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Art in the family

There are family singing and dancing groups galore, families of pro chefs and pro writers, and even family magic acts, but it's not every day that a nuclear household can brag of three world-class painters. Morgan Weistling, his wife JoAnn Peralta, and their eldest daughter, 19-year-old Brittany Weistling, are all celebrated fine artists, and all three are currently showing works at the Autry Museum's 19th annual Masters of the American West Fine Art Exhibition, the country's premiere Western art show, running through March 8.

"My wife and I have been in the show together for five years now already," Morgan marvels, "but this is the first time our daughter is being presented as a real master and not just a guest artist." Not surprisingly, it's the first time any three members of any family have all been in the show — which celebrates Western themes in painting and sculpture by over 75 artists — at the same time.

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So what's it like being a family of dedicated artistes? "It's complicated at times, but it's fantastic that we all understand each other," Morgan explains. "We wake up and don't have to go anywhere, we just paint."

"I liken our experience of being a family of fine-artists to that of carnival circus travelers," says JoAnn. "There's never a dull moment and the process of finding inspiration can take you to the most unlikely of sources."

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Though they all paint with masterful, even jarring realism, one of the most interesting aspects of the Weistling family is the way each member has a distinct take on what we mean when we say 'the West.' Dad does traditional late 1800s pioneer life — 'Feeding the Geese,' 'Country Schoolhouse,' 'The End of Harvest.' Through his charming wide-eyed children and old ramblers, Morgan has a storyteller's gift for pulling the heartstrings. "As a painter, the West is so romantic," Morgan says. "The costumes, the time period. I go to Civil War reenactments, Western reenactments, and I dress up too."

JoAnn Peralta's paintings, on the other hand, are deeply influenced by her Spanish heritage, tracking the original settlers of that time period, especially women, as in the stunning Candlelight Reflection showing a Spanish dancer pondering her own reflected glow.

Daughter Brittany — no less skilled — is less traditional, sometimes fudging up the Western purity with a random, head-turning Renaissance costume.

"She's allowed to paint whatever she wants," Morgan says with a shrug. His own father was "a complete Western nut," a buff who frequently would tear up while watching "The Outlaw Josey Wales."

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Eventually, Morgan started tearing up at "Josey Wales" too, but the rocky road to Western art wasn't direct. At Brittany's age, he was hired by a top agency to do movie campaigns right out of art school and, for fourteen years, he painted nothing but posters, countless blockbusters. "I wanted to be a pro American illustrator, like [Norman] Rockwell," he explains, "but that world didn't exist anymore."

During his movie poster days, Morgan received some challenging assignments: In those pre-Photoshop years, you might be called upon to paint Arnold Schwarzenegger busting through a movie screen, while hanging on to a helicopter. And you might be asked to make it all 100 percent photo-real. Even a single visible brush stroke was verboten.

When computers turned the movie poster industry upside-down, Morgan saw the handwriting on the wall and leapt at the opportunity to do fine art. “I thought I’d be painting on the side,” he says. “But I found out people really like things I like to paint.” Soon, he and his wife were both turning out one beautiful, eye-catching canvas after another.

Perhaps the greatest creative marvel is the way the Weistlings have managed to cope side-by-side with three talented artistic temperaments. For starts, they don't fuss with each other's work if they can help it. "JoAnn and I have been married 25 years," Morgan laughs. "We learned early on to never give advice unless it's asked for — that's the number one key to success. 'Cause if you point some flaw out, you'll probably just hear 'I know, I know, I'm gonna get to that!'"

In fact, neither parent will take direct credit for Brittany's skills. "She learned by osmosis," he says. "We never even taught her how to mix paint. She just watched her mom and dad do it since she was a kid."

The still-teenage Brittany doesn't quite see it that way. "They never hold back their opinions and critiques of my work. And I'm grateful for that because it's what will help me continue to grow," she explains. "Even though I get to see their paintings in progress every day, I still marvel at their work and I never get tired of seeing what they'll come up with next. There is never a time when I think this is all ordinary. I'm grateful to God for giving me this unusual and amazing life."

And as for youngest daughter, 8-year-old Sienna? You guessed it: she loves to draw.

Which begets the question: What would a family of four fine artists look like? For the time being, Morgan isn't ready. "If she's in the show one day, I might just bow out and become the crate-maker… I already had to build 13 this year!"

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DANIEL WEIZMANN

is a frequent contributor to Marquee.

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What: Masters of the American West Fine Art Exhibition and Sale

Where: Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way (in Griffith Park), Los Angeles.

When: Through March 8.

More info: (323) 495-4375, TheAutry.org/Masters.

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