean to kids who don’t have the means or opportunity, and in the process, change lives.

Ruby Samson closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Ruby Samson 

The name SEA Your Future holds layers of meaning for Samson. “It took a long time to come up with the name,” she said. “The ocean is a place to clear my head. When I’m in the water, I think about my life and future.”

The vision of SEA Your Future is to provide funding for transformative surf and ocean experiences. As explained on its website, “It will focus on less fortunate teens who cannot easily reach the ocean. They will learn to surf and experience the incredible power of the sea. SEA Your Future’s mission is to make this opportunity available to as many teens as possible. As they embrace the gifts of the ocean and surfing, this experience will inspire and change futures in a positive way!”

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Courtesy of Endless Summer Surf Camp

Ruby on far left at Endless Summer Surf Camp

Samson set up in “Do Good Village” at the Coast Film & Music Festival on November 12-13, with volunteers walking around all weekend to tell people about SEA Your Future. “We got a lot of donations at the film festival,” she said. “A few friends helped pass out flyers. The goal was to let residents know about it and a lot of locals came to the festival on Sunday night.”

Inspiration

Samson came up with the idea for SEA Your Future while attending Endless summer Surf Camp over the past few summers. “I’d been thinking that there are so many kids who’ve never been to the beach or had the opportunity to surf,” Samson said. “We are blessed because we live so close to the ocean. I wanted to start a fundraiser in which kids can learn to surf and love the ocean and have a good experience.”

Samson also worked as a counselor at Sli Dawg Surf Camp during the past two summers. Sli Dawg Surf Camp is also known as the premiere Laguna Beach Surf School, which has been operating since 2001 and is affiliated with Laguna Surf and Sport.

 “I’d been thinking that there are so many kids who’ve never been to the beach or had the opportunity to surf,” Samson said. “We are blessed because we live so close to the ocean. I wanted to start a fundraiser in which kids can learn to surf and love the ocean and have a good experience.”

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Laguna Logo 2022

Carla and Jeff Meberg: A couple committed to the community in more ways than one

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The many roles that Carla and Jeff Meberg play in the Laguna community all involve a generosity of spirit, time and talent – and a significant amount of emotional connection. For their dedication to nonprofit work, they were the recipients of the 2022 Individual Arts Patron Award given by the Arts Alliance. 

The Mebergs take their community endeavors very seriously, but they also have a fun side that shines through with glaring clarity – their charisma is contagious, and it’s easy to see why they are sought after to serve. 

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Jeff and Carla Meberg

Carla introduced Jeff to the nonprofit world, and he seems to have embraced it as wholeheartedly as she has. He is on the board of both Pacific Marine Mammal Center and Glennwood Housing Foundation.

Born in Houston, Texas, Carla started out as an account executive for Cummings and Hester Advertising Agency, but quickly discovered her heart was in nonprofits when she became the executive director for Hear-Say, Inc, United Way Agency – also in Houston. She also served as the director of communications for Insight for Living, an international radio program and started her own business as a design consultant for book publishing and event planning.

“I knew I didn’t belong in Texas,” Carla said. “I love California, and I came here when I was 19. I went to California State, Fullerton and got a BA in communications with an emphasis in public relations.”

The Mebergs met when Carla’s best friend, who grew up knowing Jeff’s family, told Carla, “I’m going to set you up with someone.” 

“When we were first married, we lived in Belmont Shores, then moved to San Clemente. Jeff’s job territory was from Los Angeles to San Diego, so we looked at the map and picked something in-between,” Carla said. 

In 2007, she became a volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), for children in the care of the county.

Commitments

Carla has served on the LOCA Arts Education board for 10 years and has been president for eight years. “Our main accomplishments include building an incredible board of directors, growing our outreach by 50% and doubling our income,” she said. 

carla and faith

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(L-R) Carla with Glennwood House CEO Faith Manners and Glennwood Associate Director Rachel Landers at the Glennwood Gala on October 29

For the past three years, she has served on the board of the Laguna Beach Art Museum. 

First nonprofit

Although she studied art in college, Carla changed her major to communications when her creativity wasn’t encouraged by her instructors. However, in 2002, she began again to pursue art, which led to her first venture into Laguna into the arts and nonprofits.

“I went to Saddleback and studied printmaking,” Carla said. “The Festival of Arts hired me to work with a printmaker and in mixed media, and I met one of the ladies, Mada Leach, who was then president of LOCA. She said, ‘You need to be in LOCA.’ I have served as president for eight years. Then three years ago, I was asked to be on the board of LAM. I love that board. I feel like these are two of the best nonprofit boards. We all get along whether we’re losing or winning and are able to be gracious to each other. I like having all the points of view – we have a lot of different personalities. For example, at LAM, when we were hiring Julie Perrin-Lee. It was a wonderful experience, so fun to brainstorm and I think we made a fantastic decision.” 

carla and loca birthday bash

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Cakewalk at LOCA’s birthday bash 

“You need opposing views; you have to have both. Everyone offers something, and it doesn’t have to be either/or, it can be both,” she continued. “We find a way to integrate everyone’s opinions.”

In addition to her role as FOA Art Educator in printmaking and mixed media, Carla also teaches bookmaking and printmaking for the senior art escapes program at Susi Q and teaching at the Youth Shelter. Currently, she teaches art classes every Thursday for the residents of Glennwood House, which is clearly a bright spot for both Mebergs. 

Carla is devoted to the class, which usually involves 25-30 participants and Jeff is very emotional about the residents.

