An Artist’s Connection to Nature


J. Paloma Glass Sees Beauty and Artistry in the World Around Us

Paloma's interest in interior design and art is grounded in a love of nature and Mother Earth.

Art. Beauty. Nature. Those are three interconnected words that have great meaning in the life and work of J. Paloma Glass, co-founder of Olde World Artisans in San Diego.

A decorative artist with a background in interior design, Paloma grew up in a canyon with oak trees and a river running through it. “I spent most of my childhood in that canyon,” she recalls. “I honestly think I had a greater connection with plants rather than people at that time.”

In her adult life, Paloma has been disappointed to see how urbanization has disrupted so much of the natural beauty in the world. “It seems strange to see that the city I grew up in, San Diego, has separated itself from nature so much,” she says.

Of course, San Diego is not alone in that regard. Many cities have followed similar paths of urban expansion that leave natural resources as a secondary consideration. “We tear things down—trees and everything else—to build a home and then we replant around it,” Paloma says. “That makes no sense to me. It’s not showing respect for what was there in the first place.”

As she pursues art as a livelihood, Paloma gives a great deal of thought about how all of us can live a better life as characterized by a closer relationship with nature and with one another. It is one of her goals to create what she calls “a sustainable community with individuals working together in harmony to create a place of peace, beauty, love, authenticity, creativity, cooperation, respect and joy for everyone, including the plant and animal kingdom and our Mother Earth.”

It’s a pretty lofty goal, and Paloma admits that it will take considerable time to achieve. In the meantime, she is using her life’s work to bring beauty to the surroundings of her clients.

This project by Paloma features custom-made Saltillo bricks applied to a wall.

Parental Influences

Much of Paloma’s values about art, beauty and nature come directly from her parents. Regarding her mother, Paloma says, “She taught me to love and respect nature at a level that I will never even come close to. She taught me to work hard, show up on time, have integrity and do what you say you’re going to do.”

Paloma’s appreciation for art, meanwhile, came largely from her father. “He named me after Paloma Picasso, Picasso’s daughter, so he might have known that I would be going in that direction,” she reports.

Paloma’s father wasn’t an artist himself, though he did love to paint and enjoyed looking at the paintings of the great masters. “We had paintings by the masters plastered all over the walls,” Paloma says. “I remember having to memorize that ‘This is a Degas, and this is a Michelangelo,’ so I was exposed to the masters at a very young age.”

However, Paloma didn’t feel that she had the talent to pursue a fine arts career. “A part of me always knew that I would never be able to paint like the masters, so I was drawn toward being an interior designer. I liked the idea of walking into a space and being able to affect how it makes you feel.”

With that in mind, Paloma made a decision to attend the Design Institute of San Diego. After graduating with a degree in Art and Design in 1986, she began work as an interior designer. After a couple years, she moved from interior design into the decorative painting profession. This proved to be a more satisfying career path for her, since it combined her artistic leanings with her ability to plan a space.

“Having an interior design background has helped me a lot,” Paloma says. “I have clients who rely on me to decide colors for them and use my design knowledge, so my interior design experience has been quite essential to my business.”

Olde World Artisans has seen a surge in cabinetry and furniture refinishing. This project in a master bath features a cabinetry finish of a French wash with gold accents.

Important Partnerships

After working with an established faux-finishing business, Paloma teamed up with an old friend from high school, Vulfie Munson, who had been working as a painting contractor. In 1988, they formed Old World Artisans and began doing faux-finishing, Venetian plaster and murals for a variety of high-end residential and commercial clients.

Paloma recalls that there were very few women working in the trades during the early days of her career. “I was almost always mistaken for the cleaning lady,” she says. At the time, she felt somewhat out of place as a female entrepreneur seeking help in a male-dominated business world. “It’s such a pleasure for me now to see young women starting businesses, and it’s so obvious how much times have changed.”

A few years into her new career, Paloma had a fateful encounter at a home and garden show. She met a man named Bruce Lamb, who asked her to participate in creating a faux-finishing video. She participated in the making of the video, and this eventually led to the two of them working together to produce a nationally syndicated television show entitled “American Home Repair.” The show aired in 37 cities, reaching more than 11 million homes, for more than five years.

