Widely admired for her pure watercolors and dreamscape monotypes, Nina Zak Laddon is also known for her tireless work on behalf of the arts in Redondo Beach.
What may surprise many about the slender, Israel-born artist with the sky-blue eyes and charming accent is that her ambitions for the city exceed her ambitions for herself.
“People ask me, ‘Why is it there is an art movement in Redondo Beach?’” Laddon said during an interview on Saturday. “This is the secret. It’s because we get the whole community involved, and not just the art community.”
A founding member of the Redondo Beach Art Group, Laddon, 57, first caught on to the notion of wider community involvement in the initial stages of an event when she chaired South Bay Hands on Art in 2000.
“This was the first time I realized what power volunteers have,” she said. “We fundraised to bring art books into schoolrooms to enhance the art projects we were teaching (in) Hands on Art history. I was in awe at the warm response from the community.”
The reception to Hands on Art gave Laddon confidence when she conceived of the in 2004.
One who remembers how POA evolved is Janet Johnson, president of Friends of Redondo Beach Arts and member of the Redondo Beach Round Table.
“When Nina gets her creative juices going, there’s no stopping her,” said Johnson, who suggested the power plant as a POA venue. “She obviously wanted to do something big … and the power plant was calling for something creative within it.”
The “two ideas came together in a really serendipitous way,” Johnson said, just as Laddon's view of POA “changed people’s thinking about what could be done.”
That innovation is why Patch selected Laddon as a Greatest Person.
Laddon—who chaired the first three POA events (2006-2008)—found magic in diversity by including poets, musicians, dancers, sculptors, photographers and artists, as well as volunteers from groups such as the and .
“Everybody came in together,” Laddon said about the extremely popular fall event. “And that’s why there is a revival of the arts.”
Two exhibitions this summer are consuming a lot of her time at present. In the first, “Water, Myths and Other Tales,” Laddon will be one of seven artists from Studio 1613 exhibiting monoprints at the Woman’s Club the weekend of June 2-3.
A monoprint, Laddon explained, is a one-of-a-kind print created by painting on plastic and imprinting the design on paper in a press. “A monotype, which is what I do,” she added, requires additional work after printing, such as watercolor and pen.
“(The seven artists) do printing together every Thursday [and] work in a studio of one of the girls,” Laddon said, explaining the genesis of Studio 1613.
Very much on Laddon’s team when it comes to exhibits is Colleen Brightwell, a Redondo resident and owner of Kathy’s Gallery on Sepulveda Boulevard in Torrance, where the artist has all her monotypes and watercolors matted and framed.
“I’ve been working with Colleen for 20 years,” Laddon said. “I trust her blindly on all matting … she is a master at matting and framing.”
The gallery also exhibits Laddon's painting, which swirl in an arc of gentle colors, gold and silver edged patterns, lyrical designs—the totality one of beauty and serenity.
“I’m very picky,” said Brightwell, an artist herself, who began working at the gallery as a college student in 1984 and purchased it in 1997. “I don’t want just anybody showing here.” Laddon’s work makes for “lovely, calm surroundings,” she added. “It’s positive energy, which appeals to my customers.”
Another, much larger exhibition—titled “CA 101: Interpreting Life Along the Pacific Coast”—will be held on July 27-29 and Aug. 3-5 on property recently acquired by Legado Companies on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Palos Verdes Boulevard (where used to be).
“While (Legado) is in transition they are letting us use some of the empty spaces for the exhibition,” said Laddon, who is curator. “It is open to all artists from all over Southern California.”
Sponsored by Legado, FRBA, the and RBAG, the exhibition has already garnered some “fantastic” submissions, she said.
Surely, Laddon’s work falls into the fantastic category.
Her paintings, a magic marriage of drawing, painting and design, range from florals to landscapes to those inspired by world travels, including to her native Israel.
Born in Haifa, Israel “to wonderful, wonderful parents,” Laddon explained how her late father, Zelig Zak, immigrated to Israel from Russia when he was 10. Her Russian mother, Aviva-Agam Lavan Zak, an attorney, was a native of Israel.
