Frances Garvin Puccinelli: 1951-2016

Nell Campbell

Frances Garvin Puccinelli was born Frances Richardson Garvin on March 20, 1951, in Lompoc to Frances Harrison Garvin and James R. Garvin. She grew up on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria and spent her childhood exploring the wilds of Montecito and the shores of Padaro Lane at Loon Point. From an early age, Franny was known as a headstrong, energetic, resolved individual set on making her own way in the world, and that she did with much gusto and fortitude. Immediately after graduating Santa Barbara High School in 1969, Franny grabbed her passport and took off for new territory. After a series of adventures, and a few youthful mishaps, she returned home to Padaro Lane to build a life and her community.

From the early 1980s to 2005, Carpinteria was Fran’s entrepreneurial studio, and she quickly earned the unofficial title Mayor of Linden Avenue because of the four thriving businesses she created. Her first success was The Deli House, known for its homemade soups and mile-high sandwiches served with friendly conversation. Before the coffeehouse craze, she opened The Coffee Grinder, and it quickly became a local hot spot and fountain of community activity. It also was a showcase for curiosities and early Latin-American folk objects. She loved folk and outsider art and started the Frances Puccinelli Gallery in 1989. She exhibited artists such as Mose Tolliver, Howard Finster, and Bessie Harvey alongside local contemporary artists. SOAP was her last retail venture before retiring, and it continues on under the ownership of Daniel Case.

During her “biz” years, Fran was an active member of the community and often led the charge and rallied people with positive action. In a Santa Barbara News-Press article from September 13, 1992, writer Kathy Price quoted Fran as saying, “When you own a business, it’s your whole life.” Longtime friend, entrepreneur, and collaborator Debbie Murphy understood this. She recalled, “Fran was committed to beauty and integrity in everything she did. When she opened The Coffee Grinder on Linden Avenue, it was a dirty, rundown street, and it looked like it was dying. Instead of complaining, Fran took out her broom and started sweeping the sidewalks every day. Within two weeks, the other business owners were onboard, and the street started to hum with life. Not long after, an official Street Committee was formed, and the community was forever transformed.”

Fran’s involvement didn’t stop at the threshold of her businesses. She was a member of the Carpinteria Valley Chamber of Commerce and served as chair of the Board of Directors in 1988. In 1986, she was one of the local leaders, along with Murphy, Rob Godfrey, Connie Korbel, Bob Ealee, and John Franklin, who founded the annual California Avocado Festival — an event celebrating its 31st anniversary this October and now boasting more than 110,000 visitors. She assisted in the establishment of the Carpinteria Arts Center, and farther north she was a diehard supporter of the Contemporary Arts Forum in downtown Santa Barbara, where she co-curated an important exhibition in 1995 with artist and designer Ginny Brush called Visions of the Left Coast: California Self-Taught and Visionary Artists. She was a dedicated advocate for small and local business, the arts, and the environment, and she was involved with dozens of worthy local nonprofits and causes, including Heal the Ocean, Carpinteria Arts Center, and Girls Club.

Behind all forces of nature, Fran had some backup in the form of her artist and designer husband, Keith Puccinelli. In April 1983, the two met through a mutual friend at a wedding where Fran was catering. It is reported on good authority that Fran came to work the next day and said, “I met my future husband last night.” It was a whirlwind courtship, and the two married on February 18, 1984. Together, they wove a dynamic web of friendship, creativity, and style they described in a 2012 interview at as “Puccinality, (poo-chin-ality), a free-wheeling yet tasteful stew of modern … meets contemporary … meets folk … Juxtaposition and surprise.” Theirs was a vibrant style infused with color, joy, grace, and much laughter.

While Franny would never call herself an artist, she was a talented and prolific crafter of textiles, mosaics, and friendships. She was a founding member of the Association of Creative Females (jokingly nicked named the Montecito Hookers), a monthly meeting of women artists who made stunning hooked rugs, pillows, and table runners that can be seen in homes throughout the county. New crafters were always welcomed, skills were shared and never hoarded, and inspiration was profoundly encouraged. Fran was a woman of action and a maker. She approached her work, no matter the task at hand, with optimistic enthusiasm and vitality. As local artist Dan Connally so aptly expressed, “Fran was always the youngest person in the room.”

In a recent message from curator and arts advocate Rita Ferri to Keith Puccinelli, she expressed it aptly, “[Fran], you were the art. You accomplished so much that you exhausted the rest of us. … No one could keep up with you … your great laugh will endure. And did I mention that your sparkling eyes are unforgettable. You were more beautiful with short brown hair than most mermaids with flaxen tresses could ever hope to be. … Fran, you are just pure love and that will live forever.”

Frances Garvin Puccinelli, age 65, passed away peacefully, with her husband, Keith Puccinelli, and sister Nancy Garvin by her side, from PSP/Parkinson’s disease on December 9, 2016, at Santa Barbara’s Serenity House. She is survived by her husband, love of her life, and partner in crime, artist Keith Puccinelli and their beloved coal-black cat, Snowball. She also leaves behind her siblings Nancy, Louise, and Harrison; their spouses and children; a great number of nieces and nephews; her sister-in-law, Jessica Puccinelli; and a vast and rich network of family, friends, and artists.

In lieu of a memorial, the exhibition Puccinality: The Handmade Life of Fran and Keith Puccinelli is on view through March 4 at the College of Creative Studies Art Gallery at UCSB. Messages to the family can be sent to 1409 Portesuello Avenue, Santa Barbara, CA 93105. The family extends special thanks to all those at Hospice of Santa Barbara and Serenity House. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a gift in Fran Puccinelli’s name to these two organizations.


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