Gina Arnold knew for years that her father was an amateur artist. He would say that he went out to paint every weekend, and he had an office full of paints. He even sent out hand-painted Christmas cards every year.
But Arnold had no idea of the extent of her father’s hobby.
“We never saw him in the act of painting,” she says. “He always went somewhere else. So it was never on our minds.”
Gina’s father, Christopher Arnold, died from Covid-19 in January 2021. As they sorted through his La Selva Beach home, Gina and her sister discovered hundreds of watercolor paintings—many depicting scenes of the coastline and the Pajaro Valley.
“We thought they were nice,” Arnold says, “but it wasn’t until I posted them on Facebook that people were like, ‘Woah! These are really, really good.’ We knew we had something special.”
Those paintings will soon be on display at Studio Judy G in downtown Watsonville, as part of the studio’s first major exhibition since opening last year.
“Welcome Aboard: Artwork showcasing the rich history and beautiful landscape of the Pajaro Valley” opens Sunday. Other featured work will include paintings by studio owner Judy Gittelsohn, photography by Pajaronian photographer Tarmo Hannula, and historical images from the Pajaro Valley Historical Association (PVHA) and Graniterock.
Gina added that Pajaronian and Good Times owner Dan Pulcrano, who she had worked for in the past, urged her to contact Gittelsohn about showing her father’s art at the studio. From there, “Welcome Aboard” came together slowly.
The show is the first multi-artist exhibit at Studio Judy G. Gittelsohn says she wanted her own work to not only showcase the history and beauty of the Pajaro Valley, but also explore its possible future. A staunch rail advocate, Gittelsohn has featured one of her paintings depicting the historic train depot at the junction of West Beach and Walker streets.
“My goal is to help put a train in the area … I think it would be a great asset for us to have electric rail,” she says. “I want us to look close at the history of the trail depot: The rail has been a force for good throughout the town’s history.”
Arnold says that in the lead-up to the show, she and her sister have been driving around Watsonville looking for the scenes from her father’s paintings. They’ve scoped out areas near the airport, as he had a passion for airplanes, but have yet to find an exact match. They guess that he painted the scenes from his car.
“I’m really hoping that people will come to the exhibit and go, ‘Ah, I know where that is!’” she says. “We’d love to solve some of these mysteries.”
Gittelsohn praised all of the contributors, citing PVHA and Graniterock as major assets to its success. She says the addition of Hannula’s photography was another highlight.
“He’s really an artist, he’s really a poet … his photos really define this beautiful valley and its people,” she says.
Since opening the studio, Gittelsohn has been holding a number of regular workshops and classes, including painting classes for people with disabilities through Hope Services. She hopes to hold more events, exhibits and lead more projects from the space in the future.
Arnold says she and her family are “extremely grateful” for the opportunity to show her father’s work at the show.
“It’s been such a pleasure and a worthwhile endeavor for us,” Gina says. “I cannot describe how much it means to us to be part of this. It’s a very cohesive exhibition about the area, and I know my dad would’ve loved it.”
Welcome Aboard opens Sunday, with an opening reception at the studio, 430 Main St., from 12-5pm. The exhibit will run until June 15. Select artworks and photographs will be for sale.