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Loving Life on the

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Peg Grady: Keeping the public in stitches

Peg Grady’s satire thread art will make you smile. Peg Grady the person will make you laugh out loud. While she works in a myriad of media—painting, assemblages, collages and other works of art—it’s Peg’s pithy, catchy and sometimes outrageous stitched sayings that reflect the facets of her personality.

“Embrace the detours” “Their, They’re, There.” “Go away.” “Why wait?” “Stay weird.” “Worry is a waste of imagination.” “Your rong.”

She shares happily that the inspiration for her work is often “borrowed, stolen, overheard” or in some cases, for mature audiences only.

“I always had a thing for art,” she said, “but I didn’t have a trust fund to make a living at it.” Realizing she needed a regular income, a young Peg went to work in a series of jobs that kept her afloat over time, though she never abandoned her artistic bent. Then 40 happened. “I knew the time had come to stop messing around and do what I really wanted to do,” she realized.

For someone who likes going with the flow, Peg did what many young people did during that 70s time of finding yourself. “I dropped in and out of college a few times,” she said, recollecting, “One time, I dropped out and went to work for an insurance company until I had enough money to go to England and see the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park.” Afterward, she worked for Women’s Day magazine in New York where the company’s offices were located in Times Square.

“This was back in the 70s,” she said. “Times Square today is like Disneyland now. Back then it was junkies, porn movie houses, pimps all over the place. A Winston cigarette billboard, viewed from her office window, sent smoke rings into the sky. Her work for the publication centered on special interests like needlework that intrigued her. “Women were embroidering anything they could get their hands on—jeans, army fatigue jackets, backpacks—with the iconic flowers, peace signs and beads of that era,” she reminisced.

At age 25, she married her then-boyfriend who suggested they move to California. “It was the only good thing he ever did for me,” she shrugged with a half grin. “It was so bizarre moving to L.A. because the pace of life was so much slower from New York. I did enjoy it very much, however, and I’m still enjoying it,” Peg said, stating the obvious in that she’s lived in California ever since and today resides in Santa Margarita—population 1,105!— with her life partner, local musician of renown Don Lampson, on 13 acres covered with oaks and pines, ponds, birds, wildlife and wild turkeys that eat out of her hand. “Sometimes I wonder how a girl from New York City ended up here!”

Born in the Big Apple to Anne and Bill Ristelhueber and raised in Queens along with brother Bob, Peg and her family lived in an apartment building from where she could see the 1964 World’s Fair fireworks and view nearby Shea Stadium. She hung out in Greenwich Village and took the subway to work and museums: “A typical City kid,” she said.

Looking back, Peg, who attended Queens College, City University of New York and New York University, says that although she still reads the New York Times regularly, “It’s like a whole other life from here.”

In Southern California, Peg found work as an advertising assistant at Geary’s in Beverly Hills working with layouts, dealing with newspapers promoting the company’s brand of fine china, crystal and silver. “It was so creative and a boom time for newspapers and magazines. Very exciting.” By this time no longer married, she was hired for ad sales for the Herald-Examiner where she met Don, who also worked at the same paper. “It was great!” she shared. “We were downtown L.A. when it was wild and crazy and we had a blast.” The couple later moved to Desert Hot Springs where they both worked at a paper there and Don, a musician, also played at a local bar.

Peg continued to “play with needlework” and “other crazy artwork” while their journey took them next to Carmel and she landed employment with an architect in Pacific Grove. It was a good fit: “They specialized in Victorian Houses and I worked on obtaining permits and managed the office.” She enjoyed the work and the atmosphere. “Don was working in Soledad at the Department of Corrections and was considering an assignment at San Luis Obispo California Men’s Colony and asked if I wanted to move to SLO. “I said, ‘Let’s do it!’ not thinking about what I would do,” she said. “I found it was hard to get a job in the architecture field here competing with Cal Poly students; the money just wasn’t there.” She worked at American Eagle Airlines and SLO Police Department until, she said, “I saw Don’s paycheck (from CMC) and I decided I wanted a paycheck like that!” It took, she said, two years after applying before her background check was completed and she too became a CMC correctional officer.

“Then,” she said, “I got antsy.” “I so needed a creative outlet to balance my life. I also promised myself I would retire the day I turned 50. The job was doable because I had an end goal in mind; it wasn’t forever.” One day, Peg saw an article by local artist Bob Burridge called “Loose and Juicy” that advised artists to just “go paint!” “That attracted me,” she said, smiling at the pivotal moment that sent her back into the creative self she longed to cultivate.

“I went to a one-day workshop at Cuesta College with Bob and realized ‘This is what I want to do!’ ” At the workshop, Peg said, “In walks this guy (Bob) with a big boom box blasting music and he says, ‘We’re gonna have fun!’ ” Continuing, she laughed. “It was just how I wanted to do it, high energy, lots of play; it’s the process—not the product, etc. Afterward, I showed Don the work I had done. He thought I had bumped my head!”

“Well, I continued to take classes at Alan Hancock College and Cuesta College and the more I took, the more I realized I couldn’t NOT paint. I also loved collages and other mediums and had an ability to use different materials: no rules, the freedom to grab whatever materials I wanted. Bob had set me on my path.” In fact, the two had a show together in SLO recently, she said.

Meanwhile, Peg kept working the graveyard shift at CMC and would come home from work and head for her studio. Off days, since the mid-90s, she’d have shows near and far—all around California and somewhat far-flung reaches like New Jersey, Arizona, Maryland and Portland, OR. On her mid-century birthday, she hung up her uniform.

“Exactly like I planned it,” she laughed. “That was the only time I had a plan that actually worked. The second I hit 50 I retired!”

Happily working away at her gallery on Main Street in Santa Margarita with daylight flooding in through picture windows and neighbors popping in to say hi, Peg is beyond happy. When not at work, she and Don love traveling, having journeyed in Costa Rica and Mexico and closer to home on narrow gauge rail trips, particularly Roots on the Rails, an adventure that combines train travel with music through majestic Colorado aspen-covered mountain areas. Otherwise, Peg says, “We live a simple life. We have the freedom to do what we love.”

In Santa Margarita-ville, Peg and Don are a part of a close-knit community that helps out when they’re needed. “When the senior center needed a new roof, we (the community) had a big fundraiser to make that happen,” Peg said. As well, they came together to raise money for firefighters’ efforts after the 2015 fires in the area. They gather with locals on occasional Monday evenings, potlucks in the park to enjoy a barbecue get together for fun, and to wave to the riders on the Amtrak as it passes nearby. How does she sum up her life at this moment? Perhaps she should stitch it: “Don’s a musician. I’m a painter. Life is good.”




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