“It turned out to be a lot of fun, and it actually worked out really well since the two of us wound up getting married,” Paloma reports. Eventually, Bruce went on to have a successful career as an inventor, publisher and app designer. A travel case he developed for guitars is used by many well-known musicians.

Meanwhile, Paloma continued to do faux and decorative painting projects in partnership with Vulfie. “Each of us has our specialties, so whichever one of us is better at something, we just take the ball and run with it,” she says. “It’s actually worked out really well.”

One trait that Paloma and Vulfie share is the ability to adapt their business to changing times. That’s probably why they’ve been able to keep their business going, even during the devastating recession that occurred within the last decade.

“San Diego got hit really hard by the recession, and a lot of finishers went under,” Paloma recalls. “There were a few years where we were really struggling to make ends meet, but we hung in there. We started picking up more and more cabinet jobs because people didn’t have the money to be ripping out their cabinets, and yet they wanted an updated look.”

Even as the economy has improved, cabinetry and furniture finishing continues to be a major part of Old World Artisans’ business. Paloma is also glad to see that the improving economy has brought out a more adventurous side in some clients.

“Our latest project, for instance, involves making concrete additions to fireplace mantles as well as building coffered ceilings and gothic archways using plasters, resins and foam to give the interior a Renaissance feel,” she says. “It’s fun to work with someone who’s willing to do something because they plan to stay in their home and are not worried about resale. It gives you more free rein to create something unique.”

Paloma's partner in Olde World Artisans is Vulfie Munson, whose talents extend from painting to sculpting.

Both Paloma and Vulfie have a creative sensibility that carries into endeavors beyond their decorative painting business. For instance, Vulfie has gained renown for the innovative sculptures he has created for the Burning Man art and cultural phenomenon that takes place annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. In the past, Vulfie has created innovative art cars and theme camps for this event, which takes place around Labor Day and attracts more than 60,000 people each year. His current project for this year’s event is a sculpture of a centaur pulled by winged putti.

For the past three years, Paloma has lent Vulfie a hand in painting his Burning Man pieces. She plans to participate again this year. “It’s his thing, but I’ll be out there helping when he gets to the part where we have to paint the sculpture with bronze and patinas as well as the plinth block that it will be sitting upon,” Paloma explains.

A Blueprint for Sustainable Living

Meanwhile, Paloma is also making progress on her ambition to create a sustainable community. She has already developed a Pinterest page, called Vuelosanto (Spanish for “Sacred Flight”), which she describes as a vision and a blueprint for how human beings can come together to create a new way of living that shows respect for all living things. She is also in the process of building a website that will provide a more detailed blueprint of this vision.

These panels of a painted sky were completed for a ceiling in an executive suite.

Some day soon, Paloma hopes to visit a community in Scotland, called The Findhorn Foundation, which is a model in the type of sustainable, eco-conscious living that she espouses. Additionally, she is immersing herself in the principles of permaculture, a creative design process based on whole-systems thinking that mimics the patterns and relationships that can be found in nature. Compatible with this, Paloma is working toward becoming certified as a feng shui consultant since the principles of feng shui are very much in keeping with her desire to create harmonious and well-balanced surroundings.

Paloma’s commitment to a more earth-connected lifestyle is a counter-reaction to the dismissive attitude toward nature that she has observed throughout her life.


“I’ve always had this feeling that we don’t appreciate nature the way that we should and that many times the way we build things is lacking in beauty and authenticity,” she says. “That’s why I feel we need a blueprint that shows us how we can work together cooperatively as human beings, living together in communities where we trust one another and are surrounded by beauty and love, and where nature is working with us and we’re working with nature. It just seems so intuitive to me, but too often we’re working against nature. I think we all need to come together to make a long-term plan that makes sense for our future.”

As she proceeds with this ambitious endeavor, Paloma harkens back to the lessons she learned from her mother about hard work, integrity and making a difference in life. “She taught me that if you really feel in your heart that something is right, you have to make the decision to go in that direction,” she says, “even if it scares the hell out of you.”

With those words as her guide, Paloma has the motivation to keep going—all in the interest of advancing art, beauty and nature as the guiding principles of life.