“Their artwork is great,” Carla said. “They don’t copy anything, they make their own art. Because they see things differently, it’s not going to be like anything else. Some residents are very verbal and trusting, others are non-verbal and hang back and watch. It’s not a crafting class, they learn skills and are very proud. We had a show at Susi Q and at Wells Fargo Bank. Their friends and families come and it’s a great opportunity for them to show their work.” 

“Faith at Glennwood House has done an incredible job. She loves it and the staff loves what they’re doing,” said Carla. “You are in another realm when you enter that world and you walk away with so much joy. Before coming to Glennwood, many of them had only their parents’ friends as their friends, but at Glennwood, they get to pick their friends and live and learn. They call it home. When they are away, some residents say they want to go back home, meaning Glennwood.” 

carla and glennwood gala

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(L-R) Marrie Stone, Jeff Rovner, Jeff and Carla Meberg at the Glennwood House Gala on October 29 at FOA

Surprised to know

Even though the Mebergs are well known in the community, there might be a few things that come as a surprise.

Carla was a U.S. Representative for the Rotary Club in a “Women in Business Exchange” with India in the area of communications and visited India in January and February 1990.

“We lived in peoples’ homes during that time. I contracted tuberculosis,” Carla said. “The doctors didn’t diagnose it for a year, and eventually I went to UCLA.” 

She was one of the first patients in Orange County to have it. 

Jeff said, “TB drains energy and she was fighting it for 10 to 15 years.”

“The first year I spent in bed,” she said. “I became a ‘partner’ in Jeff’s job. We are opposites when it comes to managing things. I’m very detailed oriented and balance a checkbook down to the penny. I would lay in bed and organize (and run the financial things) or make books or collages or paint. In the middle of the night, Jeff would sometimes roll over on a pair of scissors or some other art tool.”

Another surprise 

With such a busy schedule with PMMC and Glennwood House, having a full-time job seems almost impossible. Although not ready to retire, Jeff is in transition from working to retiring as president of Nursery Products. They have the largest composting site in California.

His love of life and sense of humor can be traced back to his father. “My dad, who was a superintendent of schools for 32 years, got pancreatic cancer at 52. At the time, my mom dyed her hair, and he said, ‘when I die, quit dying your hair. People will think that the trauma of my death was so great that it turned your hair gray.’ She did stop dying it. What was great about my dad was that as he was dying, he said, ‘let’s turn this into something good.’ He got to meet Carla. He loved her. That has helped our relationship so much – she got to see how my family functioned and used comedy as a way to make things okay.”

carla and looking at each other

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Jeff with some of his longtime friends from Glennwood House

Jeff inherited something else from his family as well – his cooking skills. His Norwegian grandmother was a baker in Seattle, Wash.

A zest for life

“Jeff is a great chef, and he learned from her,” Carla said.

That talent led him to be a sous chef for James Boyce at the Studio at the Montage for several months, but not in the way one might imagine.

“Jeff hosted a party for his largest client, the Gas Company, at the Studio,” Carla said. “They had just opened, and we were some of the first people to dine at the Studio at that time. The party was out of this world. The Studio said, ‘we’ll give you anything to get you to come back.’” 

“So at the end of the party, I said I’d like to be a chef for the day,” Jeff said. 

According to Jeff, when he showed up, the response wasn’t what he expected. Chef Boyce said, ‘**** that, I don’t do chef for a day.’”

“But I said, ‘I’m doing this,’ and I started showing up every Sunday after that – for eight months. Then there was a game he wanted to bet on, and I gave him the name of a bookie, and he let me be chef for a day. But it was like they were hazing me; they did so much stuff to me.”

Then it turned from bad to worse.

“We were at a fundraiser at the Four Seasons in San Diego with all the top chefs,” Jeff said. “I was down there with the sous chef, and we had a little food station representing the Montage, and I was wearing a chef outfit. They wanted chefs to donate things for the fundraiser, so I got up on stage and promised all kinds of stuff. When I got back, Boyce was really mad. I was devastated when I got home, but Carla was laughing. Then the next day, the fundraiser organizers contacted the Montage to thank them for sending their fun chef.”

Carla added, “Montage was so happy that they comped us rooms and looked out for us after that.”

carla and looking at each other

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A lifetime of Samoyed dogs and convertibles

Spare time, what spare time?

In what little time the Mebergs have away from their nonprofits, they are renovating their home of seven years, and Carla works in her art studio in San Clemente. They spend time with their three Samoyed dogs – Owen, Ivan and Sophie – and their three cats – Max, a Bengal, Ragdoll Stewie and a Turkish Van named Ollie, who came from a rescue in Oklahoma.

“When we got married I told Jeff, I will always have Samoyed dogs and a convertible,” Carla said.

And he kept his promise to her – she’s always had Samoyed dogs and a convertible.

Then Jeff said something that all wives would love to hear, “Carla is naturally beautiful. She doesn’t wear her looks on her sleeve. You assume when someone is so pretty, that they are arrogant. She’s the opposite – so sweet and gorgeous, and so willing to help.”

Carla tried to counter his compliment, “When I was young, I was really skinny, and there were no hair products and my curly hair stuck out everywhere. That’s the self-image that stuck with me.” One of them mentioned Olive Oil from Popeye.

“Her character is phenomenal,” said Jeff. “I’m so proud that she’s my wife.” 

When you love what you do, it brings joy and it shows – and that’s evident in both of the Mebergs.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

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