EL CENTRO — For the past 40 years, Denise Ryan has painted seasonal thematic subjects on glass windows of businesses in Imperial Valley cities. Glass windows were her canvases and buildings, her easels.
Last week, she called one of her regular clients to schedule painting a Christmas theme on the windows — only to learn that the attorney who owned the law office recently passed away.
“As a memorial for him, I’ll paint it for nothing,” said Ryan, referring to Attorney Robert Espinosa. “I’ve painted his office windows for the past 20 years.”
Beneath the message painted in cursive script, Merry Christmas, Ryan drew a small sign with the letters — In memory of Robert Espinosa. Painted around the sign were green shrubs and Pine trees sprinkled with snowflakes.
Ryan’s decorative painting business took a toll with the pandemic. According to the 65-year-old window painter, business dropped by about 75 percent because many small businesses, including beauty shops, closed. “People don’t have money. It is very difficult for them.”
But this Christmas, Ryan’s clients started calling again. “Business is picking up, but it can go away.” Right after Thanksgiving, clients began calling her again. Since that time, Ryan has painted the windows of 30 businesses and four homes across El Centro, Calexico, Brawley, Westmorland, and Niland. Prices are affordable and she provides window cleanup right after the season ends.
Her husband, Martin, helps with transportation, loading and unloading painting materials — paint cans, brushes, and ladder.
“I don’t drive, I paint. He drives, he doesn’t paint,” said Ryan and laughed. Once her husband unloaded the paint materials, he drove off to get coffee for his wife of 46 years. After about 30 minutes, he arrived with two cups of coffee which she placed in on top of one of the paint cans.
According to Ryan, she used to work cleaning-up at construction sites. However, she stopped working because dust on her clothing caused health problems in her children. A job search was not successful. Nobody would give her a job. “So, I created my own job.”
Ryan first painted the trailer of her mother-in-law. It created a positive impression that she recommended that Ryan paint for hire. “Go downtown and paint the windows of businesses.”
That was 40 years ago. Even if she did not have the opportunity to go to art school, Ryan learned on the job and progressed to paint windows of local schools, city halls, convalescent hospitals, homes, parade floats, and even murals. Ryan is organized and keeps photos on her cell phone of windows she had painted. “I make sure that windows don’t have the same art.”
Before painting the windows, Ryan discusses story and subject ideas with clients. But they usually allow Ryan the freedom to express her art on their windows, “You’re the expert. You paint it,” they said.