Dennie Hahn couldn’t have picked a better place to open her art gallery. Los Rios Street in San Juan Capistrano, California snuggles up to the railroad track lending its peaceful old worldliness to the frequent clang of warning bells and noisy entrance and exit of the Surfliner train and its Metro cousins. An occasional car passes through carefully, a delivery truck or the U.S. Mail wagon. No vehicle is allowed to stay except maybe a bicycle hugging a picket fence or a baby carriage or tricycle with its family. People stroll down the middle of this narrow street as if they own it, and they do.
From the 1800’s these little houses have survived since their first resident families gave way to the coffee shop, the outdoor restaurants, the tea room and gift shops. The street needed an art gallery and close to a hundred a day are drawn in to this one. Other quaint shops and restaurants, all carefully restored modest dwellings with old-fashioned gardens of hollyhocks, geraniums, jasmine and morning glorys, surprise those who come to this famous old mission town where "The Swallows Come Back to Capistrano." Only the trees could tell of the history here but they don’t. One has to dig to find it.
Sufficient to most is the peaceful awe of Los Rios Street, and I sit enjoying it on a wicker chair on the front porch of the gallery taking in the beauty and wonder of the place while people come and go exchanging greetings. Often a husband or two will hang around the little garden behind the picket fence out by the front gate while the women go in, but soon there will be an urgent call from the front door. “Come in here, Hank, you’ve got to see this!”
The gallery truly is a perfect asset to Los Rios Street. Its thirty plus artists of various mediums quietly draw a hushed “Wow!” from the lips of even the men who have reluctantly come in. Dennie’s standards are high and her presentation of each artist, including herself, is perfect. The variety of paintings, sculpture, glasswork, jewelry, photography, silk screen artists, and even vintage caps is so beautifully featured in these rooms and even outside this little house, one could stay for hours taking it all in. Often other artists will stop by to set up their easels and paint in its garden. Or a Gallery class will take place under the tall trees.
The Gallery artists themselves take turns managing the place for a day or two or three a month. When I come with my daughter, Robin, I sit out on the porch and work on my latest piece of clay sculpture, faces and heads of people out of the past. Today I am not sculpting but rather writing this blog. The Cottage Gallery is new and I want to tell about it but am searching for words to do it justice.
As I sit here with my white hair, long skirt and grandmotherly look, I probably fit the scene. And I do feel perfectly at home. If one or two want to they can join me to enjoy this front porch perch, visit a while or find another quiet place in the garden out in back or the patio on the side. It’s entertainment in itself to drink in the serenity here punctuated by the frequent trains that plow through on their way up and down the coast.