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Athenaeum opens exhibit for La Jolla artist Paula McColl with first reception in over a year

Paula McColl (left) and Athenaeum Executive Director Erika Torri attend the opening of "Paula McColl: Celebrating La Jolla."
La Jolla artist Paula McColl (left) and Athenaeum Executive Director Erika Torri attend opening night of “Paula McColl: Celebrating La Jolla,” an exhibit of 35 La Jolla scenes.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library opened its “Paula McColl: Celebrating La Jolla” show April 1, welcoming a small group of visitors to an exhibit reception for the first time since coronavirus restrictions were implemented last year.

All who attended were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The show features 35 of La Jolla resident McColl’s scenes of La Jolla, about half of which were painted during the pandemic. They feature local buildings and scenes with people wearing masks or dining outdoors as restaurants adapted to limits on indoor service.

Some of the buildings are Pannikin La Jolla, The Cottage restaurant, Meanley & Son Hardware and Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church.

The collection includes the three paintings in a smaller, one-night show McColl had at Bistro du Marché in October.

The other paintings in the series are of parties, lectures at the Athenaeum and other gatherings pre-pandemic in 2018 to early 2020, when large groups were permitted to socialize.

Many of the paintings in Paula McColl's exhibit feature scenes in La Jolla during the pandemic.
Many of the paintings in Paula McColl’s exhibit feature scenes in La Jolla during the pandemic.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Walking through the Athenaeum’s Joseph Clayes III Gallery, McColl said being able to have the exhibit is “terrific. It’s such a good space.”

The show marks the first time the Athenaeum had hosted such an opening in more than a year; the last reception held by the 122-year-old La Jolla music and arts membership library was March 13, 2020.

Its last exhibit, “Zandra Rhodes: Some Artworks,” ran from October to March and was available only by appointment, and intermittently as county restrictions on openings tightened or relaxed depending on coronavirus case numbers.

The Athenaeum has streamed many classes, lectures and concerts online.

Having the building’s doors open again is “wonderful,” said Athenaeum Executive Director Erika Torri. “We had one meeting ... with six people, and one person said, ‘It was the best evening I’ve had in a year,’ and I know what she means.”

Among the small group of patrons who attended McColl’s show on its first night, Marion Lefebre said the paintings contain “a narrative. You can see how people are enjoying themselves.”

Torri said McColl’s work is “fabulous” and that she’s particularly fond of “Warwick’s,” which shows the La Jolla bookstore with a skateboarder and pedestrians going by in face masks.

The collection is “whimsical and warm,” Claire Wise said.

A small group views Paula McColl's paintings during the Athenaeum's first opening reception for an exhibit since March 2020.
A small group views Paula McColl’s paintings April 1 during the Athenaeum’s first opening reception for an exhibit since March 13, 2020. All who attended were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Most people in attendance remarked on how it felt to be out for an evening among others. “It’s like a painting itself,” Wise said.

“Paula McColl: Celebrating La Jolla” is on view through Saturday, May 8. The Athenaeum, at 1008 Wall St., is open to members from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays with limited capacity. Online events continue as scheduled. For more information, visit ljathenaeum.org.