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Esther Waggoner Robles; Art Dealer Launched a Leading Gallery in L.A.

TIMES ART WRITER

Esther Waggoner Robles, a creative force on Los Angeles’ art scene who operated a leading gallery for 30 years, has died.

Robles, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease during her final years, died of pneumonia at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage on March 23. She was 93.

“Art is for the people, it’s for the spirit, it’s for the mind,” Robles said in a 1988 interview. Reflecting on her activities as a patron and dealer, she said that her intimate involvement with art had been “a major contributing factor” to her rich life, which she described as “a constant study.”

The daughter of dentist Lloyd Browning Waggoner and painter Lucy Cone Waggoner, Robles was born in Sacramento on Sept. 7, 1907, and moved to San Diego with her family in 1914. She was a bright child who had a penchant for the stage, so her parents sent her to the Cumnock School of Creative Expression, a Los Angeles school for girls, and hired private tutors to develop her singing and acting abilities. At 15, the aspiring actress was a star in the Richard Bennett Repertory Company’s production of “Blue Bird” in San Diego. She traveled with the company throughout California for a few years, but eventually shifted her creative energy to the visual arts.

Robles emerged in business in the 1930s, in partnership with her mother. They sold books and art--including prints by Paul Landacre--at the Lu-Esther Gallery on Carthay Circle in Los Angeles. In March 1947, Esther married Robert Robles, who encouraged her to open another gallery. Four months later, she launched Esther’s Alley Gallery, at the rear of a building on La Cienega Boulevard. The first show featured actress Fanny Brice’s collection of European children’s art, but the exhibition program that followed presented works by a wide array of professional artists.

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After operating the alley showcase for a few years, Robles moved it into an adjacent, street-facing space and renamed it the Esther Robles Gallery. Many other art dealers set up shop nearby during the 1950s and ‘60s, and the boulevard became Los Angeles’ gallery row. At the Robles Gallery, visitors saw exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, including works by painters Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Karel Appel, Karl Benjamin and Paul Jenkins; sculptors Claire Falkenstein, Fletcher Benton, Robert Cremean and Robert Arneson; and Bauhaus luminary Herbert Bayer.

In addition to organizing hundreds of shows and designing illustrated catalogs for many of them, Robles was a founding member and first vice president of the Art Dealers Assn. of Southern California and a senior member of the American Society of Appraisers. In 1969, she was appointed to serve on the Art Advisory Panel to the Commission of the Internal Revenue Service in Washington, D.C. She was the first woman to hold that position.

Esther and Robert Robles moved their gallery to a Brentwood high-rise in 1976 and later retired near Palm Springs. She is survived by her husband; her son by an earlier marriage, painter Glen Lloyd Robles; and three grandchildren: Sonce LeRoux, Caradoc Ehrenhalt and David Wasserman.


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