Shedding its senior center identity, the Camera Obscura building at Palisades Park reemerges as a community arts-and-crafts center for everyone

By Michael Aushenker

Sara Smelt leads a class on creating wet felted pods and ruffle scarves at 1450 Ocean

Sara Smelt leads a class on creating wet felted pods and ruffle scarves at 1450 Ocean

The biggest challenge Santa Monica’s 1450 Ocean faces in its conversion from senior center to creative center is not a problem of identity, but awareness.

Last year the city repurposed the midcentury Camera Obscura building at Palisades Park into a community center offering a diverse mix of arts-and-craft programming — “a place to learn salsa moves, enhance your blogging skills, design a font, mix a perfume, fuse glass, solder a circuit board or tile a mosaic table,” according to its own literature.

“People don’t know at all that we are doing this,” said Isa Naomi Okuyama, a city cultural affairs coordinator who has been overseeing activities for the facility at 1450 Ocean Ave. since April. “We want to say, ‘Hey, there is something going on down at this beautiful spot by the ocean — check it out!’”

To that end, 1450 Ocean has named a February artist in residence: Luke Haynes, who will guide workshop participants in the creation of a community quilt to be unveiled March 1.

A photorealistic quilt-maker whose past works have included a merged portrait of Jay-Z and Kanye West, Haynes will guide participants in making of the quilt from donated fabric over the next two Saturdays.

“There are a lot of stories in my work, and they start with people — the people who used the material before me, and the people who can get use out of my art,” Haynes said.

This Saturday’s workshop, which Haynes describes as “a big sew-a-thon,” is dubbed “The Bernina Sewing Machine Trunk Show” due to support by sewing machine manufacturer Bernina International.

Each workshop holds around 20 students.

“I want to say, ‘Hey, guys, this isn’t hard! All you have to do is to be able to sew two pieces of fabric together,’” Haynes said.

Haynes will also hold “office hours” at 1450 Ocean from noon to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays “for people who are just interested in what he’s doing or specifically interested in quilt making,” Okuyama said.

After the March 1 unveiling at a community reception, Santa Monica’s community quilt will be donated to Step Up on Second in honor of the nonprofit housing and mental health resource center’s 30th anniversary.

Even though Haynes studied traditional fine arts and architecture at New York’s Cooper Union college, he could not resist the influence of growing up in southern Appalachia, where “a lot of craft work with functionality” is created, he said.

“It’s kind of this tactile exploration, taking existing parts and combining them to make something larger,” Haynes said of quilt-making.

Haynes spent years working in Seattle, where he displayed work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s headquarters, before moving six months ago to The Brewery art colony in Los Angeles. In December Haynes participated in a group show at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, with The New York Times describing his work as “more brash and attitudinal than the other works here,” adding that “his nods to Americana tend to take the form of hipster irony” and that his portraits of friends combine “the longevity of the old-fashioned keepsake with the instantaneousness of social media.”

Okuyama said Haynes’ work was appealing for the center because it straddles the line between crafts and contemporary art.

“It’s a big deal for 1450 Ocean, because this is the first time we’ve done a residency,” she said.

After remodeling the Ken Edwards Center at 1527 4th St., the city consolidated all senior center programming there and launched the 1450 Ocean concept in April. It was only a few months ago that the old senior center sign came down from the façade of the midcentury, Googie-style recreation center at Palisades Park, which continues to house its original Camera Obscura.

“We’re trying to grow organically, said Okuyama, who also runs cultural programming at the Annenberg Community Beach House. “We’re really listening to the public. We keep unveiling new kinds of classes. Last month, our hat-making classes were well received. People really want to make hats.”

Another popular workshop series— a tie-in with the city’s GLOW festival in September — saw 50-some people per session making LED Plexiglas light sticks programmed to cycle through different colors and patterns.

In March, jeweler Sharon Kaplan will teach enameling on copper (making what Okuyama likened to a “sophisticated, adult version” of the kind of pendants kids often create at summer camp), while other workshops will include soap-making and crochet.

In April, Kaplan returns for an enamel-on-silver course, and the venue will also host classes on making straw hats and a gathering called “Repair Café,” in which participants can tinker with everything from broken toasters to busted iPhones.

Future ideas include workshops utilizing a postcard-making letter press.

“People love to learn something specific. People want to do activities where they can come away with something,” Okuyama said. “We have a lot of room to grow.”

Luke Haynes’ quilt-making workshops continue from noon to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and noon to 2 p.m. on Feb. 22, with office hours from noon to 4 p.m. each Tuesday in February, at 1450 Ocean, 1450 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. A reception for the unveiling of the community quilt is from 5 to 8 p.m. on March 1. Call (310) 458-2239 or visit and