La Jolla’s League House gets the royal treatment from artist Paula McColl
By Kirby Brooks
What do the Queen of England and the residents of La Jolla’s League House have in common?
The work of artist Paula McColl, that’s what.
McColl’s art pops up in unexpected places throughout League House, perking up an otherwise industrial-looking staircase and making an antiquated exercise machine look downright charming. And across the sea, there are two McColl’s hanging at Sandringham, the Queen of England’s Norfolk country home. (More on that, later.)
League House is owned and operated by the Social Service League of La Jolla, a non-profit incorporated in 1947 that is dedicated to providing affordable housing for those who have lived and worked in San Diego but cannot provide their own housing after retirement.
In addition to League House, which boasts 52 apartments, Social Services League of La Jolla owns and operates Darlington House, located right next door at 7441 Olivetas Ave. Darlington House, an enchanting Seville-style villa, hosts fundraisers, weddings and other gatherings to enhance support of League House.
Its director, Lois Stanton, said she first met world-renowned artist Paula McColl when she painted the neonatal wing of Scripps Mercy Hospital, where Stanton’s husband works. McColl has a vacation home in La Jolla and spends half the year here, the other half in Calgary, Canada.
“She gives art where it is so appreciated,” said Stanton. “Her artwork nourishes the soul and makes people feel better.” Stanton said her friend made her first mark on League House in the form of painted Birds of Paradise in the hallway to the laundry room. Pointing across the courtyard to a stairway brought to life with McColl’s whimsical Morning Glories, Stanton revealed, “She painted the stairway on her own.”
McColl’s most recent pro bono addition to League House is a cheeky mustached man, wearing a top hat while riding a unicycle. The painting adorns a dimly lit corner housing an exercise machine that can best be described as “vintage.”
“I like to balance the masculine and feminine,” McColl explained, adding that she wanted to deviate from flowers — like the brilliant bougainvillea winding around the doors to the dining room — to create something that the male residents of the League House would appreciate.
“Residents love the whimsy and wit of Paula’s paintings,” Stanton said — so much so that a few of them approached McColl about beautifying the walls outside their units. McColl painted a pot of cherry-red geraniums outside the door of one apartment per the resident’s request, while bougainvillea snake around a utility door that another apartment opens out into.
Visitors and residents are greeted by McColl’s artwork from the moment they walk up the entrance to League House. Life-size birds of paradise and other plants cover one wall, while on the opposite wall, home to the directory and intercom, McColl painted a playful butterfly and matching tangerine-colored flowers.
A native of Zanesville, Ohio, McColl said she attended Hunter College in New York City. After graduating with a degree in studio art, she exhibited at Edward Thorp Gallery and subsequently held several shows focusing on her architectural work in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
She was commissioned to create pieces for homes and hotels scattered across the globe, from Austria and Finland to Hawaii, but one home stands out from the pack: Sandringham.
McColl said she called London home in the early 1980s and befriended the family of the then private secretary to the Queen, who suggested that the Queen might be interested in her work. Rather than Windsor, McColl was taken on a special visit to Sandringham. Of her resulting collection, the Queen handpicked two paintings that now hang somewhere at Sandringham.
“It was marvelous because of the validation,” McColl recalled, before joking. “I don’t know where it’s hanging, it might be in the washroom!”
Despite her modesty, McColl’s body of artwork is vast and includes portraits of the Royal Ballet’s Cuban star Carlos Acosta, yet she continues to choose to improve the lives of others through her paintings.
At the League House’s St. Patrick’s Day party, numerous residents approached Stanton to gush about the colorful images that now pervade the once-white walls of League House, with one resident stating the work, “gives us great integrity.”
On the Web: paulamccoll.com
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