The Valley Line: Seeing light, texture and color at Descanso

It was with great excitement that the long-awaited Sturt Haaga Gallery officially opened in the restored Boddy House garage and its newly built extension at Descanso Gardens.

Although it officially opened to the public on Saturday afternoon, the media got a sneak peek at the beautiful gallery, a $2.1 million gift from La Cañada residents Paul and Heather Haaga, at a press gathering last Thursday.

On Friday evening, just as dusk was painting the gardens in tones of soft mauve, nearly 150 guests, including many Descanso supporters and donors, celebrated the opening of the gallery at a cocktail party.

The soirée was a festive occasion with beverages and hors d’oeuvres prepared by Patina Catering. Guests gathered in the courtyard of the beautiful building with its walls of glass revealing the gallery’s inaugural art exhibit of stunning black-and-white horticultural photographs by East Coast artist Dr. Andrea Baldeck.

After party guests viewed Baldeck’s fine-art photographs in the spacious gallery rooms, they gathered at the edge of the garden to hear remarks made by David Brown, executive director of Descanso, who said, “Through the incredible generosity of the Haagas and others, we are thrilled to offer this new education resource. All along, the vision has been to add to the Descanso experience the opportunity to see, understand and treasure nature in new ways — through the eye of the artist, through the investigative curiosity of the scientist, and within the cultural context provided by the historian.”

Brown also mentioned that further funding for this new Descanso project came from The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation and Georgianna and Paul Erskine of Pasadena. Georgianna Erskine is a Descanso trustee. The couple’s gift was used for the Gardens in the Gallery courtyard.

Brown then introduced Heather Haaga, whose husband Paul was standing nearby. She shared that she and Paul were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. After exploring what they could give each other as an anniversary present, they decided that they wanted to give Descanso Gardens, and the thousands of people who come to visit it each year, an art gallery.

Heather, who is chair of the Descanso Gardens Guild board of trustees, is an accomplished artist herself, painting with oil on canvas.

“What better way to acknowledge Descanso’s rich past while offering new experiences for our members and visitors,” Heather Haaga said. “Wouldn’t a structure designed to be sensitive to the environment, and built as sustainably as possible, be yet another learning opportunity? We hope this gallery will become the ‘now’ part of the history of both Boddy House and Descanso Gardens, and we look forward to it bringing to the Descanso community many inspiring exhibitions in our future.”

Paul Haaga also had his turn at the microphone as he talked about how pleased he and Heather were to present this new building to the community of La Cañada Flintridge, Descanso Gardens and its visitors.

On a personal note, I first met Baldeck and her charming husband Bill when I was in Venice, Italy several years ago. It was one of those wonderfully serendipitous meetings that have resided in my memory as a very special happening.

I was dining alone at the Monaco & Grand Canal Hotel when this handsome couple sitting across the room smiled at me and I smiled back. We exchanged several glances and the gentleman (Bill) came to my table to introduce himself and his wife. He invited me to share coffee with them after my lunch. I of course accepted this invitation.

When I joined them, the Baldecks told me they were expats and had been living in Venice for several years. They of course wanted to know what part of the States I was from. The usual explanation when running into other Americans in foreign countries began as I generically said, “California” and then quickly followed it up with the “Los Angeles area.” Then I got down to the heart of the matter when I offered that I actually lived in a little town called La Cañada Flintridge.

There was a surprised look on Andrea’s face as she told me she had a good friend who lived in La Cañada, a former college classmate named Heather Haaga. Well, you can imagine my amazement at this news and another example of six degrees of separation.

We sipped our coffees while the Baldecks entertained me with stories of their travels and life adventures.

When I returned to LCF after my Venice adventure, I for awhile corresponded with the two of them and Andrea Baldeck generously sent me three of her books of photography, “Venice, a Personal View,” “The Heart of Haiti” and “Talismanic.” By the way, several of her beautiful books are now available at the Descanso gift shop.

Before last Saturday’s official opening of the Sturt Haaga Gallery, Andrea was the featured speaker at Van de Kamp Hall as she talked about, and showed examples of, her photography.

Andrea, who first studied music and then medicine, came to making photography her profession with the same dedication and passion that she did with her first two careers as a musician and physician.

This inaugural Sturt Haaga gallery exhibit comes from Baldeck’s fine-art photographs from her collections, “Closely Observed” and “The Texture of Trees.”

Andrea says that photographing plants gives her a special pleasure. “Plants are such wonderfully patient subjects. They don’t walk away. It becomes a sort of Zen-like experience photographing these subjects. I will shoot several rolls of a flower as I observe the textures, the colors, how the light falls on a curve, the remarkable adaptations.”

JANE NAPIER NEELY covers the La Cañada Flintridge social scene. Email her at

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