Marti Eckstrom and her late husband, Ray, picked up plenty of priceless treasures while traveling around the globe.
But some of the most priceless pieces in the Los Osos couple’s massive art collection, amassed over 55 years, were acquired a little closer to home.
“We went to a yard sale and the woman had a whole collection of Robby Robinson (paintings). We recognized them immediately, so we bought them all,” Marti Eckstrom, 88, recalled with a chuckle.
Charles Hoxsey “Robby” Robinson is just one of the local artists featured in “Estero Bay Artists in Residence, 1920-1970,” running through Sept. 16 at Art Center Morro Bay.
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The group exhibition, the result of a collaboration between the Historical Society of Morro Bay and the Morro Bay Art Association, features approximately 35 paintings by 11 local luminaries including Robinson, Marian Barnett, Aaron E. Kilpatrick and Joyce Pike. Also showcased are works by Central Coast Watercolor Society co-founder Gladys Gray and her husband, Cal Poly professor Stanton Gray, whose names grace the Gray Wing at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.
“They are notable artists of the Central Coast … that have a place in art history, at least in California,” said Dianne Ravin, Morro Bay Art Association gallery director. “There’s such a tremendous art community in this area.”
The Eckstroms’ roots in the community date about 60 years.
According to Marti Eckstrom, her parents moved to Los Osos almost on a whim. While traveling to San Francisco, they stopped in San Luis Obispo County.
“The hotels were all full in Morro Bay. Somebody said, ‘Go over to Baywood. There’s a hotel there,’ ” conveniently located near a real estate office, she said. “So my dad went across the street and talked to (developer) Richard Otto, and Richard Otto sold him the house, and we started buying property.”
Ray and Marti Eckstrom, both teachers, spent summers and school vacations visiting Los Osos, staying in a small house behind her parents’ home. After 30 years of teaching in the Canoga Park area, the Eckstroms retired and moved to Los Osos permanently in the mid-1980s.
Marti Eckstrom said they built their expansive Baywood home themselves, designing it so each room would have a view of the tranquil Back Bay. Then they filled it with paintings, sculptures, etchings and more.
That passion for collecting, Eckstrom said, was spurred by an art appreciation class the couple took while attending Pierce College in Woodland Hills and fostered by a sense of community pride. “We like to support the local artists,” she said.
Ray Eckstrom died two years ago at age 84. Since then, his wife has stopped collecting.
“I have no more room to hang another painting,” she acknowledged with a chuckle.
It was a family friend, Donna Stoll, who brought the Eckstroms’ art collection to the attention of the Historical Society of Morro Bay, telling acting president Glenn Silloway, “You wouldn’t believe the wonderful, fascinating things she has in her house.”
Silloway immediately saw the connection between the Eckstrom collection and the Morro Bay Hidden History Project, a joint effort by the historical society and Morro Bay in Bloom that aims to “research, summarize and display crucial episodes of Morro Bay’s history in public places.”
“It’s a piece of our history that was hidden in a sense,” Silloway said.
In fact, Ravin said, “Some of these paintings have never been seen by the public before.”
So the Historical Society of Morro Bay joined forces with the Morro Bay Art Association, which is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, to bring the artworks to light.
Last year, the nonprofit groups teamed up for two art exhibitions: “Morro Bay Historical,” which featured depictions of historical buildings and places in the Estero Bay area, and “Morro Bay Estuary — Celebrating a National Treasure,” featuring paintings, photographs and videos of the estuary. (Los Osos financial adviser Deanna Richards, the Morro Bay National Estuary Program and the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art also collaborated on the latter show.)
The artworks featured in “Estero Bay Artists in Residence, 1920-1970” range from “Anemonie Purple” by Everett Jensen, a self portrait that depicts the artist in a mauve Nehru jacket, to a vibrant floral still life painted by Ray Eckstrom himself. Its touching inscription reads “To Marti, My Beautiful, Wonderful Wife.”
But the exhibition focuses mostly on landscapes depicting local landmarks such as Morro Rock, Hollister Peak and the Morro Bay Estuary.
“Moving to the Central Coast, it’s impossible not to be inspired by the beautiful local scenery,” said Ravin, a portrait and figure painter who permanently left Orange County for Los Osos three years ago. “That’s probably why so many artists were drawn to the area.”
Although the artworks “reflect the times in which they were painted,” Silloway said, they depict scenes that most modern-day viewers will recognize. As an example, he pointed to a Barnett painting of a peaceful grove of blue gum eucalyptus trees.
“They’re beautiful paintings of something we see every day,” Silloway said, but may not really notice. “When you look at her paintings, you’ll go, ‘Gosh, (the trees) really are beautiful objects that help to define our area.”
Marti Eckstrom said she’s happy to share her treasures with the community.
“I like to share,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed them all these years. I might as well let other people enjoy them.”
Asked what will eventually happen to her artworks, Eckstrom said, “I’m going to leave them to the kids.” She has five children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandkids.
“Collecting is a particular thing. It actually says more about the collector than anything else,” said Michael Eckstrom, one of Marti and Ray Eckstrom’s two sons.
Asked what his parents’ collection says about them, he replied, “It’s like a record of the places they’ve been and the good times they’ve had and the places that they love, like Baywood.”
“Estero Bay Artists in Residence, 1920-1970”
When: Through Sept. 16
Where: Art Center Morro Bay