The “Joy of Being Read To,” “Turning the Page,” and “Shhhh” are the titles of three of the sculptures on display at the Essentia showroom and art gallery at 2430 Main Street in Santa Monica.
Whimsical and witty, romantic and philosophical, the sculptures are displayed in the windows capturing the attention of passers-by and bringing them into Essentia.
The sculptures are the work of longtime Ocean Park neighborhood dentist, Dick Willis. From the late 1970s on, Willis, who lived in the Ocean Park neighborhood with his wife Cecile and sons Aaron and Joe, walked every day to his Main Street dental office.
The Willis’ still live in Ocean Park, their sons are grown. The dental practice was sold and Willis is now an artist.
The once bare white walls of the Essentia showroom display paintings that burst with color and energy, landscapes of place and emotion. Images of dancers, workers, people talking, show us life in Central and South America and are the work of Daniela Schweitzer who is a Clinical Geneticist at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and an artist.
For several years Lou D’Elia and his partner, architect Mike Salazar, walked by the Essentia showroom on Main Street and wondered about the large and bare space with mattresses on display. They never saw anyone in the showroom.
It was D’Elia’s background in art and his appreciation for other artists that drew him into the Essentia showroom on a day when he saw people inside. It was a moment of serendipity. D’Elia met the owner, a Canadian with only a few showrooms in the U.S., and they talked art.
D’Elia told the owner, “It’s a gorgeous store and it looks like a gallery space. If you would agree to my putting up art shows here I think it would be good for the artists and bring more people into the store.”
D’Elia, the third medical person in this story, is a neuropsychologist who was formerly on the faculty at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is continuing his work now as a consultant to neurologists assisting in assessing the cognitive functioning capabilities of their patients. He is also an assemblage artist. “Getting older,” said D’Elia, who will be 64 in March, “I want to go more fully into being an artist.”
Willis, Schweitzer, and D’Elia also share an interest and a curiosity about the larger world, a focus on their own community and a commitment to family and friends.
Dick and Cecile Willis took an around the world trip in 1971 and 1972, experiencing the beauty of the Taj Mahal, the extreme poverty of India, a visit to a then very peaceful Afghanistan and to a modern Iran. They saw ancient art and Sufis and whirling dervishes and went to shops in caves.
Willis said they felt welcome everywhere they went. But they came back to Ocean Park to live.
Lou D’Elia, born and raised in Ocean Park, is a history buff. He is the custodian of the estate of Pancho Barnes and the archivist of the Pancho Barnes papers, he and Salazar are the owners and preservationists of an Ocean Park Cultural Landmark house, and a classic car aficionado who organizes a third Tuesdays classic car night as part of Food Truck Tuesdays in Ocean Park.
Daniela Schweitzer, born in Argentina, has studied art since she was a child. She studied medicine in Argentina. As part of her studies she came to UCLA for a residency and met the man who would become her husband, Tom Rothenbucher, on the Big Blue Bus.
Moving to the U.S. meant redoing all her medical certifications. While she was meeting all the requirements for practicing medicine in the U.S. she also volunteered on art programs at her daughter Natasha’s school and supported art in the community.
Being an artist reemerged as a central focus in her life only about three years ago. Inspired by the landscape of the ocean and by Natasha’s study of dance Schweitzer joined an artists’ group and began painting again.
Getting older seems to the common denominator to a boom of art making and community building in Santa Monica. Or maybe just a continuum of the high energy of Santa Monica with its amazing history of art and artists, creativity and leadership.
Three different patterns of life, but all informed by curiosity and generosity. These three people, like so many Santa Monicans, have used their gifts to create meaning in their own lives and to be builders of our shared community.