Arts & Culture

Cayucos artist Ardella Swanberg's grand visions

I’ve long been intrigued by Cayucos artist Ardella Swanberg, her unusual name and the fact that her email signature includes her ham radio call sign. Plus, I like the style of her landscape watercolors.

So when she invited me to the Central Coast Watercolor Society’s monthly gathering of area watercolorists, I couldn’t pass up a chance to meet her and hear her presentation on the lives of women artists.

I’m familiar with Kahlo, O’Keeffe and Arbus, but Swanberg had a slew of far less famous female artists up her sleeve, including Bonheur, Anguissola, Merian and Gentileschi.

“One lived with a menagerie of animals; one married a sea captain she met on a voyage from the Court of Madrid to Italy; one was commissioned by the city of Amsterdam to illustrate plants and insects in Suriname, South America; and one submitted to torture by thumb screws during testimony in her rape trial,” Swanberg teased.

She joined the ranks of women artists in high school when she was awarded a figure drawing class scholarship to Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. She went on to get a degree in art education from the University of Minnesota and says her first art history textbook included not a single female artist. Current textbooks have rectified that, but in the meantime Swanberg has amassed a nice collection of artist biographies.

In addition to getting a quick overview of more than 50 artists from Swanberg’s “short list,” I learned a new term that’s right up my alley – “vanitas.” Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750), a Dutch painter mastered this type of symbolic still life. Rather than simply paint a beautiful bowl or fruit or vase of flowers, she would add a bit of decay, bugs even, to show that life is fleeting.

The next stop on my getting-to-know-Ardella tour is Gallery at Marina Square to see the November exhibit she calls “Visions of Grandeur.” In addition to the landscapes she is known for, she said she wanted to showcase some abstract paintings.

I’m expecting familiar scenes from out on Highway 1 alongside abstract scenes that could be from out in space.

Contact freelance writer Monica Fiscalini at

If you go

What: Ardella Swanberg “Visions of Grandeur”

Gallery hours: Open daily at 10 a.m.

Show runs through Nov. 29

Where: Gallery at Marina Square, 601 Embarcadero, Suite 10, Morro Bay

Contact: 772-1068

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