Village Matters: Let Nature Sing

By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

Ever wonder why Laguna Beach became an art colony?  Yes, it’s beautiful but there’s more to it than that. The artists who sought out Laguna around the turn of the last century came not just to paint pretty pictures, but to experience and express their beliefs about the spirituality of nature.  Laguna Beach in its isolation, its inspiring landscapes, and its rustic conditions allowed a connection with nature that became imbued in their work.

Will South, in “Colonies of American Impressionism,” published by the Laguna Art Museum in 1999, maintains Laguna artists “shared an unshakable sentiment about the land itself—that nature is everywhere bountiful, innervating, and good, as well as mystical, mysterious and romantic.”  Laguna Beach had a landscape that with its sea coast, verdant canyons, mountains, and soft sloping terraces intensified and reinforced the feelings of this bonding with nature.

Here too artists became essential to the community, and helped to shape it as it transitioned from informal cottage enclave to busy art center and community for full time living. The Arts Association took a role in community beautification and when the first Chamber of Commerce building (now demolished) was proposed the Association was concerned that it would not be attractive.  So artist Frank Cuprien spent a day doing a design for the building—and it was built according to his drawing.

Cuprien, the artist known for his luminescent, transcendent seascapes, applied his aesthetic insights to this building design, an example of a contribution toward keeping Laguna the inspiring locale he appreciated so much.

As more and more buildings clustered around Laguna’s streets, more planting was sought to blend the urban with nature. Trees and gardens were planted and appreciated, leading ultimately to today’s mix of trees and shrubbery of various ages intermingled with diverse buildings.  Hillsides and greenbelt were preserved in permanent open space.  Parks were created.  All this resulted in a community landscape that, while much more urbanized than the early artists ever dreamed, still has a mystique, a softness, a feeling of creative energy, and a beauty that attracts appreciative visitors and inspires today’s artists and residents.

We all have a piece of that beauty to enjoy. We all have a piece of that beauty to protect in the interest of the community landscape as a whole.  That’s what is hard to understand, especially if one is new to the community.  It takes awhile to see how we each can contribute to keeping the magic of Laguna intact.  That’s why we have more and more rules—so that irreplaceable lovely aspects of our landscape are not lost before the overall awareness sets in for a new property owner.  With more density of buildings, the trees and shrubs play an ever more important role in our tie with the natural world.  With more density, one by one, each tree becomes more and more important.

A citywide tree preservation program is one way to assure that mature trees will be here to be appreciated tomorrow and years from now.  They will still be here to tell that story of how Laguna began with people whose life work was inspired by the spiritual meaning of nature that they found in Laguna’s landscape. We will continue to let nature sing.


Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member.


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