The backstory behind Solvang-based artist Maryvonne LaParlière’s painted rocking horse makes it one of her favorite conversation pieces, as well as one she’ll probably never sell.
LaParlière originally received the horse, in its unfinished wood form, as a gift from one of her most loyal clients, Priscilla Presley.
“She’s wonderful. She really helped me in my career,” LaParlière said of Presley, who the French painter described as kind, strong, and straightforward.
For nine years, LaParlière worked directly for Presley, who commissioned her to complete various projects at her home in Big Bear during the 1990s, according to the local artist, who specializes in hand-painting home decor and murals.
“She was the most relaxed in that place [in Big Bear], away from the LA fast pace,” LaParlière said about her impression of Presley.
Although LaParlière has no intention of selling her painted rocking horse, thanks to its unique origin, that isn’t stopping her from showcasing the piece in her new studio and gallery space in downtown Solvang.
While some of her pieces displayed on-site are available for sale, one of the reasons LaParlière wanted to open an official gallery was simply to give the public a chance to view a handful of her works she had archived in storage for many years.
“My best gratification is to see people happy. I want people to come and see my work without thinking they have to buy anything,” said the award-winning artist, who described her new space as more of a showroom than an art shop.
“They came with the big scissors,” LaParlière said about the reception with a laugh. “It was very well attended, and I received tons of compliments. So that was very good for me and my ego—but I’ll stay humble.”
Solvang Mayor Mark Infanti was among the attendees of the ceremony. LaParlière said she felt grateful for both the mayor and the Chamber of Commerce for their ongoing support of new businesses in town.
LaParlière hopes that someday a business owner or investor will come along to establish a broad art center or collective gallery in Solvang to facilitate multiple studios for several artists under the same roof, similar to Studios on the Park in Paso Robles, said the artist, who praised the nonprofit’s approach.
Located on the second floor of Solvang’s Fredericks Court, LaParlière’s current solo venture includes a gallery space for guests to peruse her wall art, hand-painted armoires, and other furnishings, as well as a studio for the artist to complete new projects, including commissions from guests.
“I’m always happy to share my work. But, here, I wouldn’t be open every day, nine-to-five,” said LaParlière, who clarified that the gallery is open to the public by appointment only.
However, the public is encouraged to reach out, regardless of how short notice a request may seem, as LaParlière lives just a couple of minutes away from her gallery.
“I live so close, so it’s easy to set up an appointment,” LaParlière said. “Just call me and I’ll be here.”