“They gave me the sense of security that I could try anything … do whatever I wanted,” Laddon said, adding that her younger brother, Zvika, and mother still live in Israel.
Shaped by strong female role models in a young country “where women went into the army and we had a woman as Prime Minister, Golda Meier,” Laddon—although she loved art—never dreamed of doing it until after she married and had two of her four children.
Nina Zak met and fell in love with Michael Laddon while traveling. They moved first to San Diego in 1977, then to Torrance, and finally Redondo Beach, where they have lived for 25 years.
“My children are my real masterpieces,” Laddon said about daughter Tarifa, 32, an attorney; son Alik, 30, in marketing; Lydia, 26, a jewelry buyer, and Max, 22, a college student in Santa Cruz.
But 20 years ago, looking for something other than being a housewife, Laddon enrolled in a Torrance Adult School calligraphy course taught by Elie Corrick of Redondo Beach. One of the first projects involved illustrating calligraphy with watercolor.
“The minute I took this brush and fiddled with the watercolor, I just couldn’t stop,” Laddon said.
Corrick still teaches the student, whose paintings now fetch up to $4,000.
Laddon first realized she might have talent while painting with her sister-in-law during a vacation in a small village in Mexico.
“We were just sitting on the sidewalk, a lot of kids watching us, and this man came up,” she said. It turned out to be a gallery owner, and he ended up buying everything in her watercolor sketch pad, paying $60 per page.
Laddon remembers saying to herself, “OK, you better buy good paper, buy good paint, buy good brushes and start … to take art seriously.’”
Her style, “a variation on how I see things,” is influenced by life. “I’m reading a great book by Jonathan Lethem called Ecstasy of Influence. He’s a writer, but like him I’m influenced by music, by literature, by travel, by ideas, by what happens to me,” she said.
The idea for the RBAG came about when Laddon and a fellow Redondo artist grew disappointed with another city’s art group. “We needed our own community in Redondo Beach,” Laddon explained.
Since exhibiting required money, RBAG went through the process of becoming a nonprofit and started fundraising, Laddon said. “The response from businesses, organizations, from individuals, was amazing.”
They founded another group, Friends of Redondo Beach Arts, which Johnson now heads. “We had concerts for the arts (and) really supported public art,” Laddon said, mentioning several FRBA-sponsored public projects, including the Ocean Steps on the and the bollards along the Esplanade.
Then Mayor Mike Gin asked Laddon to chair a Public Arts Council. “We recommended to city council that we needed a Public Art Commission,” now in its third year, she explained. “What we really need is a creative art center.”
Is there any end? No.
She's most elated, at present, about TEDx. The project—which she calls "the cherry on top"—will offer Redondo residents an innovative global perspective, as well as a novel local one. It will involve not only those in the fine arts, but also writers, poets, philosophers, performing artists, business people and scientists, among others.
TEDxRedondoBeach.com is a local offshoot of TED.com (Technology, Entertainment, Design), a nonprofit devoted to “ideas worth spreading,” according to the website. The focus has also broadened beyond the initial components to science, medicine, philosophy and more.
With Johnson, Laddon is a co-organizer of the local chapter of what has become an international craze.
“They have conferences all over the world; the biggest one is in Long Beach,” Laddon said. “For four days you hear the smartest people speak in (their area of expertise).” The talks are then offered free online.
The first TEDx Redondo was held last March at the and was curated by Laddon. “The theme was the brain and we showed TED videos that looked into the brain from [the standpoint] of art, science, sociology ...” A discussion followed.
Another video presentation is planned for July. “The next stage is to have live speakers,” said Laddon, who will select speakers for a TEDx event in October. Tentatively titled “Books in Transition,” it will deal with the publishing transition to e-Books.
Johnson praised Laddon for qualities that raise the level of any game the artist plays.
“Diligence is one of her really good-spirited personality traits,” Johnson said. “And when you combine diligence with creativity, it brings together a whole new level of involvement. Nina has both of those, (and they come) together in really, truly amazing ways.”