By Neil Farrell for Morro Bay Life

MORRO BAY — Morro Bay could be joining a long list of universities, National Parks, and cities the world over that have been “immortalized” by folk artist and jigsaw puzzle maker extraordinaire Eric Dowdle, who recently visited our sleepy little fishing village, hosted by the town’s oldest non-profit, beautification group.

Ann Reisner with Morro Bay Beautiful has been working on creating a Morro Bay-inspired folk art puzzle by the world-famous Dowdle that would initially be sold exclusively in Morro Bay at select outlets for a year and then marketed to the world.

Reisner told Morro Bay Life that she and her husband Ron have been working a couple of jigsaw puzzles a week for entertainment during the Coronavirus Pandemic. She has several of Dowdle’s collectible puzzles and started to formulate an idea to have one made of Morro Bay. 

The Dowdle Puzzle Co., she explained, specializes in puzzles of tourist destinations. Places like Rome, Paris, and London, as well as Denver, Colo., Washington, D.C., Huntington Beach, Cabo San Lucas, Solvang, and countless others, have been produced. 

Dowdle also produces custom puzzles of just about anything or anyone; just send him a photograph (see: dowdlefolkart.com). He also hosts a blog on Amazon discussing his work.

Reisner said at first they had trouble getting the company to pay any attention.

“At first, they wouldn’t call us back,” Reisner recalled. “We sent them pictures of what we thought represented Morro Bay and got no response. Then they called us.”

The original painting by Dowdle himself runs $40,000, she said, and then they need another $17,000 to get the puzzles made. She’s been going around town visiting businesses that might help sponsor the project and be included in the image, which could be described as a layered series of snapshots. 

Indeed, Dowdle’s puzzles of other famous places are colorful and extremely detailed. It’s the sort of image that you see something different every time you look at it.

A bio on the Dowdle website describes his work: “His whimsical, patriotic art stirs nostalgic and cheerful emotions for what makes our vast world intimate and extraordinary. Rich rural landscapes of homes and farms, cityscapes featuring customs and foods, playful families and the traditions that keep them together are all common features in a Dowdle painting.”

They said Morro Bay had reached its Sesquicentennial Anniversary in 2019, something Reisner said she hadn’t known. (According to Wikipedia, Morro Bay was founded by Franklin Riley in 1870 as a port for the export of dairy and ranch products.) So their initial interest in the puzzle was in celebration of that milestone.

Reisner said the company decided to do a Morro Bay puzzle whether they could commission the painting or not.

Morro Bay Beautiful is putting up the money for the artwork, and Reisner said they are amassing the rest through business sponsors, a $5,000 allocation from the Tourism Business Improvement District or TBID, which promotes lodging businesses in town. She hopes the City will chip in as well.

Reisner said they hope to have the puzzles ready for sale sometime in July. The puzzles normally retail for $24.95, and they will be available at several locations in town (to be announced later). Reisner said Morro Bay Beautiful would get a percentage of those first-run puzzles.

Morro Bay Beautiful will have exclusive rights to sell them for the first year, and then Dowdle will market them to the world. 

“This is going to be big,” she said. They will be available in stores like Costco and everywhere Dowdle Puzzles are sold, including on the company’s website. 

And readers should also be able to buy Giclee, canvas, and poster prints in different sizes of the Morro Bay artwork through the website’s fine art section.

Reisner said they planned to take Dowdle and his creative people on a grand tour when he came to town in mid-March, including a harbor tour on the water with the Harbor Patrol. There he should see the rich marine life — sea lions and otters — Morro Bay is famous for, and that is sure to make the puzzle’s final image.

Reisner said when the painting and the puzzles are completed, they would hold a grand unveiling and again host the artist.

For more information, call Reisner at (805)772-8117.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles