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Work Of Well-known Watercolorist : Art Book Is A New Look At San Diego

December 17, 1986|ROBERT McDONALD

SAN DIEGO — "Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Paints San Diego" is a handsome book with dozens of reproductions of illustrations by the La Jolla resident ranging from finished watercolors to quick pencil sketches.

Don Dedera, the author whose honors include the Ernie Pyle Memorial Award, provided more than simple descriptions to accompany them. His wide-ranging text is historical, anecdotal, statistical, humorous and even poetic.

Publisher Helen K. Copley, who felt that it was appropriate to bring out a new book of this type to record the changes the city has experienced since the appearance of "Rex Brandit's San Diego: Land of the Sundown Sea" in 1969, initiated the project.

Whitaker's original works for the book are on view at Circle Gallery in Old Town (2501 San Diego Ave.) through Jan. 2.

Her book conveys the character of San Diego as well as its appearance. It conveys as well the vivaciousness and lively interest of the artist in her environment. Now 75, she has lived in La Jolla for 20 years and knows the area well.

The images are as prosaic as the San Diego Trolley, the campus of the University of San Diego, Balboa Park, the waterfront and the Del Mar Race Track. A few feature animals in the zoo and in the natural landscape. But most are people-oriented.

Whitaker was born in Holyoke, Mass., and studied at the Massachusetts College of Art. For 15 years, she worked in a number of New York advertising agencies as a fashion illustrator. She married well-known watercolorist Frederic Whitaker, with whom she traveled several times to Mexico. In 1966, the couple settled in La Jolla.

Her own career became distinguished. In 1978, she was elected to membership in the watercolor division of the National Academy of Design, one of only 25 living Americans to have that honor. She is also a member of the American Watercolor Society and has received more than 80 awards for her work.

The commission from Copley Books to create the works for the book, she said during an interview, was just the thing to help her through the difficult period after the death of her husband in 1980. It compelled her to go out into the county and become better acquainted with it.

During her explorations she recorded the area's monuments, points of interest and features in sketches, and occasionally in photographs, as notations for works she finished in her studio. Sometimes she sketched directly on watercolor paper but she rarely finished watercolors in the field.

"I'm not a plein-air artist," she said. "I used to work that way as a student, of course. But I no longer find it satisfactory. It's too apt to limit my creativity and affect my composition.

"Most of my regular work that I'm known for is from my imagination or from sketches that I made in the past. I just like to relax and let my imagination guide me."

Readers will agree that Whitaker has a gift for conveying a sense of place.

"That's what I hope people will get," the artist said. "That's my major goal, the feeling."

As to her future, "this feisty Irish girl," as an admirer has called her, wants to return to the world of exhibitions and competitions. That's her passion.

She has discovered at this late date in her career that drawing as an end in itself, not just in preparation for color, has become more important to her.

"I have no idea why," she said. I'm just going with the flow."

It is doubtless that ability "to go with the flow" that has enabled Eileen Monaghan Whitaker to be as happy a person and productive an artist as she has been.

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