Posted on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 by Jim Norrena
Carol Ladewig (MFA Painting/Drawing 1991) is a Bay Area artist worth knowing. Aside from her delightful demeanor, her decades-long experience within Oakland’s art scene is formidable: artist, activist, gallerist, curator, teacher, and more.
But to know Ladewig requires us to first revisit some of Oakland's history.
Oakland's Pardee Artists
In 1932, at the southwest corner of 16th Street and San Pablo Avenue, a three-story commercial building, then known as the Wetmore Pardee Building, was erected. It was originally owned by the Pardee family, but only for a few years before it was deeded to the University of California in 1930.
According to The Cupola, the Pardee newsletter, they stipulated part of the building was to be used to house artists at rents they could afford.
The impressive building, with spacious ground-floor storefronts and light-filled upper units, housed a large variety of stores over the years, and it eventually attracted a vibrant arts community, which for 25 years, before its demolition in 1995, served as a significant cultural center in the East Bay.
Over the years the Pardee Building was the working home for this community of artists, booksellers, and craftspersons, many of whom have left an indelible mark not only in Oakland's history, but also in the art world itself.
This group of artists is known as the Pardee Artists. Carol Ladewig is one of them.
CCAC's Noteworthy Pardee Artists
The art colony included such notable artists as world-renowned figurative painter Richard Diebenkorn (a former CCAC faculty member) as well as some of CCA’s most prominent alumni: Robert Bechtle (MFA Painting 1958) and Richard McLean (BFA Painting 1958), both prominent figures in the Photorealist movement.
CCA alumna Kathan Brown (MFA Graphic Design 1968) founded Crown Point Press, which, from 1972 to 1986, was operated in the Pardee building, as were dozens of notable antiquarian booksellers. (Art historian Susan Tallman in her 1996 book, The Contemporary Print, describes Crown Point as "the most instrumental American printshop in the revival of etching as a medium of serious art.")
In fact, it was the booksellers who encouraged the upper-floor artists to join forces and petition the City to save the building from being demolished.
Rebuilding Oakland . . . at a Cost
Following the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the University of California negotiated the sale of the Pardee building to the City of Oakland for a reported two million dollars.
At the time, City of Oakland officials wanted to raze the buildings and develop new administration offices, even though the Pardee Building itself was not structurally damaged.
The tenants' attempt to have the building declared a historic landmark failed.
Even the San Francisco Chronicle denounced demolishing the Pardee Building, describing it as a “hidden monument” to West Coast art history for more than 30 years.
The endeavor was futile; the Pardee Building was demolished in 1995.
Yet the Pardee Artists were leaseholders, and the City of Oakland was in breach of its contract. The City was obligated to relocate the artists -- Ladewig included –- to the Plaza building, a historic structure that was saved.
However, the city was unable to fulfill the necessary renovations, and the offer was reneged.
New Lease on Life . . . and Art
Then, after a second round of negotiations, Oakland Art Gallery became part of the deal for Ladewig and the other Pardee Artists. In 2000, with the support of then-Mayor Jerry Brown (a staunch proponent of the arts), the agreement with the City was implemented, and the Oakland Art Gallery became a reality.
Ladewig and Beth Gates established OAG at 150 Frank Ogawa Plaza, just off Broadway (where Pro Arts is located today).
Exhibitions that Reflected Community
Hidden Treasures, The Pardee Artists was the inaugural OAG exhibition (reviewed in Artweek magazine), which honored the work of the Pardee Artists.
Next was Reconstructing Reality, an artists' response to 9/11. It was an open call for work, juried by artists Enrique Chagoya and sculptor Keiko Nelson, and served to illustrate how artists responded on the day of the attack.
“I’m really proud of our exhibitions,” Ladewig says. “We received a Warhol grant, NEA grant, and grants from the city. . . . Together we curated exhibitions that focused on midcareer and emerging artists, often exhibiting artists who would otherwise not typically be featured together."
Art Is Good for Business, After All
Ladewig admits the constant struggle for city funding played a significant role in the closing of the gallery. With economic shifts and 9/11, the uniquely positioned hybrid gallery –- a partially independent nonprofit agency and a City-supported space -- OAG was unable to maintain its momentum.
The support just didn't exist.
The gallery’s location, too, was an impediment to drawing in its needed crowds. At that time OAG was participating in the monthly art crawl Third Thursdays (a precursor to Oakland Art Murmur and Oakland First Fridays), but it just wasn’t enough. Such community events, including artist talks, were no match for the economic crash of 2001 onward.
Even when Art Murmur began to flourish, gallery participation was limited to 23rd Street.
Ladewig left OAG in 2007, and the gallery closed a year later.
Whether Oakland Art Gallery was simply a victim of time and circumstance, or a much-neglected foster child of the City of Oakland’s politics, or both, Ladewig points out Pro Arts is doing amazing things today in the space.
Regarding her graduate school experience, Ladewig has nothing but fond memories: “I loved it. I loved the faculty. It was amazing -- the atmosphere . . . the Oakland campus . . . I loved being at CCAC. It gave me exactly I needed. I wanted to connect with community, to push my work, and I wanted to learn, to know more, and it did all that . . . and I just continued.”
Among the college's faculty who were of greatest influence, Ladewig cites visiting artist and painter Leslie Lerner; long-time Sculpture faculty member and chair Dennis Leon (who received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from CCAC in 1993); Ray Saunders; Mary Snowden; and Photography chair Larry Sultan.
Ladewig recalls how Leslie Lerner suggested she apply a specific structure to her painting, one he'd noticed she was doing merely as an exercise. She applied the grid-like structure to her painting, and it is this approach that is featured in her work today.
Ladewig, who served on CCA's Alumni Council, remains close to several CCAC alumni, but gives especially high praise to Bay Area-based Ron Tanovitz and Eve Steccati-Tanovitz, both (BFA Graphic Design 1966): “They should have statues erected to them."
One Alumna's Colorful Future
Today Ladewig has a lot to keep her focused on the future:
- Her work is included in numerous regional exhibitions
- Her solo exhibition Year in Color / Lunar Cycles was featured in February and March of 2013 at Oakland’s Slate Contemporary gallery (the project is chronicled in the recently released book Painting Time)
- She maintains a robust studio practice at New Daylight Studios in Oakland
- She's the president of the CAL Art Alumni Group (where she has organized the annual symposium for the past five years)
- She teaches at Diablo Valley College in Contra Costa County
- She sits on the board of Kala Art Institute (she co-chaired the auction for the past two years and now serves in an advisory role)
- She was recently accepted to Kala's artist-in-residency program