Gardens add exhibition space

After five years of planning, preparation and construction, Descanso Gardens is growing a new attraction. The Sturt Haaga Gallery will open to the public this Saturday at 2 p.m. with the exhibit, “The Botanical Photographs of Andrea Baldeck.”

The gallery, funded by a donation of $2.1 million by Paul Haaga Jr. and Heather Sturt Haaga, was created by restoring and adding on to the original garage adjacent to the gardens’ historic Boddy House. The gallery gives La Cañada Flintridge its first publically accessible exhibition space, according to Descanso Gardens Executive Director David Brown.

In addition to augmenting the gardens’ education and outreach programs and providing an additional attraction to draw visitors to the gardens, the gallery perfectly meshes with Descanso’s accreditation as a museum of living collections, Brown said.

“It gives us the opportunity to tell the stories of the garden, of the landscapes, of the plants, of the ecosystem and of the history of the gardens,” said Brown.

Sturt Haaga said she and her husband funded the gallery because they believe in the future of Descanso Gardens.

“Paul and I believe that Descanso Gardens is poised to go from good to great and by repurposing the garage at the Boddy House, it can become a wonderful resource for the community,” Sturt Haaga said.

Brown said Descanso plans to bring a diversity of relevant shows and exhibits to the gallery.

“Our programming for the gallery is going to be broadly inclusive of subjects in science, in particular botany and horticulture and biology,” said Brown. “And history as well as art. This is not an art gallery — it’s an exhibition gallery.”

As for the first exhibition, Brown said that in addition to the visually striking nature of Andrea Baldeck’s botanical photographs, it was their thematic match with the gardens that made her work a good fit.

“Andrea’s artwork makes plants the star of the work, and that’s we’re trying to do at Descanso all the time,” said Brown.

Baldeck, who has exhibited her work extensively on the East Coast, where she lives, was also a natural choice because she was recommended to Brown by Sturt Haaga, with whom she attended college.

Sturt Haaga said that beyond her personal connection with Baldeck, it was the work that made her the right fit.

“I’ve been collecting her art for a number of years … and it occurred that she would be the most wonderful possibility,” said Sturt Haaga. “I’m sure it will be perfect because it’s all about the art of nature and nature in art.”

Baldeck, who shoots in black and white and who eschews digital photography in favor of a 35mm film camera, said that after seeing schematics of the gallery, she was excited to see the real thing. She said that when exhibiting her photos, she looks for a space with long sight lines to allow her images to “work gradually on the imaginations” of viewers.

“One of the things I try to do when I create botanical still lifes is create something that is fairly powerful and has what I call the pow factor, and draw someone from the other side of the room,” said Baldeck.

The exhibition will likely be drawing viewers from all over town, as 33 flags advertising the show have been raised along Foothill Boulevard. City management analyst Carl Alameda said the city provided $2,500 so that 11 additional flags could be added to the 22 originally planned by Descanso Gardens, so that they would stretch the length of the boulevard within city limits.

Mayor David Spence said the City Council thought it was important for the city to show support for the new gallery.

“The Haagas’ foundation was such a positive influence and asset for Descanso Gardens that we thought it was extremely important that the city would show their strong support for the effort,” said Spence.

Spence said that it was important to support the appreciation of art within the community, and that the gallery will augment La Cañada in that respect.

“We’re pretty proud that we have an asset like the Descanso Garden in the city. It’s something that is extremely positive for everybody,” the mayor said.

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