The Festival Beckons

Baggettas have different styles but the same passion for art; both will be on display this weekend at the Festival of the Arts
by: Cliff Newell, Area artists Mike and Marla Baggetta will show their paintings together at this week’s Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts. For a complete guide to the festival, see the special section included in last week’s Lake Oswego Review.

Mike and Marla Baggetta have an artistic life that they love.

Working out of the studio in their West Linn home, the husband and wife artists say they have more fulfilling careers than ever, and this weekend they will have a unique first - showing their paintings together at the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts in adjacent booths.

Marla, a landscape painter, won the Best of Show Award for painting last year, while Mike, who paints abstracts, has only recently taken up the festival booth experience.

'One of the very fun things is seeing people's reaction at a show,' Marla said. 'It's very different from a gallery setting, which is wonderful, too.'

'Some of the reactions are very strong,' said Mike. 'Some people stand in front of one of our paintings for 10 or 15 minutes because it really strikes them.'

But Mike and Marla have a good idea what to expect, because last spring they had their first show together at the LaQuinta Festival of the Arts in California.

'I do contemporary landscapes,' Marla said, 'and people drawn to Mike's work are not interested at all in mine, and vice versa.'

'We'll each have our own booth,' Mike said. 'Our work is entirely different, and it doesn't lend itself to being in the same booth.'

Other than that, they have many similarities, and it has been that way throughout their married lives.

'I've never had a real job,' Marla said. 'I've been drawing and painting my whole career. It's a privilege to be able to do this.'

'It's definitely challenging,' Mike said, 'but it's great.'

Met in art school

It was art school that brought the Baggettas together. They met while they were students at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., which is highly specialized and one of the best art schools in the nation. Mike became a graphic designer, Marla became an illustrator, and they started their own studio.

It was a good life, they say, but the couple soon decided they wanted something more; mainly because of their sons Kevin, now 16, and Keith, 13.

'Our kids are always number one,' Marla said.

With that in mind, the Baggettas decided a change of scenery from California was in order.

'We wanted a different environment for the boys to grow up in,' Marla said. 'We went all over the country (stops included Arizona, Seattle and Minneapolis). When we got off the plane in Portland, I knew this was it.'

'I wanted the kids to have the same kind of environment I had growing up in Virginia,' Mike said. 'Less urban, less traffic.'

At that time in 1992, however, the Baggettas were not anticipating a change of careers because of their move to Oregon, since they were both quite successful as commercial artists. However, the very nature of the land pushed them toward the fine arts.

'I wouldn't have gone in this direction at all if we hadn't left L.A.,' Marla said. 'This area struck me as so amazing and so beautiful.'

Marla took the plunge of exhibiting her paintings 10 years ago at the urging of Mike, then chairman of the West Linn Arts Commission. She 'grudgingly' gave in and entered a show. Her painting of a farm scene with a stormy sky won the People's Choice Award.

Ask Marla if she has won any awards besides last year's Best of Show and she smiles shyly and nods yes. Her basement studio has a board covered with ribbons. Lori Latham, curator of the Craft Faire at the Festival of the Arts, calls Marla one of this area's favorite painters.

Where Marla led, Mike soon followed. He drew plenty of work from movie studios and music companies - designing covers for posters, DVDs and CDs. But he said the satisfaction from that does not compare to his work now as a gallery and show artist.

'This is doing artwork from your heart instead of just taking a job,' Mike said. 'Doing art from your heart and your own passion is a whole different sensibility. It's very gratifying. It's fun to be thrilled about your work and know it's going to be in a show.'

Successful careers

Yet being in the fine arts also is a business. The Baggettas have to devote a large amount of time to marketing their work, managing shows, and doing the nuts and bolts tasks that make their careers successful.

And these things often shrink the time for what they really want to do, which is paint.

'It's amazing how much time we spend on the phone,' Marla said. 'But we both try to paint every day, even if it's only for a half hour. Painting is very much a practice and a discipline.'

Having another artist in the house seems to help.

'We really do give each other constructive criticism,' Marla said. 'We push each other.'

'It's a mirror,' Mike said. 'It allows you to see something in a way you normally wouldn't. When you work hours and hours on something, it's hard to detach yourself. I really value Marla's opinion.'

Of course, there are a couple of other art critics around - Kevin and Keith. While they may not hold degrees from the Art Center College of Design, they have picked up some pretty good artistic knowledge by osmosis from their parents.

'They're great troupers,' Mike said. 'They give us a couple pairs of totally fresh eyes. They don't look at our work from a technical aspect. They just say, 'Oh, yeah, I like that!''

Many more shows together are in the future for Mike and Marla Baggetta. They will be doing nine events this year, even while raising their sons and playing active roles in the West Linn community.

'We love shows, we get so excited,' Marla said. 'We love the way we get immediate reaction to our work.'

'We have great camaraderie with the other artists,' Mike said. 'You'd think the atmosphere would be very competitive, but instead we're very supportive of each other. Eventually, we would like to show back East.'

To read more about Mike and Marla Baggetta and their work, visit their Web site at