If you ever happen to be driving North on the PCH (that’s code for Pacific Coast Hwy-wink) and you’re just about to come into the downtown Ventura area (that’s just a bit North of LA), look up to your right and watch the cliffs. There you’ll see this lovely creature.
I don’t remember all the details that I learned about her but I can tell you that she is staggeringly immense. Standing in someone’s backyard and stunningly beautiful.
My story begins with a Valentine’s day hike in Ventura (approximately 10 miles west and directly on the coast- about an hour north of LA).
It had been several weeks that Ojai CA had been the main agenda and when sweethearts’ day rolled around, Ry and I decided to take a drive and find some new adventure. So we hopped in the Big Boy and made the short drive. Found a comfortable place to park a bit tucked into a neighborhood sandwiched between main street and the coast line a few blocks away.
He asked what I would like to do for the day and it could be whatever I’d like. He mentioned the tour bus we passed, and some other sites we’d noticed rolling in.
My answer was that if we just hopped out and started walking I thought that the adventure we found would be perfect.
Oh, how right I was.
It was a day wrought with emotion. I’d recently gotten the call that Hospice had been brought in for 24hr care with my mom who was dying of Alzheimers in Orlando. The end was clearly very near.
The weather could not have been more splendid. Warm not hot. Breezy not windy. Sunny. Clear. Just right.
So we hopped out of the Big Boy and took off on foot in the direction of the ocean. We ambled through a beautiful coastal neighborhood of smallish older homes with the common foliage here of palms, succulents of all sizes and shapes, heavily blooming birds of paradise and many plants yet unknown to me but becoming increasingly familiar. Despite the record setting drought the area is enduring there are many plants in bloom and trying to push out new growth even in mid February.
The road came to what was essentially a deadend which surprised me as it had felt so much like we were going in the “right” direction (in more of a spiritual sense than a tourist one to be honest). A gentleman came around the corner of the building directly in front of us and I asked him if he had a suggestion of where we could take an interesting path with no specific destination. He pointed out a hole in the fence that led down to the railroad tracks running between us and the ocean and suggested we follow down that way but to be careful. Now I had the sense of “I thought so”, this feels right. We did just that and soon came to a place where we stepped through some weedy growth and out onto a much higher scale neighborhood street.
Here, the yards were of a different mood. The plants had been disciplined to follow the lines and do as they were told. The fences were high and solid ensuring that no one, except the owner paying the bills could catch a glimpse of the sparkle of ocean that laid just beyond. These homes enjoy the incredible view from high on a cliff. Still some distance from the water with the Pacific Coast Highway between, you can look up at them from below on the other side as you drive past.
Ryan and I walked along talking and wondering how expensive these homes might be and if the owners were able to enjoy their acquisition. Wondering how many of the owners may be toiling at tasks and feeling tied to work that they found tedious and unsatisfying. Were they able to lean back into the magic of the atmosphere. How many were bound by the golden handcuffs so to speak.
They were quite nice, obviously very expensive. Yet did not feel inviting, not warm, somehow not like homes.
Of course the high fences and abundant security signs added that certain “get your ass out of here” ambiance.
Couldn’t get to me though as we strolled down the publicly owned street that I knew we had every right to be on. This was no gated community. I was enjoying nature and the beauty of the day with an almost lighter than air sense of being in the right place even if I couldn’t see the view that I knew was there. Then suddenly the scene changed. Abruptly a giant piece of art jumped into view. Not the one in the picture above. That came much later, after the adventure. No this one did not strike me as much with its beauty. It struck me with its boldness. Its artistic defiance. Its personality. I later learned from the artist herself the many things it symbolized and my heart sang.
As we approached this house with the giant and bold totem pole, other details started to emerge and everything about the place was different and enchanting. Directly across the street, down toiling on the ground were a couple paying us little mind as they fought back the ice plants that covered the ground and grow so beautifully and abundantly here. A type of succulent that blooms in different colors, it’s a wise and popular landscaping choice as it requires very little water and is not a plant that readily burns. A very real consideration in such a dry area with frequent wild fire concerns.
Hopeful that we had found someone who likely could tell me more about the novel towering totem, I interrupted them and asked. Their openness and friendly response was touching as they gladly explained that they were both sculptors and that the home and its grounds had been a labor of love for many years. They introduced themselves as David and Linda Elder. We learned that they had met at I believe the University of CA in Santa Barbara. He had been her art teacher. They had fallen in love in the 70’s and had been partners in art ever since.
We chatted with them a few minutes street side then David asked Linda if she’d like to take us on the 50¢ tour. I’m pretty sure I let out an audible squeal. As she led us towards the house she explained some of their combined inspirations as the source of some of the details. A key one that I remember is the emulation of waves on the roof, a Chumash reference that had been brought to life by their son, a skilled roofer that they paid top dollar for the effect.
She also explained how most of the large pieces that we were looking at were her works and that her husband, while very diverse, had for several years taken to sculpting ladies clothing out of wood, as though it’s hanging on a hanger, and painting it in life like detail.
We could never have imagined the visual treats in store for us as we entered.
Right away we begin to see David’s clothing sculptures. They were everywhere. Each individual. Each stunning.
The entire house was filled with art and curiosities.
The home itself was of beautiful and delightful design very warm and inviting and with, of course, a view of the Venture coast that took your breath away.
As Linda walked us through her home, the sheer volume of the art was mind boggling. The collective hours spent. The obvious love of the craft. She showed us many pieces of different sizes and materials that she had done over the years. Beautiful and perfect nudes were a common theme. She shared how she had more recently gotten away from what she described as “Barbie doll” like perfection and was now excited to be working in a more free form way with acrylic. An unexpected side benefit had been how the sunlight radiates through it and creates playful images with light all around it. She was delighted by how as she added more material that would cause bubbles that she needed to remove, the form would change making it less perfect perhaps but continuously more beautiful. This is a material I am more familiar with than most of the others she had described because we use it in dentistry. As a long time hygienist, I’ve watched many denture repairs and have cleaned and polished a lot of acrylic. How fun to see it used in this way and to hear the artist so excitedly describe the discoveries she was making as she plays with it.
Thanks the Linda and David Elder for an adventure we’ll never forget.
Her parting words to me were