ON THE PICTURE : Leslie and John Nichols. Submitted photo
by Emily Dodi
Leslie and John Nichols have lived in Santa Paula since 1974, when they bought their historic home, nicknamed the “House of the Fairies” for its quintessential French Tudor style. The house has a historic quality, and over the years its occupants have become local legends themselves. Looking back, coming to Santa Paula was the start of something beautiful.
âI think John will agree with me that it was the best shot of our life,â Leslie says.
âIt was a lucky decision,â adds John. “Beyond luck.”
âSanta Paula lets you be whoever you want and there’s so much going on,â Leslie says. âWe both had a definite interest in the arts and at that time [when we moved here] we were both teachers, so art was our secondary interest.
When they retired, John and Leslie put their love of the arts and culture center stage. Santa Paula and Ventura County have only gotten richer since then.
For Leslie, it was always about the theater. Not long after she and John moved to town, Leslie began taking acting workshops at the Santa Paula Theater Center. SPTC founders Bill Lucking and Dana Elcar became mentors, and Leslie performed in dozens of productions over 25 years. During this time, she tried her hand at producing and quickly discovered that she had a knack for it.
âI went from being a fan of the theater to being an actress to the art of producing,â she says, adding that being a teacher was excellent training to become a producer. âIt’s the same skill set.
Today, she is the Senior Producer of SPTC as well as an active member of its Board of Directors. His dedication to theater also extends beyond Santa Paula, with his involvement in the Four Star Theater Alliance, an organization that supports community theater in Ventura County.
When the pandemic forced the SPTC and other sites to temporarily shut down, Leslie and a few dedicated volunteers used the time to sort and organize behind the scenes. There is also Gaston, the beloved cat of the theater, who needs love and attention every day. Now Leslie is thrilled to announce that she is producing Rapture, blister, burn through Gina Gionfriddo, which will take the stage when the SPTC reopens in August.
The shutdown also didn’t slow John Nichols down. Author, curator, gallery owner, art dealer and historian, John is passionate about local arts and culture. Its eponymous gallery, located above the Santa Paula Art Museum, specializes in fine art, vintage and vernacular photography, and is “open by appointment or by chance”.
âI let chance guide my life,â he says. âBeing aware that chance happens can lead us to the next stage in life. If we opened our eyes to reality, we would see synchronicity.
Nichols’ books include Saint-FranÃ§ois dam disaster, (2002, Arcadia Publishing) which details the devastation suffered by Santa Paula and neighboring towns when the dam broke in 1928. Test man (2015, John Nichols) is a collection of newspaper and magazine articles, as well as stories Nichols wrote for SPTC’s annual Ghost Walk. His latest book is The vernacular bestiary: anonymous snapshots of animals, from A to Z (2020, John Nichols). Opening people’s eyes is at the heart of everything John does, whether it’s doing exhaustive research for a book, promoting local artists, preparing museum exhibits, or advising on the creation of works. civic art.
One of its best-known exhibitions is the annual exhibition Art on agriculture at the Santa Paula Art Museum, which Nichols founded and co-organized with artist Gail Pidduck. As stated on the museum’s website: âThe purpose of the exhibit is to promote awareness of agriculture by exploring its many facets – from workers to water, machines to fields, to the food that goes into our plates. ” The Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce once said that âone of the points of [the exhibit is] make people aware of the nature of agriculture and become better citizens protecting agriculture. Nichols notes that Art on agriculture is an instrument of social change and adds that âI don’t walk with a banner. I show art.
In 2011, Leslie and John Nichols were recognized by the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce “for their outstanding cultural contributions to the community” and “their tireless dedication and promotion of the arts”. In the Santa Paula weather, Peggy Kelly wrote that Leslie and John Nichols were honored as “cultural icons” who promote the “finer things in life.”
If luck is really a part of anything, when it comes to everything Leslie and John Nichols do to make the world a better place, we are the luckiest.
Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. Seventh St., Santa Paula, 805-525-4645, www.santapaulatheatercenter.org.