Susanna Waddell is co-curator of this year's Annual Members' Exhibit at Pajaro Valley Arts. —photo by Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

When local conservation pioneer and philanthropist Diane Porter Cooley died last March, members of Pajaro Valley Arts (PVA) knew they wanted to pay tribute to her in some way.

Cooley was a founding board member of PVA and instrumental in its success over the years. She invited artists to her Circle P Ranch in Watsonville to create pieces for plein air art exhibits (“Plein air” refers to painting outdoors).

“Diane was always so generous in offering her land and her caretakers to help us,” said PVA member and curator Susanna Waddell. “She was a philanthropist in our community, in so many ways, but [PVA] was one of her favorite projects. She always gave it so much support.”

Waddell is co-curating PVA’s annual members’ exhibit, this year entitled “Local Visions,” with Lyn MacDonald. The show features work by PVA members in various mediums, from painting and photography to sculpture and textiles. The theme aims to honor the local community—its people, culture, nature, wildlife and agriculture. 

A room toward the back is dedicated to Cooley, featuring work by 20 artists who have painted at Circle P Ranch in 2010, 2019 and again this year. A sponsorship from the Nicholson Family helped in the creation of this portion of the exhibit.

“Rolling Hills of Circle P Ranch” is a pastel painting by Santa Cruz artist Jan McGeorge.

“Lyn is the main curator… and I’m doing the room dedicated to Diane,” Waddell explained. “We do this exhibit every year, but Diane’s passing made us want to honor her in a special way.”

The room will display one of Cooley’s horse saddles in the middle, in memory of her love of riding and her adventurous spirit. A quote by Cooley will also be highlighted: “Love of the land lies deep in the soul of the human spirit.”

“I don’t think anyone can miss the beauty of the land that she kept,” Waddell said. “She knew it was special and wanted to share it with everyone. We loved her for that.”

MacDonald said she was inspired to curate “Local Visions” not only by Cooley but also by a chance encounter at Manresa State Beach. She was walking by when she saw a man looking out to the sea, clad in a large blanket and head covering.

“I took a photo of him and painted it,” she said. “That piece is what made me want to curate this show.”

“Look, Sea” is a piece by Susan Vaughan. It is a painted wood panel mixed with found and natural objects.

Since the member’s exhibit is not juried or by invitation only, the work that is submitted is often broad in scope. Members are not only from Watsonville—many are from the greater Central Coast and even as far away as San Francisco–and include people of all skill levels and mediums.

“The thing about the member show is that you never know what you’re getting,” MacDonald said. “Most shows are juried or by invitation. But with this, it’s a surprise. You don’t know what is going to come in until it arrives. But you need to honor [the artist’s] perspective. It’s fun, and it’s sometimes a challenge making it all go together.”

“Local Visions” opens June 15 and runs through July 31. A private reception for friends, family and artists will be held during the show’s run, as well as a public reception on June 26, 2-4pm. 

PVA, 37 Sudden St. in Watsonville, is open Wednesday-Sunday 11am-4pm and is ADA accessible.

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


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