From Canyon To Cove: Painful choices in the art world

Sometimes starting over is the only logical path for those in the unpredictable world of art.

German native Marion Meyer was planning to become a stewardess for Lufthansa when she took a detour to the Nellie Gail Ranch.

Meyer became an au pair for a family, and the mother of the kids she was watching was a hobby artist. As she tells it, that was how she discovered the world of art in Laguna Beach.

Meyer started out in 1988 as an intern at a gallery on Forest Avenue, where she worked her way up to manager and stayed for nearly 10 years. The economy was good and people had money to spend on fine artwork by masters such as Picasso and Miró.

When First Thursdays Art Walk started in 1998, she was excited. Meyer became a key player in Art Walk and for years was the face of the program, making sure the press and public knew about special activities.

She met her future husband, Tom Cuddyer, at the White House in Laguna Beach, and they were married in 1990. By this time, Meyer wanted to invest in the gallery she had been working for — but floods and the 1993 fire put that investment out of reach.

Instead, she found an empty retail space on North Coast Highway that had been a travel agency, and she decided to design her own gallery with her name on it.

She had a simple mission for the new gallery: "I wanted to show artists who are still alive."

She selected artists "because they create something I like."

Marion Meyer Contemporary Art opened in 1998 and has been a fixture in the North Coast Highway "gallery row" scene for 13 years, showing contemporary, abstract and cutting-edge work.

But that will soon end. The gallery will close Jan. 15, and difficult as it will be, Meyer will turn over the keys to a new gallerist.

Like the original Forest Avenue gallery, the North Coast Highway gallery has seen its share of flooding and other problems. Rain severely damaged the roof and electrical system, and the gallery was forced to close for several weeks during the high-traffic summer months to make repairs.

She wasn't able to use the parking lot behind the building for a year while repairs were underway to the lot and to remove asbestos in the 1940s-era building.

And the economy of today is not what it was in the 1980s and '90s.

"It's much harder to sell art," she said.

Her husband had been putting money into the gallery until it became too financially risky for the couple.

Now Meyer is saying goodbye to the world she created and loved.

"The gallery is my life; it's like a child," she said. "It's painful to have my sign taken down."

"I planned to be here for the long term," she added. "My artists are like a family."

Artist Paula Schoen, whose work was shown at the gallery, is equally emotional about the loss of Meyer in the gallery world.

"It is hard to imagine Laguna Beach without Marion Meyer Contemporary Art," Schoen wrote in an email responding to a query. "Marion's breezy friendliness is known to all. Underneath that cordial exterior is a passionate art lover who revels in getting artwork from the artist's studio to her gallery walls and into just the right ownership, whether it is a first-time art purchaser or a seasoned collector.

"Marion's support for artists was wide-ranging and eclectic. She showed an openness to new artists and styles, giving many artists their first exhibitions. Once established, Marion would continue to stand behind the artists she represented, genuinely excited for change and growth."

Cheryl Ekstrom, a longtime Laguna Beach artist, said via email that she is "saddened that such a dedicated and loyal art enthusiast has to exit the community. I've never seen her when she didn't have a smile and a good word. This fine woman has given much to the art community and for that, I say thank you."

Noted sculptor Jon Seeman, whose work was in the gallery's last show, called Meyer "the consummate gallery owner."

He added, via email: "Dedication to her artists and knowledge of the various art mediums have been her determined goals. She has helped in cultivating artists who will continue to present their work and hopefully cross paths with Marion as she changes direction.

"Marion Meyer's gallery was an integral part of Laguna's art scene that will be missed. I know whatever she pursues, her endless energetic work ethic will bring her success and fulfillment."

Meyer plans to keep her website going and most who know her believe she will find another venue to continue her work. The website can be accessed at http://www.marionmeyergallery.com.

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Sandy Taylor seeking work

Tough times for the economy seem to be especially hard on artists. Sawdust artist Sandy Taylor says she saw her sales plummet during last summer's show when Europeans, and particularly the French, who make up most of her clientele, simply did not show up. Chalk it up to the problems with the euro.

Taylor, a high-octane former vice president of marketing, took up painting in her later years and has developed a whimsical, free-ranging style. She is also known for her portraits of pets, especially dogs.

"I went to Paris in 2000 and fell in love with Impressionism, and thought it would be a nice hobby," she said.

She bought art supplies and was pleased with the results, and then found that art became more than a passion when she became disabled by Graves' disease, which affected her eyesight. For some reason, she can paint, but her health problems left her dependent upon painting for a large part of her income.

"The last two years have been really gross," she said. "Not just for me, for everyone. I was in a gallery in North Laguna; nothing sold. In 2011, over eight months I sold two paintings. I dropped my prices, but I can't give it away."

Two years ago she sold 26 paintings at the Sawdust; this past summer, she sold seven. The dog portraits that kept her solvent in the off-season have dried up to practically nothing.

Taylor, ever the optimist, is now offering to expand her services beyond pet portraits. She hopes to add dog walking, house sitting pet sitting, and any other odd jobs, especially involving pets, to her repertoire.

"I'll also knock off $100 on holiday pet portraits," she said.

Taylor can be reached at (949) 394-7867.

CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 302-1469 or cindy.frazier@latimes.com.

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