by Gayle Sleznick
edited by Darlene Boyd
Artist, Gayle Sleznick reports that around Thanksgiving, the Saints will march out of the studio and those waiting in a rented storage area will join them to be placed the lamp posts, downtown San Juan Bautista. Traditionally they have gone up at this time frame and taken down two weeks after Christmas, which is the Russian Orthodox Christmas date. San Juan Bautista is one of the few towns that allows Halloween and Thanksgiving to be enjoyed as their own Holidays.
[Text Box: Gayle Sleznick “Reviving the Saints of SJB” in her studio] The first Saints that hung as the Christmas tradition on the Third Street light poles for 18 seasons, were cut out images and went up in 1965. They weathered over the years and when Artist, Ursula Hanes Guthrie was asked to touch them up, she found the paint in terrible need of repair and offered to make a new set. Becky McGovern was Director of the San Juan Chamber of Commerce and the decision was made to sell the old Saints to cover the artist’s commission. The current set of icons have graced Main Street San Juan Bautista for the past 29 years.
Ursula Guthrie, assisted by her partner Donni Reynolds, took on the project and painted in their gallery called the Four Winds Studios. The location in now Mom and Pop’s Bar. The current Saints, which represent the 21 California Missions, plus Father Serra were based on a painting by the Reverend Michael Buckley, artist-priest of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in New Cuyama, Ca. Ursula stylized his images and placed them in decorative arches. She painted two panels for each of the 22 images to be attached to the light poles, back to back, making 44 in all. She developed the new format during 1983 and the completed Saints went up in 1984. Ursula currently lives in France.
Oddly enough, 18 years later, Gayle Sleznick was asked to touch up the Saints by the Chamber of Commerce under the Directorship of Terry Mauberger. Gayle got them in her Studio 808 and realized they needed total restoration. The year 2001 was the only season the Saints were not hung for Christmas. Only the halos that go over the top of them were installed and the merchants started added white lights though out the town. The freshly painted set of Saints marched back into Christmas Season, November 27, 2002. The Chamber decided to start a Saint adoption to help pay for the Saint repair that same year. The Sponsorship of a Saint continues today by the Rotary.