morning as I sat in my china painting
class I had the eeriest feeling that
somehow I had been strangely transported
back through time one hundred years
or more. Here I was a sensible 41-year-old
mother of three and college teacher,
suddenly believing that I was in a time
warp. As I sat in my familiar place
in the unique studio of my teacher,
Millie Jones, I wondered what had triggered
this strange feeling today? With a new
awareness I mentally retraced my steps
of that morning.
the feeling began on the way to class.
I had driven slowly by the fabulous
new basilica across the street from
Millie's which is being completed next
to the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano.
That mission, famous for the mysterious
return of the swallows each March 19th,
is finally getting back a near replica
of the wonderful old stone church lost
in the earthquake of 1812. Was it the
grandeur of the breathtaking new church
or the silent strength of the old mission?
Or did it occur as I drove toward class
and crossed a time line instead of a
railroad track. I felt myself to be
back in an era of yesteryear.
I entered the timeless world known as
Los Rios, which is the heart of the
historic district of San Juan Capistrano,
California. I thought about this ancient
street. I remembered that it is said
to be the oldest street in all of California
where people have continually lived.
In fact, the adobe house right next
to Millie Jones' property once belonged
to Feliciano Rios, one of the first
mission soldiers, whose relatives today
continue to occupy the same tiny adobe.
I reflected on the rich history of the
area. Here beneath blue skies of spring
where ocean breezes sweep the mind clean,
it somehow seems important to reflect
on one's heritage.
recall now that I looked across the
tiny lane, past the art studio to an
absolutely immaculate Victorian style
structure known as the O-Neill home
which has been moved to its present
site and restored to house the local
historical society and museum.
eye continued down the dusty lane and
the clock seemed to turn back to 1794
when the little ramshackle neighborhood
began, even then much as it is today.
For hundreds of years before that however,
it was part of the peaceful village
of the Juaneno Indian tribe. In fact,
as I thought of the Indians, I had looked
the other way down the street to see
if I could see the home of Millie's
daughter. She is Jennifer Baldridge
and she lives in a quaint wood-sided
home that once belonged to Juaneno chief,
Clarence Lobo. The Lobo family can trace
their origins back to the days before
the arrival of the Spanish explorers!
remembered as I retraced that morning,
that I had parked my car and walked
into the tree- shaded lane. I had noticed
the colorful morning glories creeping
silently across sagging porches, the
rich and muted crow of some distant
rooster, and I had inhaled the scent
of freshly mowed grass mixed with the
familiar barnyard smells. I had smiled
as I thought of the huge blonde Clydesdale-type
horses named Duke and Dan which Millie
and her handsome husband, Gil, so proudly
keep in the large corral behind their
reminded me of where I was headed. Art
class. My attention quickly focused
on the charming old one story early
California style house on the corner.
The signs in front of it once declared:
"Carriage for hire." "Home of Delfina
Olivares in the 1890's", and a more
modern sign, "Porcelain Art Creations."
my journey back in time I recalled how
dreadful that property had been eight
years ago, before Millie and Gil got
the restoration spirit and purchased
the three dilapidated old structures
which rested on over an acre of property.
Gil restored the front house and created
such a charming art studio for Millie
that it received the prestigious San
Juan Beautiful award for excellence
that year. It was also declared an historic
site by the state of California. The
house behind the front house was in
such disrepair that it had to be raised.
However, Gil was able to salvage much
of the original material so that the
house he built is really a replica of
its former self. Today it is a charming
blend of the old and the new and is
the personal residence for Millie and
Gil. Millie has added such touches as
her won hand-painted tiles in the bathroom,
which go beautifully with the lovely
floral carpeting and her own hand-painted
porcelain pieces. The third structure
was an interesting old bathhouse, which
had been moved onto the property in
1936. It had come from a famous old
Hot Springs in the area. Now it is something
of a gallery for the Jones' collection
of memorabilia as well as an office
for Gil's construction company.
stared as I had realized that my little
mental meanderings were about to make
me late for class. I moved along more
briskly and came to the picket gate
in front of Porcelain Art Creation.
I opened it. I passed a sleeping German
Shephard, several idle chickens and
then I silently slipped by the familiar
sight of sleeping little Lacey Baldridge.
At nine months of age, the tiny blonde
granddaughter of Millie was fast asleep
in her porch swing with her bottle still
in her mouth.
entering the studio, my eyes noticed
the interior as they had never before.
I saw gleaming tables filled with pristine
white china. I noticed the old gramophone
in the corner by the collection of antique
dolls and then my eyes rested on the
glistening surfaces of the private collection
of antique porcelain which Millie has
treasured and stored in specially lighted
and secured cabinets which line the
back walls of the studio. What a sight
all of this was! And busy at work were
my fellow classmates, many of who have
been painting with Millie since she
began in the 1960's. Many of the students
are teachers themselves by now but they
so enjoy the unique atmosphere at the
Los Rios studio that they keep coming
remember taking my place. It was at
that point that I had realized that
I had been lost in time. I pulled myself
to the present and examined the lovely
lady gowned in a long-skirted Victorian
dress reminiscent of the colorful past
of early California. She is Millie Jones
and she made all of this happen. I recalled
the celebration last year of National
Porcelain Art month so beautifully orchestrated.
I remembered how all of the members
of the Orange County Porcelain Artists
climbed up into the huge hay wagon driven
by Gil Jones and pulled by those big
Belgium horses, Duke and Dan. We here
quite a sight as Gil drove us through
the historic streets of San Juan Capistrano.
The tourists stopped and waved to us
as we clopped by. What a memorable time,
and all made possible through the quiet
efforts of Millie Jones.
it is more than the historic area, or
the lace curtains at the windows or
the occasional egg some forgetful chicken
has mistakenly laid by the front door.
Rather it is a special feeling. It is
a feeling of peacefulness, reverence
for nature, the past and a real appreciation
for the beautiful. In five years I have
never heard Millie say or do anything
which was unkind. Each day she is filled
with the joy of life. Today she was
so excited about three new baby goats
born in the little pen in the backyard.
it all seems so right. The past and
the present locked together in this
could clearly see then why my flight
into fantasy. It all just fits so well.
Here we are enjoying an art form that
dates back to early man. The Chinese
perfected the production and decoration
of hard paste porcelain between the
7th and the 14th centuries. Marco Polo
explored China and brought back porcelain
in 1295. It was the envy of European
royalty. After four hundred years of
attempts western man finally discovered
the secrets of making porcelain. A German
alchemist named Johann Bottger in 1715
was finally the person to master the
secrets. After that, serious production
and decoration of porcelain proliferated
throughout Europe. Finally in the 1870's
porcelain painting spread across the
Atlantic to be a popular past time of
the ladies of the 19th century.
before that time, however, those Indian
women of the Los Rios area sat along
the banks of the Trabuco Creek, which
courses toward the Pacific Ocean behind
Millie's studio. I could almost see
them as they meticulously shaped eating
vessels out of adobe clay and water
and later, decorating them with paints
and beads. Such a rich and colorful
heritage from ancient man, to western
man, beautifully preserved and protected
here on Los Rios Street with Mr. and
Mrs. Gil Jones. We hail the artists
of Los Rios Street of the past and glory
in being the Los Rios Artists of the