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South Bayfront Artists: The Chula Vista Cooperative

Bill O fRights Painting Inside Schooner

Kenny Henry, The Bill of Rights

I’ve talked about The Front Art Gallery in San Ysidro and some of the fabulous artists in National City and Imperial Beach. Chula Vista also has its award winning artists and–interestingly enough–some of them live on sailboats at the Chula Vista Bayfront.

They not only create wonderful art in different mediums, but Chula Vista artists have come together to form the South Bayfront Artists, a collaborative. Together, they present their work at events and festivals. You can also go see their gallery along the bayfront.

They are an eclectic group who work in photography, traditional oil, watercolor, sculpture, woodwork, jewelry and textiles. They also mentor young and emerging artists. Best of all, they have partnered with the South Bayfront Sailing Association to bring old ships, visual artists and the community together.

But before I tell you more, I should introduce you to a few of the artists and their works:

Katarzyna Lappin

The award winning artist Katarzyna Lappin is an oil painter living in Chula Vista. She was born in Poland and started painting at the age of 23. She went on to study the techniques of the 17th century Dutch masters and received instruction from professional artists as well as art restorers. She especially likes to use vibrant colors with strong light and shadows. She also has published a book of 20 paintings depicting Chula Vista.

Katarzyna Lappin

Pete Enyeart

Pete Enyeart was born in San Diego and spent most of his life on the beaches of San Diego and Baja California where he fished, surfed and sailed. His father was a tuna fisherman and he became a landscaper by trade, but as a teen worked at a SD head shop where he made silk-screened posters for the store. After that, he started a silk-screen t-shirt and sign business and eventually developed a love for painting. He started with watercolors and acrylics. He then moved to oils.

Here’s “Local Knowledge,” Slides, La Jolla Cove

PeteEnyeartOther South Bayfront Artists

Other great Chula Vista artists include Arlene Cheng who crafts jewelry, mosaics and fabrics. She also lives on a boat full-time. Michael Norton, a helicopter pilot from Arizona and Petar Barbaros, a self-taught artists from Croatia, both live on boats in the marina and work in oils and watercolors. Jimmy Whitson, a sculptor and photographer, has a series of bronze castings in the gallery now and they will have his photos on display in October 2015.

South Bayfront Artists rotates its gallery selections regularly, so you’ll have to go often in order to enjoy the art. Also, make sure to ask about the artists who work in wood:


The Founders: Don and Susan Johnson

Don Johnson is the President of both the¬†South Bayfront Artists cooperative¬†and the Southbay Sailing Asssociation. Although Don is the President, Susan says she’s the one who does everything, as a goodly wife should, after all. Nowadays, she and Don live in a home in Chula Vista, but they lived on a sailboat at the Bayfront for ten years.

Susan was originally from North Carolina, then went to Florida and came to Chula Vista in 1990 because she found work here. The bayfront had just opened and she began by babysitting her cousin’s boat. She then had a power boat, which she planned to trade for a sailboat and sail to Australia. She was supposed to be in Chula Vista for one year.

Then, she met Don who lived in a small sailboat on the other side of the bayfront at a different dock. (That sailboat still exists in their backyard.) A jack-of-all-trades, Don began art school at the age of eight. You heard right. He was originally from Nogales, Arizona. His family bought a cotton gin on the other side of the border, in Mexico, and they spent most of their time there, so his mother started homeschooling Don. He was getting into too much stuff, so his mother enrolled him in the local art school. That began his long-term love of painting.

Later, Don started working in Albuquerque and then came to Chula Vista for better job opportunities. He worked for the City of Chula Vista for many years in the HUD and low income housing programs.

Together, Don and Susan founded the South Bayfront Artists. The artist cooperative began in 2010 during a time when there was no organization for artists in Chula Vista. Fortuitously, the marina had an empty Mariner’s Lounge and Don asked if they could use it as a gallery. They said yes.

It was suppose to be a month and it ended up being a year and a half. They had 50 artists that were showing. Their membership rose to about 120. “The rule was: you join us, we hang your work, if it sells, you keep the money. We were a true co-op,” Susan says.

Then, the marina wanted the organization to start paying rent, but they didn’t have the money, so they had to close down. Many of the artists left the cooperative. It was only in October 2014 that Ken Cornwall, owner of Cay’s Yacht Brokerage, who was using a kiosk-looking office space along the bayfront, planned to retire. He told Don and Susan to snag it. They opened the small space as an office for their sailing association and their artists cooperative.

They then bought the Bill of Rights schooner in 2013. “The mission for the sailing association has a big art component,” Susan says.

Anyone can come and stroll around the gallery from 10am to 4pm daily.

You can also receive a free tour of their boat, The Bill of Rights. (More on that in an upcoming post.)

Their Gallery is located at: 550 Marina Parkway E2-62, Chula Vista, CA 91910

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2 Responses to South Bayfront Artists: The Chula Vista Cooperative

  1. Gil August 26, 2015 at 9:13 PM #

    You picked some great artists to interview.

  2. bzzaragoza August 27, 2015 at 4:04 PM #

    And I was sorry that I couldn’t interview them all! It’s so creative and innovative to have a group of artists along a Bayfront. Perfect environment for it.

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