Where Art Lives

Mary Galbraith on artistic mastery and the manifestation of a dream.

By Leslee Goodman

Photo by Donna Granata

Galbraith’s own home includes the first 3D tapestry, developed from a ‘30s-era photo of the moon; FOTM-documented artist Jeff Sanders worked with John Nava to develop the technique. The vibrant painting at right is from Gerd Koch’s “Sacred Spring” series.

Mary R. Galbraith moved with her husband to Ventura in 2002 and almost immediately began volunteering with Focus on the Masters, a local nonprofit dedicated to raising public awareness of the importance of art and local artists to our community. Though she claims she’s not an artist, nor trained in the arts, her passion for artistic expression is communicated in her volunteer activities, her art-filled home, and much of her speech. “My husband and I are blown away by the wide variety of cultural experiences in this city,” she says. “We’re proud to live in a community whose leaders recognize the value of a healthy arts community.”

In addition to serving as volunteer coordinator for Focus on the Masters, Galbraith manages the membership program and mid-year and annual fund drives, and assists in preparations for the “Artist Spotlight” series and special events. But for this Home and Garden-themed issue we spoke with her about the manifestation of a dream: a unique new tour of art collectors’ homes called “Where Art Lives.”

Leslee Goodman: Before discussing the upcoming homes tour, can you tell us a little about Focus on the Masters?
Mary Galbraith: Focus on the Masters is a nonprofit arts organization that documents, preserves, and presents the works and lives of accomplished contemporary artists, emphasizing the importance of the arts to a healthy society. It was founded in 1994 by Donna Granata, who still serves as executive director, and has an outstanding archive of leading artists in Ventura County, as well as artists who have impacted our community in some way. We document eight to 12 artists a year through photographic portraits, an extensive collection of printed ephemera, oral histories, and Artist Spotlight interviews, which are presented to the public and videotaped.

We also use these materials in an award-winning outreach program called “Learning to See,” which engages students not only in making art, but also in appreciating and nurturing the creative spirit. We also partner with Turning Point Foundation to offer a similar program for adults with mental illness. It’s a wonderfully rewarding program for everyone involved.
LG: How do you define “Masters”?
MG: A master is an artist who has earned the respect of his peers, who has mastered his art—whatever that art may be—and who has contributed to the cultural wellbeing of the community. There are nearly 200 of them in our archives. Some were, or still are, faculty at Ventura College: Gerd Koch, Hiroko Yoshimoto, the late Carlisle Cooper, and Bill Hendrix, for example. We also have a number of musicians, such as Virginia Kron, a cellist who lives in Ojai, and Miguel del Aguila, a Grammy-nominated composer and pianist. We’ve also documented poets, like Jackson Wheeler. Our artists work in many media—pottery, fabric, paper, and metal—not just paint.
LG: You’ve got a new program coming up called “Where Art Lives.” Please tell us about that.
MG: This is a dream I’ve had for probably five or six years. FOTM has presented tours of artists’ studios, so we know what the artists do. But I wanted to look at art from the other side of the easel and see how collectors contribute to the artistic process. I imagined bringing together a group of homeowners from many different walks of life but who had one thing in common: they just couldn’t have a house without art in it. Donna gave me the green light, and I’ve been very fortunate to encourage eleven people—including my husband and me—to be on the tour the weekend of May 21 and 22.

My husband and I started collecting art many years ago in Washington, DC. We were having lunch in a very informal café on Capitol Hill, where we saw a sweet little watercolor of a sand dune in a storm. Over our pasta e fagioli we said, “We just have to have that, but gosh, can we afford $75?” We decided that, by gum, we were going to do it, and that started our own collecting habit. Neither of us had studied art, but we were drawn to that kind of creative expression. We agreed that the art we collected didn’t have to be something pretty. A lot of art is not necessarily pretty; some of it can be kind of almost scary. We just both had to feel that it spoke to us, that it fed our souls in some way.

Gradually over the years we’ve collected an acrylic here, an oil there, and a print someplace else. When we moved to Ventura and I began volunteering at Focus on the Masters and actually meeting all these artists, our collecting habit became what my husband has called “the most expensive volunteer job anybody’s ever had.”

A lot of people think that collecting art is just for millionaires. When we interviewed the late architect Barry Berkus, who had collected a magnificent number of artworks and then donated many of them to the City of Santa Barbara, he told us about purchasing his first piece when he was a student. He saw the painting in a window and told the gallery owner, “I really have to have this, but I don’t have any money.” The gallery owner said, “Well, how much can you spend each month?” In a year he had that painting. So, I’d like people to understand your art collection doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to live in a mansion. You don’t have to study art. You just have to be moved by it so that you want to surround yourself with these tremendous expressions of what different artists were thinking.
LG: That’s a great story about Barry and the gallery.
MG: Yes, we buy so many things on time: houses, cars, furniture, appliances. Somehow it doesn’t occur to many of us that we can buy a piece of art that will feed our souls for the rest of our lives, and we can do it on time and make the artist happy and make ourselves happy.
LG: It supports the arts in the most direct way.
MG: Especially in a city like Ventura, where we have so many working artists who are not necessarily well known but who create really beautiful works of art. It’s a very rich and seductive place to live if you want to collect art. It’s hard to say no sometimes.
LG: What can people expect on the tour?
MG: It’ll run over two days. There are actually ten houses and one office, META Law, Inc., which probably has one of the best Susan Petty collections, as well as outstanding works by other artists. Another stop is the charming home of Denise Sindelar. She and her husband have the same problem we do: Just when we think we’ve run out of wall space, we find another space where we can put a painting or a sculpture. Scott Miles’ home is also the tour. He is a photographer, and his wife, Regina Vorgang, is a weaver. They also have many interesting pieces by other people, including Dorothy Hunter, Patty Post, Len Poteshman, Michael Rohde, Hiroko Yoshimoto, and Virginia Furmanski, a printmaker whose home will be on the tour as well. She has an incredible collection—beautiful and beautifully displayed. And that’s just three of the homes! 

Where Art Lives
May 21 – 22, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
General admission, $35 (FOTM members, $30; ages 16-24, pay your age)
For tickets or more info, log on to focusonthemasters.comor call 805.653.2501.

Mary and Jim Galbraith alongside Max Papart’s Mr. 8 (hanging over the mantel) and a host of other art pieces, including works by Thom Ross and local ceramicist Richard Franklin.

A rare clear glass nude by FOTM-documented artist Teal Rowe.


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