With a storied past that's as colorful as its signature pottery and tableware, the Luna Garcia ceramics studio is itself a true collectible. Located at the corner of San Juan Ave. and Main St., the storefront's modest pink awning barely hints at the double showroom, expansive workspace and other nooks that have influenced what's come to define Venice to the larger world.
Artists Cindy and Curtis Ripley founded Luna Garcia in 1979. At the time, these two Texas natives were living in Richmond while Curtis taught ceramics and Cindy completed an MFA degree at Virginia Commonwealth University. They began to make their sculptural pottery in a variety of saturated colors that reminded them of the Southwest and their favorite spicy Mexican cuisine. Some of their earliest pieces, which are now sold on eBay for upwards of $600, are decorated with chili peppers and tortillas.
"My husband had a tenured college teaching job at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where we had our kids," says Cindy. "We were there eight years. He had a show [in Los Angeles] in 1984 at Garth Clark Gallery. He was in ceramics and I was a painter at the time, so go figure. We came out here for his opening. My mom in Texas kept our two little kids, and we had the best time. We were kind of ready for the modern art world. He considered moving us to New York, and I didn't love it as much. Venice looked like SoHo with a beach to me. And we've just loved it."
Soon after the show, the Ripleys packed up their Ford Wagon and moved to Venice. Now their grandkids play in the studio just like their kids did nearly 30 years ago. Cindy became the primary designer at Luna Garcia, evolving the colors and collections over the years to include "Dots," "Sticks," and "Scallions," among others on satin matte colored glazes while Curtis built a successful career in painting. Some of his pieces are displayed in the Luna Garcia studio, complementing the pottery, sharing the color and texture.
Luna Garcia, named after Cindy's grandmother, made an appearance in part five of the BBC documentary, "Hotel California: LA from the Byrds to the Eagles," highlighting, among other things, a small makeshift stage where the Eagles played, which now serves as one of the Luna Garcia showrooms. Joni Mitchell once frequented the gallery and became a collector of the ceramics. The large space also once served as the workplace for influential publications such as the '70s/early '80s WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing.
Over the years, Luna Garcia's fanbase only continues to grow. Today, you can find their creations on the tables of some of the best restaurants on the Westside including Gjelina, Rustic Canyon and Huckleberry.
Their latest line, the "Creamy White Dinnerware," which was designed by Curtis, is a favorite of Rustic Canyon Chef Jeremy Fox. The clear glossy glaze lets the natural color of the clay shine through. It's lighter and more refined, like bone china, but retains the impression of human touch, most notably in the hand-sketched detailing on its delicate black lip.
Rustic Canyon Chef Jeremy Fox posted the following photos via Instagram: "Just picked up some more beautiful new plates, made a few miles away in Venice," writes Fox. In the second photo, he captures the Luna Garcia plate with, "Fried pig tail and bacon larb with romesco."
Although Luna Garcia items are instant collectibles, featured in fine art galleries, and cherished in homes all over the world, they're sturdy pieces meant to be used and built to last. They're also incredibly versatile. A pitcher could easily serve as a vase, and a stackable wine cup presents dessert beautifully. The palette of colors and textures can be mixed and matched with endless possibility, and that's exactly where Cindy finds the joy in all of it -- seeing her work come to life in the hands and homes of others. She says it's important for people to be able to find items like these. It's meaningful to know where and how they were made.
"I have truly loved owning a true family business," says Cindy. "Our kids both worked here on Saturdays growing up and our son is still a part of it, and everyone working here seems like family! And it really is a pleasure to make things that people actually use."
201 San Juan Ave.
Venice CA 90291