On Their 48th Wedding Anniversary, the Owners of An Upstart Gallery Are Celebrating the Publication of Their First Book
After nearly a half-century of marriage, Don and Karen Blaisdell have never been more in love with each other and their artistic mission.
Today is Don and Karen Blaisdell’s 48th anniversary, and they have a lot to celebrate.
Several years ago, the couple, partners in life and work, realized a lifelong dream when they launched their own gallery, Blaisdell Atelier Fine Art, in their hometown of Los Angeles. The gallery’s roots are humble: it sells Don’s own paintings and drawings, as well as works from the Blaisdells’ impressive personal collection, which includes paintings by a number of notable California artists, among others. But the duo are ready to take the next step with their project, bringing on new artists to their roster, and taking their collection to auction.
Don Blaisdell grew up in Portland, Maine, where he learned to paint—precociously, it turns out. At the behest of his mother, an art teacher, he enrolled in a youth painting class at the Portland Museum of Art when he was 12. On the first day, the director of the school removed him from class.
“I thought, ‘Oh God, he’s throwing me out the first day,” Blaisdell recalls. “We went to the director of the school of art for adults. The director looked at me and said, ‘Take him out of that class and put him in the college freshman class.'”
It was then, he says, that he knew he was going to be an artist.
At 18, Blaisdell moved to New York to study at Pratt University. After his time there and a stint at Syracuse University, he moved west, getting his MFA from California State University, Long Beach. It was around this time that he met Karen, a southern California native, and the two have lived in the area ever since. In the 1970s, they were immersed in the Los Angeles art scene, alongside friends and fellow painters such as Sam Francis, Ernest Trova, and Laddie John Dill.
As an artist, Don has always been a modernist at heart. His works—vibrant, geometric oil paintings and watercolors—recall the early 20th-century output of Matisse or Don’s hero, Picasso. Blaisdell always paints on site, and if you were to go today to Antibes, a town on the French Riviera, there’s a good chance you’d see him, sketching in the streets.
“It’s all in situ,” he explains. “I never thought about it at the time, but now in retrospect, I see that my work follows the art historical tradition of plein air painting, which I’ve done all my life.”
Today, he and Karen split their time between Los Angeles and Antibes, where Picasso lived briefly. (There’s now a museum dedicated to him there.) The town has come to influence Don’s work a great deal, its landscapes and city scenes becoming one of his favored subjects. Last year he and Karen published a book of watercolors and ink drawings done in the city, titled “Antibes: An Artist’s Stroll in the Old Town.”
The book was an important milestone for both Don and Karen, who produced it together. They’ve been through a lot in recent years, including multiple medical scares; the book, they say, represents the story of their life and how far they’ve come.
“Sticking with it—that’s the hardest part,” Karen says, before recalling a recent moment Don had with a doctor that stuck with her. “Don said to him, ‘Never think anything is impossible, because while you’re thinking that, someone else is doing it.’ I really feel that’s such a wonderful thing to share with other people, to let them see that a creative marriage can last.”
The longevity is impressive. But when you hear the story of how they first met—and the back-and-forth way in which they tell it—you’ll realize it was meant to be.
It was back in the late 1960s, at a nightclub in Los Angeles. Karen, 17 at the time, had gotten in with her sisters (their parents were out of town). She was sitting at a table in the front, under a spotlight.
“Don walks up to me and says, ‘Would you care to dance?’ I thought that was very strange,” she recalls, referring to his east coast properness. “But I said, ‘Yes, I would love to.’ That started our connection.”
Don has his own version of the events. Seeing Karen, under spotlight, from the bar, he leaned over and said to his friend: “You see that girl over there? I’m going to marry her.”
“You won’t even get to talk to her,” the friend said.
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