For over two decades, with the strokes of their paint brushes, the Allied Artists of the Santa Monica Mountains and Seashore have reinforced integral conservation efforts. Membership is open to all, despite skill level, and artists are united in environmental study by way of en plein air “Paint-Outs,” stopping every creature passing by in their tracks. With 156,000 acres of public parklands, +500 miles of trails, 450 animal species, 40 miles of coastline and terrain that includes Sandstone Peak, the highest location in the Santa Monica Mountains, inspiration for these artists is unlimited.

This year, despite the pandemic restricting exhibitions and gatherings, they have pivoted their efforts online and generously donated to the #SaveLaCougars campaign, which advocates and provides funds for the ambitious and essential Wildlife Crossing at Liberty Canyon. The #SaveLACougars campaign is a collaborative effort of the National Wildlife Federation and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund. Local and state elected officials have also partnered with Caltrans, the National Park Service, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservatory/Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority, the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, and the National Wildlife Federation.

We spoke with AASMM President Barbara Freund, treasurer and vice president Russ Hunziker, and secretary Carole Garland to learn more about the organization and how the alliance is coping during the pandemic. 

Tell us about your personal experience joining the Allied Artists of the Santa Monica Mountains and Seashore, and how it got started?   

Barbara Freund: My experience began several years ago after moving here from the east coast. I read about a Paint Out the Allied Artists were hosting and decided to attend. I honestly did not expect the genuinely warm welcome I received and fondly remember being approached by members Annie Hoffman and Carole Garland. Every gathering was similar… a day painting with, and learning from, friends.

How has this time observing safer-at-home measures affected your study and craft?

Barbara Freund: It has definitely been challenging for us regarding our exhibits. Our “Paint Outs” were shifted to virtual events by livestreaming on our Facebook page. Elena Roche, the event’s chair during this time, scouted locations of interest that also had strong reception in order to livestream the demos. She did an amazing job getting us through that and keeping that aspect of the organization thriving. We all looked forward to that second Saturday of every month. This year we are also utilizing zoom for demos. Our wonderful member Tim Kitz gave us a great watercolor lesson last week!

Russ Hunziker: I joined Allied Artists about 10 years ago. It is a great group of people and provides a great support network for artists. With the closure of the outdoor areas back in March and limitations of social distancing I haven’t painted on location for a year. I have been taking lessons via Zoom.

Without being able to exhibit your work, what were some of the tools you relied on? 

Russ Hunziker: I’ve moved all of my painting into my studio. Without the Allied Artists to show my work related to the Santa Monica Mountains, I have been concentrating on other areas that I have hiked in, like the Sierras and Joshua Tree

Carole Garland: I posted more of my paintings on Instagram and Facebook to keep my work in front of the public. I also entered virtual shows and a couple of group shows in a live gallery, where social distancing and masking was practiced. We were disappointed we had to cancel our annual outdoor exhibit at the King Gillette Ranch in 2020, but we do hope to have it in 2021; if not in the spring, in the fall.

Because I do not do as much plein air painting as I once did and spend much more time in the studio, the stay-at-home lockdown guideline hasn’t had an adverse effect on my productivity. In some ways I had more time to devote to my artwork. But for those upon whom the lockdown has had a negative impact, I suggest getting out of the house (masked and socially distanced). Also I’ve enjoyed reading some books about art and artists. Just got the latest book on Goya emailed to my Libby account from the County Library and I’m looking forward to reading it. Join the Allied Artists of the Santa Monica Mountains and Seashore at the Topanga Canyon Art Gallery for their new group show, On Location in the Santa Monica Mountains and Seashore, running from February 2 – 28, 2021. The Gallery is located at 120 N Topanga Canyon Blvd, Topanga 310-455-7909. Masks required and social distancing protocols will be observed. The exhibition can also be viewed online at www.topangacanyongallery.org. Learn more about the Allied Artists at www.allied-artists.com

“Splash” Oil on Wood Panel 20”x16” courtesy of the artist, Carole Garland
“Good Morning Sunshine” ‐ Oil ‐ Canvas ‐ 10 x 8 x 1 courtesy of the artist, Barbara (Bonnie) Freund