By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer | Photos by Viktor Budnik
The moment you walk into the Camarillo home of Catalina Wise, you know this is a residence belonging to an artist. Colorful paintings hang on luminous white walls, intriguing pottery catches the eye from tables and corners, books on Basquiat, Picasso and Botero sit stacked beneath a stylistic black bird sculpture. There’s something akin to a gallery here, with its simple lines and spare palette, but its neither cold nor unwelcoming, and the enormous windows flood the space with light and offer irresistible views of a verdant and vibrant landscape. The California ranch-style home that Wise shares with her husband, John, reflects many of the facets that have shaped the painter, graphic designer and glass artist: objects collected during travels abroad, gifts from the Wises’ many friends and family members, mementos from her native Colombia. But especially notable is the serving ware — plates, platters, bowls and other pieces — that Wise crafted herself and takes pleasure in using every day.
Ventana Monthly talked with Wise about the value of functional art, how she has brought her upbringing and culture into her home, her connection with nature and more.
I understand that you were born and raised in Colombia. What were your childhood and youth like?
My childhood was busy, social and creative. I was born in Medellín, Colombia into a large family with dozen of cousins, aunts and uncles. As is common in the very social Colombian culture, there was always something fun going on. During the week we stayed in the city, but we spent most weekends in the countryside. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who ran her house like a business — which was perfect since my dad loved to entertain. On the weekends he would be outside working his hobbies, from planting fruit trees to raising racehorses and making artisanal cheeses. As a kid I followed my parents all around the farm: planting vegetables, decorating rooms, making pottery, creating flower arrangements for family reunions and watching the horses get trained.
Colombians are very social and there was always something going on.
When did you come to the United States?
At the end of high school my family moved to Palo Alto where my dad received his master’s. I loved living in California and later that year, I applied to art school at Otis/Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles. I graduated from the School of Design with a degree in Art and Design. I worked in the graphic design industry for a number of years. However, after getting married, my husband John and I moved to Ventura County to start our farming business. In the down time at the farm I would take art jobs in Santa Barbara, Westlake and Ventura.
When did you get interested in glass art?
I had been doing pottery and painting for a while, but I was eager to try something new and challenging. I signed up for a fused glass class at Santa Barbara City College and I was immediately hooked. I loved everything about it — the brilliance of the glass when held to the light, the extensive and vivid color palette, and the chance to create objects that people could use on a daily basis, hold in their hands and fully appreciate.
The glass classes at SBCC had their limits, so I invested in my own kiln. I took it upon myself to learn as much I could about warm glass. I took classes, seminars online and visited the glass resource store for new techniques and skills. I quickly developed many new skill and techniques. I feel as though the glass community generously provides help and resources; it feels like a supportive art community.
Does your native country or culture influence your work?
Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. The lush, vibrant and beautiful landscape feels unparalleled. I grew up in this environment and I think as a result my art is always inspired by nature — it is something to which I’m naturally attuned. I think I also carry some of my mother’s passion for gardening, art and cultivating and curating a home that appreciates nature, art and beauty.
When did you start making plates and bowls and such?
I’ve always wanted to make functional art. I love all the possibilities of creating unique objects that people can use and hold in their hands, I want my art to be touched and be part of someone’s daily life. I think daily use breathes life into the art, brings it to the forefront of our day, instead of just sitting on a shelf, nearly forgotten. I make jewelry, dinner plates, bowls, serving plates and more to remind people that art is everywhere.
Do you use your art to eat and serve from at your own home?
My family uses my plates, cups and bowls daily. You will often see my two daughters and I wearing my jewelry. It is such a privilege to use what I create.
You have a beautiful home! When did you move here?
My family moved here in 2000. John and I both grew up in mid-century modern homes full of light provided by their big, open windows. My husband’s childhood home was a Richard Neutra modern home in San Pedro. My family home was very similar to this one. My family spent most of the time on the large terraces surrounded by greenery.
In my current home, the light filters all through the house, changing as the day goes on. When I’m in it, it feels as if the day happens around me. There is something about its openness that just connects you to nature. The first time I walked into this house, I called my husband and asked him to cancel an offer we had just made on another house. We have been here for over 20 years.
There’s something almost gallery-like about your home, with its clean lines and light palette. Were you imagining a showcase for your art?
When we first moved in, we had nothing. At the time, there was a store in Downtown Ventura that sold South American furniture. Of course It appealed to me because it reminded me of my childhood home, but also because it fit nicely with the early California ranch-style house.
I think the simple and clean lines of modern-style architecture make great living spaces that draw your eye to the art in the house. Many of the pieces in my home, either done by me or gifted to me, reflect my family’s background and our love of travel. There are Colombian art pieces from my childhood, and unique handmade pieces my oldest daughter collects from her frequent travels to Central and South America.
How do you manage to keep your beautiful white couch clean with two cats in the house?
My leather couch was purchased specifically because cats aren’t as inclined to scratch leather. Luckily it is beautiful and comfortable — sometimes you have to adapt to your creatures!
I have two lovely cats, Oscar and Rosy, rescues from the ranch. We found them when they were just a week old and very sick. After being bottle fed their whole kitten-hood, they’re extremely social and friendly. They love to come to the door and greet guests. They act more like dogs.
Oscar and Rosy love to take a seat at the breakfast table in the morning, politely waiting for their “berry” from their respective stools. During the day they are most likely in the kitchen or office/TV room.
On quieter days, we find them lounging near the windows, soaking up the sun and purring.
Your interior feels so modern, clean and fresh — and your garden is so lush! Were you intentional about having the contrast in these two separate spaces?
With windows everywhere, I always felt as though there is a seamless transition into the nature from the inside.
I love waking up to the view of the garden. From our bedroom I can watch the birds perching on the strawberry trees or drinking from the fountain. As I walk the hallway on early mornings, I can see how the fog hangs over the the eucalyptus and avocado trees in the back of the property. The sound of water is peaceful and relaxing. From my kitchen window, there is a fragrant garden with lavender, roses, herbs and many other water-wise plants that wake up my senses.
What kinds of plants and hardscape did you choose, and why?
When we first moved in we hired Nick Williams to bring this 1950s landscape up to date. We added the hot tub and redid the pool surface and deck. Every year, we would tackle a new area and little by little the yard took shape. I have a flower and herb garden, I pick them all through the year and bring them in for flower arrangements and cooking. The pool side is pretty simple; mostly water-wise plants. I try to keep a color scheme that’s mostly maroons , pinks, purples and whites, which always look beautiful against the blue California sky.
Do you do a lot of entertaining? Who else besides you and your spouse gets to enjoy your lovely home?
This is a perfect place to entertain during the summer. We have barbecues and pool parties and spend as much time by the pool as possible. In the winter, the outdoor fireplace in the cabana and the hot tub keep us outside even in the cold. We are so lucky to have a backyard that can be used year round!
What are some of the things you love about your home?
I fell in love with its airiness and light. I love walking through the front door on a hot summer day and seeing the water fountain spilling to the pool. I love the feeling of being in nature even when inside.
Tell us a little bit about Sespe Creek Organics.
John and I started farming soon after I finished college. A few years after that, in 1987, we became a certified organic farm. We farm organic citrus and avocados. We pack and sell our own fruit.
It is my husband’s long hours and dedication that have made this business a success. I’m mostly involved with the packing house, the food safety and regulations. We have a great crew of workers, many who have been with us from the beginning, and a few wonderful new additions that keep us up to date since we are getting older.
Sespe Creek Organics
1845 S. Sespe St., Fillmore