ENCINITAS — Creating art means letting go. Tapping into the unconscious. Casting doubt aside and letting the creative part of the brain run wild.
Encinitas resident Hildegarde Jaeger Stubbs, 85, internalized these lessons thanks to her middle school art teacher.
Stubbs isn’t the only artist who took something important from Esther Painter Hagstrom, who was an art educator at Coronado High School from 1939 until her death in 1951. As a testament to her influence, Hagstrom’s artwork will be displayed along with eight of her students at the Coronado Library from March 1 to May 31 for the “Art Through Generations” exhibit.
Stubbs said it’s no coincidence that so many of Hagstrom’s students went on to become accomplished artists.
“I loved that she had a light-hearted spirit and personality,” Stubbs said. “Those qualities were contagious. There could be no fear in her classroom. You felt like you were safe exploring different avenues.”
Stubbs first entered Hagstrom’s classroom as an eighth-grader with a latent interest in art. As the year went on, Hagstrom inspired Stubbs to fully explore her artistic side through flower arrangements and other mediums.
“I remember picking out flowers from my father’s flower garden to decorate hats to put on students’ desks in the classrooms,” Stubbs said. “That might have seemed like an unconventional idea. But she (Hagstrom) really encouraged me.”
Moreover, Hagstrom planted the seed of a painter in Stubbs — one that wouldn’t fully bloom until later in life.
After moving and graduating from Saint Monica High School, Stubbs worked as a professional florist in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. At 22 years old, she got married, subsequently had children, later went back to work as florist and happily focused on raising a family.
“Art wasn’t my greatest priority then,” Stubbs said. “I wasn’t doing much of it. I had never painted at that point.”
When her four children grew up, Stubbs dove into oil painting. Her late husband encouraged her. And she had a lingering passion for art that could be traced to Coronado High School. In the late 1970s, she enrolled at the Laguna Beach School of Art. Later, she attended workshops from regarded water colorists like Robert E. Wood and Rex Brandt.
“You could say she (Hagstrom) made me passionate about art and want to learn more,” Stubbs said. “I got an amazing education later in technique that helped me realize that passion. I had exposure to many of the finest water colorists in the country.”
In the 1980s Stubbs became well known for watercolors of the California missions and Carlsbad’s flower fields. She served as president of the San Diego Dieguito Art Guild in 1989 and 1991.
These days, Stubbs is technically retired, but she still paints on occasion — what she calls “finishing her life’s work.” And, of course, she’s looking forward to sharing some of her paintings for the exhibit.
“She was a lovely woman,” Stubbs said. “I can’t wait to talk with others (at the exhibit) who she influenced.”
Students introduce Hagstrom to family members she never knew
Hagstrom died at the age of 46 in 1951. The exhibit came together because her granddaughter wanted to connect with the woman she never knew.
“On a personal basis, it is rewarding to speak with people who actually met my grandmother,” Suzan Hagstrom said. “I never met her because she died before I was born. Through this project, I learned about my grandmother from her students who spoke with her, met her, knew her, saw her on a daily basis at school.”
The other goal? To show how a teacher can be instrumental to a generation of students.
“I also thought it would communicate that art transcends time, space and generations; that art is universally appealing; that art is for a lifetime; that art is an important component of education,” Suzan Hagstrom said.
As for tracking down her grandmother’s former students, Hagstrom said Coronado locals were eager to help.
“All I had to do was call close family friends who were Coronado High School classmates of my late parents,” Suzan Hagstrom said.
Coronado artists with a connection
John Minchin, another Encinitas artist whose work will be exhibited at Art Through Generations, has less vivid memories of the late Hagstrom than the other artists taking part. Nonetheless, he’s part of the crop of artists that came of age during Hagstrom’s time.
“I was more interested in chasing girls and playing football at that time than participating in art in school,” Minchin said.
“But I do know that she influenced many,” Minchin added. “It is interesting to think that many Coronado artists all have this connection.”
After graduating from Coronado High School, Minchin found his muse in Mexican landscapes during college trips. His brush has captured the scenic Baja coastline many times over the years.
Minchin, who paints with an “impressionistic realism style,” changes colors and slightly manipulates the environment of landscapes.
He’ll display two landscapes at the Art Through Generations exhibit, including one of the Morrow Bay harbor.
“A lot of different artists sprung from Coronado,” Minchin said.