Brushes with Greatness: Painting remains central to La Jolla artist through rich and diverse life


By Pat Sherman

When it comes to life experiences, Bird Rock resident Anne Waddell (nee Rubel) has had a wild (and wide-ranging) ride — taking honors in equestrian events, traveling the world as a fashion model, racing sailboats around the Pacific and being the wife of a future U.S. Senator.

Through it all, a paintbrush and canvas have never been far from her side, her realist paintings often mirroring her life pursuits.

In the early 1980s, Waddell met with President Ronald Reagan and was commissioned to paint a portrait of him on his horse, “Little Man,” by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness (then chaired by Waddell’s former father-in-law, legendary NFL coach, George Allen).

The original painting hung in the White House and is today displayed at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

“The only thing I could really say to him when I met him was, ‘You’re my hero,’ ” said Waddell, who has resided in south Bird Rock for the past 28 years with current husband, Jim Waddell. “I really liked him. I thought he was an amiable guy and a good politician.”

Waddell’s work can also be found in the private collections of the Scripps and DuPont families, and of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr.

Waddell, who has won awards for her equestrian-themed paintings, attended the renowned Orme School of Arizona, a private boarding and preparatory school with extensive equestrian facilities, including 26,000 acres of riding trails. There she learned various rodeo skills, also picking up dressage and English style riding at other points in her youth.

“My father told me to get into racing horses, because people that have racehorses can afford paintings,” said Waddell, who continued to ride while a student at Sweet Briar College, a women’s liberal arts college in Virginia. There, she returned to riding in the more accepted English style.

“She wasn’t real well liked by the other hoity-toity, super-proper ladies there, because she’s walking around in cowboy boots and roping goats,” quipped husband Jim Waddell.

Although she studied art in college, Waddell said she chose to major in economics, “because I thought it would look better on my resume.”

No shrinking violet, she landed her first job — a nearly two-year internship with

National Geographic

magazine in Washington, D.C. — by walking up to the editor and asking for work when he visited the Sweet Briar campus.

After several years as the employee of a defense contractor, Waddell took her parents advice and moved to England to pursue a modeling career, landing work around the globe for Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and Vogue, residing in Tokyo for a spell.

She returned to the United States when George Allen, Jr. asked her to marry him. Allen, whom she met in college, would later go on to become Governor of Virginia and a U.S. Senator.

After several years, Waddell found the life of a politician’s wife wasn’t for her, and separated from Allen, moving to San Diego to live with her brother on their parents’ yacht, “Shear Terror.”

“I like it here; I just never went back,” said Waddell, whose parents, Penelope and Jack Rubel, owned a summer home in La Jolla Shores at the time.

From her earliest moments here, Waddell developed a passion for sailing that would be rendered onto many of her canvases.

Over the years she would sail with Dennis Conner in Newport, California and race in the Molokai Channel near Oahu, Hawaii inspiring paintings of the maxi boats, “Kialoa” and “Windward Passage.”

While working at an art gallery in downtown La Jolla, Waddell met her current husband, a self-described surf fanatic who was then working at Paine Webber, directly upstairs from the gallery. “I’d walk by when I’d go down for lunch across the street and I’d see her there and I thought, ‘Man, she’s a good looking girl. I might have to go in there and give her my business card,’ ” Jim Waddell recalled. “I basically stole her away from her sailor boyfriend.”

Today, a painting above the fireplace mantel in the Waddell’s home is a testament to their enduring love.

“I was going to have to move, so he bought it from me to keep me in town for one more month,” Waddell recalled, pointing to the Kentucky Derby scene, rendered in oil on canvas. “And he doesn’t even like horses.”

Jim Waddell added, “I was not a painting collector, but I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something here.’ It wasn’t too long after that that I proposed.”

Anne and Jim Waddell have two adult sons, Cooper and Jack. Anne’s paintings can be viewed and purchased on her website,