Left to right (top photo) are: Santa Paula Art Museum Executive Director Jennifer Orcutt Heighton, Guy Cole, Lee Cole, Suzanne Cole, and Bill Orcutt, president of Santa Paula Art Museum Board of Directors. Inset: Jeanette Cole. (Bottom photo) The Santa Paula Art Museum Board plans to use the generous $1 million Cole gift as part of this capital expansion and to seek grant funds to complete the project. The Cole gift will enable implementation of the Phase II and the Jeanette Cole Art Center expansion to get underway.”

Jeanette Cole: Passion for art results in $1M family gift to SP Art Museum

February 15, 2012
Santa Paula News

Jeanette Cole had a deep love of art, and her docent duties at Santa Paula Art Museum allowed her to indulge that passion to her heart’s content. And although Jeanette was so inspired by the paintings that surrounded her that she planned to take up painting, she passed away on September 3, 2011.

Now those brush strokes that Jeanette, already a recognized crafter, had looked forward to will be on a different canvas, her beloved Santa Paula Art Museum, where a $1 million gift by the Lecil “Lee” Cole Family will establish the “Jeanette Cole Art Center.” Jeanette, one of the first docents at the Santa Paula Art Museum, was dedicated to the museum and the works it held, as well as to Executive Director Jennifer Orcutt Heighton.

Jeanette, said her husband Lee, “was so grateful to all the many people that worked so hard to make the Art Museum a reality, and to Jennifer for doing such a great job managing the museum. Jeanette really wanted the museum to be a success and this donation on her behalf will help make that happen.” On Friday Lee Cole, accompanied by the couple’s children Guy Cole and Suzanne Cole, visited the museum to formalize the donation, which Lee said he had thought about since Jeanette’s sudden passing.

Jeanette was born in Louisberg, Missouri on December 20, 1940 and came to California with her family in 1954. She attended Santa Paula High School, graduating in 1958, and on October 5 of that same year she married her high school sweetheart Lee. 

In 1960 Jeanette began work with Santa Paula Savings & Loan, where she rose through the ranks and was ultimately promoted to insurance agent for the company. She retired in 1985 to devote more of her time to helping expand the family’s ranching operations and to her hobbies. She was devoted to her four grandchildren, and cherished every moment spent with them.  

According to Ginger Gherardi, a Museum director, “Jeanette was a tremendous advocate for the museum, one of its first docents, a great salesperson in the gift shop, and she always took the time to talk to museum visitors. She was a joy and a wonderful asset to our museum.”

“We are absolutely overjoyed with the extremely generous gift from the Cole family that will carry the name of Jeanette Cole, our cherished friend and docent,” said Bill Orcutt, president of Santa Paula Art Museum Board of Directors. “The gift will help make a lasting contribution to the arts in Santa Paula, and serve as a permanent reminder of Jeanette and all she contributed to the community.”

Lee noted Jeanette’s volunteer duties with the museum caused her to consider painting, and she was particularly fond of one artist. “She talked a lot about Douglas Shively; she liked the scenes he painted, the sycamore trees, the local scenery” that often was the focus of his paintings. 

“Jeanette really enjoyed Shively’s work.” And, Lee noted, Jeanette would have particularly enjoyed the backdrop at Friday’s gathering at the museum: the Douglas Shively Retrospective that includes not only more than 60 paintings, but also his personal sketchbooks, journals and other memorabilia. 

Jeanette also was also a Master Gardener and enjoyed her studies and time spent at the UC Hansen Trust Faulkner Farm. “Oh, Jeanette really studied the history of the farm and knew everything about it, and she was really proud of being a Master Gardener.”

But probably what she had the most passion for was the museum that now is the recipient of the family gift: “She was so committed to the museum,” said Lee, and “it was one the last things she actually talked about. We are very proud to have her name on the building.”

Gherardi said the Santa Paula Art Museum Board plans to use the “generous $1 million Cole gift as part of this capital expansion and to seek grant funds to complete the project. The Cole gift will enable implementation of the Phase II and the Jeanette Cole Art Center expansion to get underway.”  

The Phase II expansion consists of the new two-story art center, estimated to cost approximately $1.58 million, and a courtyard between the art and California Oil museums estimated to cost about $585,000. Gherardi said she expects the total cost of about $2,165,995 will soon be raised, especially as the Cole Family gift represents such a substantial portion of the total estimated construction needs.

The project will start with the art center building. “The idea is to move as quickly as possible, even without the grant, because the building has to be done before the courtyard” can be started.

When asked what people love about art, Bill Orcutt quoted Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn: “’Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all you know on earth, and all you need to know.’ And the main thing with the Coles’ wonderfully generous gift that reflects Jeanette’s love of the museum and art is the museum shows what a small town, an agricultural district, has put together since 1937,” when the first Santa Paula Art Show was held.

Over the decades winning art was collected and donated to various public entities, more than 400 paintings that form the core of the Santa Paula Art Collection that the museum was established to highlight and preserve for prosperity as well as offering a venue for other displays.

“Jeanette’s love of art and the museum was amazing,” said Jennifer Heighton. “I think about her all the time... her emotions about it are inspirational.”

In May 2009, restoration and renovation of the historic Limoneira Building at 117 N. 10th St. was launched and eight months later, on February 14, 2010, the museum opened in a completely restored and renovated building. Since that time, the Santa Paula Art Museum has acquired over 60 new artworks and produced more than 14 curated shows highlighting works of the Santa Paula Art Collection, local artists, and the award-winning annual “De Colores Art Show.” In 2011 alone more than 4,500 people visited the museum, which is served by about 50 volunteer docents.

Gherardi said, “The success of the museum has created a new problem - more space is needed for community art programs, classroom and conference space for art lectures and other cultural events, meeting space and additional storage space for the growing collection, as well as an elevator to access the mezzanine and basement.”

Heighton noted the Jeanette Cole Art Center will provide such amenities, and the courtyard will serve as a “new multi-purpose gathering space, with a performing arts stage for the public to enjoy various multicultural functions.”

For more information about the museum, call 805-525-5554 or visit online www.santapaulaartmuseum.org.

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