Art show offers unique glimpse of Del Mar Mesa, Carmel Valley’s history

A piece by late Del Mar Mesa artist Annette Paquet.
(Karen Billing)

The late Del Mar Mesa artist Annette Paquet once said: “A painting to me is like a poem without words.” More than just poetry, her work represents a visual history of Del Mar Mesa and Carmel Valley, the way it once was.

Paquet was a watercolorist who had lived atop a hill on Del Mar Mesa since 1969, painting the spirit and essence of nature as the community developed around her. She passed away in 2020 at age 83, leaving behind a legacy of mesa views.

Her surviving children Susanne Burcin and Michael Paquet are hosting an open studio sale on Dec. 11-12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at her home studio on Del Mar Mesa Road. A percentage of the sales will go back to the San Diego Watercolor Society, where Annette was a longtime member sharing her love of painting with others.

Paquet’s home studio is filled with her works, some framed and hung and some organized in tidy stacks alongside Tiffany-style lamps made by her late husband Michel. A box held newspaper clippings and musings from her long career in art.

A view of the valley before it became the Palacio Del Mar development by artist Annette Paquet.
A view of the valley before it became the Palacio Del Mar development by artist Annette Paquet.

(Karen Billing)

“As an artist I speak in terms of color, line and shape. Landscape fascinates me,” she wrote in a typed statement on fragile, aged paper and signed with her signature. “I paint from nature, from a scene I find exciting, then through selection, omission and emphasis of that which I feel, I try to put down on paper of canvas a simplification…a touch of the essence…it may be the way sunlight is falling…or certain colors that tell a mood…or the fascinating shapes of things in relation to one another.”

The Brooklyn-born Paquet had always loved art. In 1957, she got her bachelor of fine arts degree from the Pratt Institute in New York City, where she lived until she was 25. After a stopover in Florida, Annette and her husband bought an acre of land in 1969 in Del Mar Mesa.

Daughter Susanne, who now lives in the family home, recalls fondly those early days growing up on the mesa.

“We were out in the sticks,” she said of their home off a dirt road off a two-lane Carmel Valley Road. In the beginning, their address was an RFD (Rural Free Delivery) Box then changed to Shaw Ridge and now Del Mar Mesa Road.

Their surroundings were mostly farms and tomato fields, Black Mountain was nothing but hillside. As a kid, Susanne rode horses all the way to Los Penasquitos Canyon and there used to be a pond where they would build rafts to float.

When Annette started painting, she worked in oil but moved on to “the beauty and excitement of transparent watercolor”: “I am entranced with the spontaneous and luminous glow that can be obtained through this media,” she wrote.

A plein air artist, she immersed herself in nature, not having to go much farther than her own backyard and around the mesa.

Carmel Valley grew around them. Paquet’s paintings pre-date SR-56, before the homes filled the horizon, before one rounded hilltop in an oft-painted view from her home became a tee box of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar’s golf course. What was once eucalyptus groves and farms is now multi-million dollar estates. Among Susanne’s favorites are Paquet’s view of the valley below, cows and all, that is now the Palacio Del Mar development.

She painted scenes that included local history like the Stephens home built in 1905 by the Sisters of Mercy nuns, the little schoolhouse on Carmel Valley Road that became a German restaurant called Rudi’s Hidden Acres, and the Carmel Valley Cemetery, found below by what is now St. Therese of Carmel. In the paintings, Susanne can point out the cows and horses by name— “That’s Mr. Nectal, the farmer,” she said of a man ambling in the foreground of one sprawling landscape.

“It’s completely different than what it is now and with her paintings, people get to see what it actually looked like,” Susanne said.

In a 2005 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune headlined “Watercolor artist laments lost wilderness,” Paquet was quoted as saying “Landscapes are where my heart is.” When development took over some of her favorite natural landscapes, she found new ones to paint. She often ventured out to paint Torrey Pines State Reserve, visiting at the same time of day in order to capture the same light.

Throughout the years, her work won top awards in shows such as the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies, Western Colorado Watercolor Society National Exhibition, Foothills Festival of Art-San Diego, the San Diego Art Institute, and the San Diego County Fair Exhibition of Art.

She also had a passion for teaching art.

She was an art professor at Mira Costa College and San Diego Community College District, which published her book “Painting with Watercolor.” As a teacher she led workshops with the San Diego Watercolor Society and outdoor painting classes with students.

“Most of her classes were filled with repeat students and a lot of professional artists took her class,” Susanne said. “There are a lot of disappointed artists that can’t take her class anymore.”

Paquet stopped painting five years ago when her husband died but she still taught artists, up until four months before she passed away.

Inside the studio, all of the works are the originals, Paquet made very few if any copies. “When I sell them, they’re gone, which is really hard,” Susanne said.

She is proud of her mother’s work and has kept many paintings for herself, the ones that best capture the place she calls home, the ones where she recognized detours in her style, and the ones in which she can most feel her mother’s essence.

She is happy to share her works with local residents, offering pieces of the valley’s history.

“Instead of packing them away, it would be nice if they could find a good home,” she said.

The home studio is located at 5131 Del Mar Mesa Road.

A view from atop Del Mar Mesa by artist Annette Paquet.
A view from atop Del Mar Mesa by artist Annette Paquet.

(Karen Billing)