As daughter of renowned illustrator Ben Stahl, Gail Stahl predictably would inherit a predisposition for ink. Instead she worked 25 years as a special education teacher before taking up brushes herself. Now 78 and a 17-year member of the Quorum Gallery artist cooperative, she is currently its senior artist.
Composed of 12 artists working in diverse media, the gallery located in North Laguna’s Gallery Row, will celebrate its 50th year beginning with a grand fête on next month’s First Thursday Art Walk, Sept. 5. What distinguishes the cooperative gallery is not only its exemplary lifespan but that many of its 12 members arrived at art later in life.
“I grew up in a time when women were not encouraged to have careers much less become artists, but I always had a feeling that I wanted to paint,” recalled Stahl, who favors seascapes and landscapes.
When former Quorum artist Arlene Husbey reviewed Stahl’s portfolio, she saw similarities in style to that of the artist’s famous father. Husbey used to cut high school classes with him to go out sketching together. She invited Stahl to join on the spot.
While no one seems to keep statistics on the number of Laguna Beach galleries which are cooperatively owned, it is a business model that appears to be gaining popularity since artists of similar minds but working in diverse media can band together to sell their work and share expenses. Artist Eye and Studio 7 are other local examples.
In Quorum’s case, at least, everyone shares administrative responsibilities and tasks, such as hanging shows, keeping books, gallery sitting and interacting with the public. Everyone also pays a flat fee of $200 to join and monthly dues thereafter. “We have meetings every other month during which we also jury in new members,” explained five-year member Mary Jo Querry.
Querry, for example, spent 20 years as an administrator for a high tech firm where she oversaw 85 engineers. A bout with breast cancer caused her to quit and follow her passion for art, she explained.
Most member artists are in their 50s and 60s, with Wally Schauer of San Clemente still on board as an honorary member at age 92 after joining Quorum in 1969. “Our first location was in a garage in South Laguna,” she recalled.
While Schauer no longer participates in the running of Quorum, she still sells her collage greeting cards there. “Art keeps you young,” she said and, true to her word, she still enters work into San Clemente Art Association competitions.
On the other end of the age spectrum is Lu Ross, 55, the coop’s only photographer and digital artist and the gallery’s webmaster. A professional web designer, she saw photography as a sideline first but took it up full-time 10 years ago, she said. “You do something for many years and bring it to perfection, but then you need a different voice to express yourself,” she said. “There is so much beauty in the world and I feel compelled to share it,” she said.
Three Quorum artists, Michael Harrison, Emilee Reed and Timothy Genet also exhibit their work at the summer Art-A-Fair festival in Laguna Canyon. British-born painter Harrison and his wife Jayne, a watercolorist, share a booth. A 15-year exhibitor, he originally came to the United States as an executive for Allergan Corp. after having taught art in England. “My wife bought me an easel and paints and got me started painting,” he recalled.
He took up painting full-time in 1999 and at age 64 says that he does not specialize in any genre but does florals, people scenes, landscapes and abstracts.
Harrison praises cooperative galleries as an advantage for both artists and buyers. “Cooperative galleries are Laguna’s hidden gems: You go in and meet the artists and prices are usually good and you cut out the middleman,” he said. “A lot of artists are up and coming and that makes them a good buy,” he added.
Reed booked entertainment for Disney parks for 31 years before making art full-time and still lives in Anaheim. “For 25 years I painted on my kitchen table but once I retired I painted full time,” she said. Now she puts past experience to work as a member of the board and booking talent at Art-a-Fair. “I am knocking on Medicare but I feel 18 at heart,” she said. A watercolorist now, she had explored several media before settling on the one at the very bottom of her list, she said.
Genet, retired from Edison, is not counting on art to earn a living but it remains his passion nonetheless. He became hooked after a push from his wife Belen, who signed him up for his first art class. “We do a lot of traveling and I always bring my paints,” he said.
Still there have been challenges: “Getting enough foot traffic is always on our minds,” said Querry. She regrets the closing of the Cottage Restaurant since a lot of people waiting for tables would wander down the street to look at the galleries. Of course, the economic downturn didn’t help. “With so many people still out of work, people are not out shopping like during flush times,” she said. However, the gallery’s guest artist wall keeps things lively by introducing new talent and future members.
The consensus is that since Quorum has already weathered 50 years of ups and downs, it’s likely to make it to a next landmark anniversary.
“We all share in making the gallery work and hope to keep selling paintings, change and grow,” said Genet.