At an early age, local artist Julie Dunn had free rein with her love of art. “I was allowed to paint on many things—even the walls of my bedroom,” she said. The Pridham family lived in an Eichler Home in Orange County, where ceiling-to-floor glass and modernistic design were hallmarks of the famous architect. “It was like living in the outdoors,” Julie said. “I was fortunate to grow up in a privileged middle-class neighborhood during the heyday of education in California. I discovered at a young age that I loved art; my surroundings and my mother’s encouragement boosted my confidence.”
Julie’s dad Don Pridham, a Costa Mesa, CA native, had a career in industrial arts; mom Trudy, an art, homemaking and science teacher, met her husband in Santa Barbara. Julie was born at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach; her siblings are older brother, Dwight and younger brother, Brian. Julie particularly recalls her mother’s artistic side. “My mom should have become a painter,” she said. “She studied in Corona del Mar with Rex Brandt and Joan Irving.” But, said Julie, “She didn’t have the tough skin and confidence that it takes to make it as a professional artist, and chose to teach school instead.” However, that didn’t keep Trudy from instilling in her children, and other kids in the neighborhood, that they should embrace art and music, and pursue any opportunities available to them.
Those early seeds of inspiration, and what Julie describes as an idyllic childhood, led to her decision to pursue and obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Fullerton in Drawing and Painting, and later a teaching credential in Art from National University, enabling her to combine her love of art with teaching. The academic achievements enabled her to travel the world, own her own businesses, enrich the lives of her students, and offer a view of the world through her work that reflects an uplifting vision of the landscapes and life around us.
Currently, Julie and her husband, woodworker Roger Combs, live in Atascadero. She recently opened Park Street Gallery in Paso Robles along with co-proprietor Peggy Turk last September and is excited about this newest venture. After having previously co-owned The Gallery at the Network in SLO for 15 years, Julie felt it was time for a change and searched for gallery spaces in the North County. She and Peggy found the perfect spot in downtown Paso Robles, with its quaint yet upscale wine-country vibe that lends itself perfectly to an arts atmosphere, and more importantly, the chance to grow a successful art gallery business.
The path to this current life has been an adventure involving after-college travels to Europe, (“I wanted to go back and live in France!”), to working at GPRA Architects & Engineers for five years, getting married to an engineer, getting divorced, then living for three years in Saipan with her young son Ian Wood, while teaching art to the Jr. High School kids in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Next came marriage to her second husband, Chris Dunn, an Australian man she met on the island, the birth of their daughter, Samantha Dunn, and later the family’s return to Orange County. When her then-husband was hired as a psych nurse at Atascadero State Hospital, Julie’s Central Coast life began.
After meeting with the principal of San Gabriel Elementary in Atascadero, Julie was hired as the artist-in-residence, and facilitator for the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program that she later transformed into an all-school enrichment program for grades 3 – 6, offering an after-school opportunity for students to pursue subjects like Spanish, marine biology, chemistry, chess, Create-a-Culture, mythology, Art of the Masters and advanced math, just to name a few. “We brought great programs to the school. Even now I run into former students in the grocery store who tell me, ‘I still love art,’” she says. Once Julie’s own children moved into higher grades she returned to the pursuit of her own work full time, though she noted, “I really enjoyed that time of my life.”
Immersing herself into the local art scene, Julie helped to grow SLO County Arts Obispo’s “Art After Dark” in San Luis, which over the past couple decades has become immensely popular and spawned similar programs in other communities, including Paso Robles. Simultaneously, she participated in the SLO County Open Studios Tour, several local art festivals, and enjoyed success at the gallery in downtown SLO that she co-owned with partners, Rosanne Seitz, Linda Lewis, and Dotty Hawthorne.
During this time, Julie was introduced to local woodworker Roger Combs, who was featured as a guest at the gallery. “I actually met his woodwork before I met him,” she said of her husband-to-be. “We became friends, then we dated, and now we’ve been married for five years,” she said, noting, “Roger loves to cook—sushi is a specialty of his and he even gets hired to cater sushi parties.” Currently showing his work in the new Park Street Gallery, Roger’s fine art specialty is making unique furniture using domestic and foreign hardwoods. Together, the two are also avid gardeners, with 18 fruit trees and seven raised beds, from which Roger regularly harvests vegetables for their favorite dishes.
Of her “off” time, Julie says, “Although in public I’m pretty outgoing and social, I’m actually very much a reclusive person by nature. For personal fun, I love being in my garden and having time to myself. My garden is my sanctuary and we’ve hand-built all the elements to resemble a park.” She’s also enjoying the time to devote to her specialized technique, Tempera Batik painting on paper, and offering luscious artwork featuring imagery of Central Coast and desert landscapes, exotic flowers and endangered species.
Most people who’ve met Julie see her as a beautiful, energetic, and fun spirit—indeed, she says she loves all forms of art including music and dance. In addition, she is generous and contributes to the community in many ways. She has been especially helpful to the Friends of Atascadero Library, donating artworks for their annual Dancing with Our Stars, and also being a dancer one of the years to raise money for the new library building. She’s served on the Atascadero Parks and Recreation Commission and has donated to CAPS, KCBX, Central Coast Aquarium, SLO Symphony, AAUW, local schools, women’s shelters; “Pretty much anything environmental, educational, or for the arts” she says.
Julie still holds high regard for the value of education, particularly when provided early on. “People can be taught—in art or any other area—if they have desire. Then, it’s practice, practice, practice. It’s really critical that they have opportunities at an early age—a lot happens during that time,” she said. “In Julie Dunn’s world there would be big-time funding for Vocational, Visual & Performing Arts, Science, and physical education programs. Kids would want to go to school.”
Though Julie’s life has been all about art—her own works and also arts education—she says, “It’s a helluva way to make a living. It’s not like being a doctor or a lawyer or an Indian chief,” she laughs, “but I can’t think of doing anything else, it’s my passion.” She still shows at local arts exhibits a couple times a year and holds workshops. However, she says, “This is my third gallery, I plan to retire from here.” Fortunately, she’s not in any hurry. “Creating and selling art is what makes me happy,” she says.