Gallery With a View

An art-filled, oceanview abode proves that apartment living is anything but pedestrian.

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Michael Montano

From contemporary sculptures to creatively refurbished cabinets, the art-filled flat of Susan Scott is a cultural paradise waiting to be explored. An unparalleled view of the ocean is icing on the cake.

“I’ve been an apartment-dwelling kid forever. It suits me and has been how I lived during my childhood, my early adulthood, my Chicago and New York lives,” notes Susan Scott, art collector, theater buff and executive director of the Ventura Music Festival, as we survey her oceanview, art-filled pad. “It’s how I learned to transform bathrooms and kitchens into gallery spaces!”

There was one exception. When the arts maven moved from New York (after two decades there) to Los Angeles in 2001 to turn around a nonprofit in crisis, a first-time opportunity to try “house living” came up. 

“I rented a small cottage, but it turned out to be skunk and ant central! Not good. So an apartment dweller I am again,” she laughed, adding, “I thought it would take three years to accomplish what I needed to do — which it did — and then I’d go back to New York. But I discovered that I could rent an oceanview apartment in Ventura.” 

The rest, as they say, is herstory.

During a six-month “time out” in her current Ventura apartment, she pondered her next move — perhaps to San Francisco, Portland or Seattle — until “serendipity intervened.” Artist Scott Cook introduced Scott to another town newbie, Josh Addison, who was taking on management of his family’s property, the Bell Mattress Factory. He wasn’t sure what to transform the factory into, but told Scott that he was thinking about the arts — and that they should figure it out together.

Voila! The nonprofit Bell Arts Factory was born, with Scott as the founding executive director. 

“The grand opening was fabulous!” the enthusiastic transplant recalled. “It looked like a New York City opening with a thousand or more people pouring through!”

This opportunity provided a great introduction to artists, arts organizations, civic and philanthropic leaders and more. Scott, an organizational development consultant, never expected to live in Ventura County, admitting that she “accidentally” spent the past 14 years here working with a large number of arts organizations. 

As ED of the Ventura Music Festival (after stints with Ojai’s Theater 150, the Ventura County Community Foundation’s ArtsLIVE project and other nonprofits) she and Artistic Director Nuvi Mehta focus on presenting internationally known musicians, including those from Ventura County, such as Roger Kellaway, Perla Batalla and John Jorgenson, who appeared at this year’s fete. Scott is also on the Ojai Music Festival’s Women’s Committee.

“I’m still here, plying my nonprofit expertise mainly with arts organizations. Still in the same oceanview apartment. And I still think I’m moving on!”

Moving on would mean packing up a ton of art. Scott’s contemporary art collection, which includes 168 works (including 32 in the bathroom and 29 in the kitchen!) is eclectic and includes a plethora of Ventura County artists mixed in with a few antiquities and other gems collected during her Chicago and New York years.

The living room of the effusive collector (who enthusiastically shares stories about each piece) includes artist/activist Sylvia Raz’s take on Henry Moore’s “Reclining Mother and Child,” which doubles as a coffee table, and Michael Pedziwiatr’s plexi-cube tower “Parallax.” A floating kimono painting, “Flayed Angel,” by friend Elisse Pogofsky-Harris, hangs above the living room couch and is flanked by a lovely pen-and-ink drawing by noted sculptor Louise Nevelson. The kitchen counter is chock-a-block with small sculptures by Swedish sculptor Carl Eldh, a grand tour piece, a piece of Sabino Glass and more. “I don’t cook!” she exclaims as she explains each piece.

On her desk (an Asian altar table she cut to height), there are an Etruscan pot, 3rd-4th century Egyptian head and miscellaneous Roman fragments. Vessels abound as well, including three Moorish ones she “hauled back from Santa Fe” and a contemporary ceramic by Cheryl Thomas.

“Antiquities and modern art are fabulous together!” Scott exclaimed.

Scott collaborated with local artist MB Hanrahan on two chest redos and one lampshade conversion. They painted over a Chinese red lacquer wedding cabinet in trompe l’oeil style to resemble a chalkboard filled with Alice in Wonderland quotes.

The bathroom is a joy to ponder — there’s even a piece by Jose de Creeft, the sculptor who created the beloved Alice in Wonderland sculpture in New York’s Central Park and another by French abstract painter Solange Bertrand.

In the office/guest room, Tom McMillin’s carved plexiglass radar image stands guard, while a bronze and glass wall sculpture by Ojai’s Doug Lochner hangs next to an early Scott Cook painting. Two dm Spaulding sculptures reside in the bookcase. In the master bedroom, you’ll find a Beverly Decker “word meditation piece,” a Giacometti lamp set and a whimsical orange dresser (a product of the Hanrahan/Scott collaboration).

“Sometimes I wish I had specialized in something,” Scott lamented, “but my fairly large, eclectic collection demonstrates that contemporary art in diverse media calls to me most.”

What the observer will notice in Scott’s extensive collection is an abundance of female depictions — including her first-ever purchase: a beautiful, unsigned 1920s nude pencil drawing. William Schwartz’s “Three Graces” (1928) graces the hallway while a self-portrait by Macena Barton (1948), who once expressed an interest in painting Scott’s portrait, caught my eye as well. In addition to many representations of women, there are certainly a good percentage of women artists in her collection, including a piece by fiber artist Carol Shaw-Sutton. 

While Scott’s art collection is priceless, the confirmed apartment dweller notes that, “The view, of course, is million-dollar.”

Diego Giacometti lamp.

Ventura Music Festival, Bell Arts Factory, ArtsLIVE, Theater 150 . . . there’s no cultural stone left unturned by Scott, an avid collector whose commitment to the arts and expertise with nonprofits has taken her far and wide. While she has a true appreciation for contemporary work, her assemblage includes much older pieces, too. “Antiquities and modern art are fabulous together!” she says..

Ross McMillin torso sculpture.

Bronze figure of a male dancer by a Boston artist.


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