The spirit of Summerland
Although it certainly didn’t seem like it at the time, the double disasters of the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides provided an opportunity for Leslie Person Ryan, owner of Letter Perfect on Coast Village Road for 35 years.
They motivated her to establish the Summerland Center for the Arts on Lillie Avenue in Summerland. Its diverse offerings include a retail shop on the first floor, an art gallery upstairs, calligraphy and watercolor classes, yoga classes and “spiritual evenings.”
“I’m constantly evolving,” said the energetic Ms. Person Ryan in a rare period of tranquility while sitting on the expansive front porch of the center, the former home of Just Folk gallery.
In the front is her latest addition, the Sweet Wheel Farm & Flowers cart (more on that in Saturday’s Life section). Most of the produce is grown in the garden at her home next door to the center.
Ms. Person Ryan said she had no plans to open another business until the aftermath of the fire and the mudslides in January 2018.
“I had to evacuate my shop on Coast Village Road five times, and we needed to be somewhere for day-to-day business. People had time deadlines for wedding invitations and other events. I was frantically looking for other locations to finish the orders because customers were depending on me,” she recalled. “I was about to sign a lease for a place downtown when I thought of this place, which had been vacant for two years. The light bulb went on — why not Summerland?”
In November 2018, Letter Perfect in Summerland opened its retail space on the spacious first floor, selling a variety of items, many similar to the ones sold on Coast Village Road, which continues to operate. A large number have been designed especially to promote Summerland. Included are T-shirts, stationery, coasters and cocktail napkins.
“Our slogan is ‘Every Day is Summerland,’ ” said Ms. Person Ryan.
On the second floor is the light-filled Person Ryan Gallery, which partners with area nonprofits that focus on environmental and social causes.
“The first show in December was a benefit for Heal the Ocean. Others have raised funds for Safe House Santa Barbara, Summerland Beautiful and American Heart Association. Masha Keating’s art, on display until July 25, benefits the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden,” said Ms. Person Ryan, who had a career as a corporate art consultant before she started Letter Perfect.
Among the artists who have exhibited at the gallery are Larry Iwerks, Tony Askew, Linda Mutti, Kim Snyder, Jeremy Harper, Cheryl Knight, Jana Zimmer, Holli Harmon, Karen Shelton, Irelle Beattie, Ted Rhoades and Michael Drury.
Ms. Person Ryan laughed as she recalled how the Summerland Center unexpectedly began hosting spiritual events.
“The week after I opened, a man came in and shoved a book across the counter saying, ‘You need to read this.’ It was ‘The Spirit of The Big Yellow House: A History of Summerland’s Founding Family’ by Rod Lathim, a fifth-generation Santa Barbaran who managed the Wine Cellar of The Big Yellow House restaurant. He writes about the time when Summerland was a meeting site for Spiritualists from across the nation. I couldn’t put the book down,” said Ms. Person Ryan.
“Several weeks later, Rod came into the shop, and I asked if I could sell his book. We got to talking about scheduling a book signing along with an appearance by the Rev. Pamela Bollinger of the Church of the Comforter in Santa Barbara to welcome all the Summerland spirits to visit. We didn’t know how many people would show up, but there must have been about 100. The place was packed. There was standing room only.”
The response inspired Ms. Person Ryan to invite Dr. Fran Leigh, a best-selling author and world-renowned spiritual guide, who spoke June 22 on “Bridging the Gap Between a Physical and Spiritual World.”
Similar sessions are in the works.
“I’m going to try to do one a month,” said Ms. Person Ryan, “but the maximum number of guests will be 50. One hundred is too many.”
Besides Mr. Lathim’s book, which is published by Emily Publications and sells for $15.99, she also has 10 first edition copies of “Growing Up With Summerland” by May Lambert (Carpinteria Valley Historical Society, 1975) which are available for $175 each, and “Greater Carpinteria: Summerland and La Conchita” by Jim Campos, Bonnie Kelm, Dave Moore and Tom Moore (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99).
Bubbling over with enthusiasm about her new venue, Ms. Person Ryan said, “I’ve been wanting to be out here for a long time, and after last year’s disasters, I decided it was the right time to take the plunge. I want to make the Summerland Center for the Arts a true hub for this community.”
The Summerland Center for the Arts is located at 2346 Lillie Ave. in Summerland. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 770-3677 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.