Colmar, France, is the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartoldi, the creator of The Statue of Liberty, universally recognized as a symbol of freedom.Coincidentally, Colmar is also the birthplace of another example of freedom: Solana Beach artist Irene de Watteville, known for her outrageously zany humor and contagious love of life.
The 8-year-old de Watteville pondered the world-famous Statue from the ship’s deck upon her arrival in America for a year of adventure with her half-American mother, equipped only with odd bits of English misconstrued from Frank Sinatra lyrics.
De Watteville spent most of her youth in Paris. After losing her father at a tender age, she grew up in a well-appointed apartment, complete with a view of the Eiffel Tower from her bedroom window.
She reflects on her traditionally strict formative years in Paris, where she received her first exposure to art in private lessons and fabulous museums, “I learned to eat as a French woman, and develop a good sense of humor, as I have an insane family filled with contradictions.”
After earning her Baccalaureate diploma in France, she returned to America to complete the four-year program at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts. Relocating to Solana Beach in 1972, she studied the art of majolica tile under ceramicist Laird Plumleigh. Plumleigh, who formulated a specialized glaze dubbed “IRMA,” (a contraction of “Irene Majolica”) says, “Irene’s art reflects her French heritage with a twist that is whimsical, playful and full of joy, as is Irene.”
Her characteristic exuberance was evident during her tenure as chairman of the Solana Beach Public Arts Advisory Commission while teased for wanting to “tile the whole city.”
With a rare combination of joie de vivre and civic responsibility, de Watteville has left her mark on numerous nonprofit endeavors including San Diego Visual Arts Network’s “Eat Your Art Out” fundraisers and Synergy Art Foundation’s Artist Emergency Support League, of which she has served on the board since 2003.
As a board member of the Tile Heritage Foundation, de Watteville is actively involved in the preservation of historical tile arts, while as “godmother” of the ceramics department at the nonprofit ARTS: A Reason To Survive, she has been generous with her time and talents.
Immersion in courses at North Carolina’s notable Penland School of Crafts influenced de Watteville to turn her focus to three-dimensional ceramic sculpture, subsequently studying under MiraCosta’s Eric Gronborg.
With her garage studio fully equipped with kiln, slab roller and air compressor, she often invites friends to join her for “clunch,” providing a relaxing place to work with clay as they enjoy lunch prepared in her authentically French kitchen.
Cardiff muralist Chelsea McGraw says of de Watteville, “Her kindness and unique humor are the essence of her character. Every aspect of Irene’s life is an expression of who she is and what she loves.”
De Watteville muses in her enchanting French accent, “I like to have fun, love the absurd, and enjoy life.” And she never tires of raising eyebrows.
One of Irene de Watteville’s discreetly risqué ceramic sculptures will be on exhibit in the William D. Cannon Art Gallery’s Juried Biennial Exhibition, opening Jan. 20, 2013. A selection of her paintings will be on display in “Multiplicity,” a group show including the work of six fellow artists, at the Solana Beach City Hall Gallery with an opening reception Jan. 16, 2013, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.