Sada Jane Cuzick is sitting on the floor of the dressing room in Magpie Gallery & Boutique playing peek-a-boo with the navy-blue velvet curtain doorway hanging beside her. Her bright blue eyes light up every time she pulls the curtain back from her round pudgy face. She's gurgling, giggling and slobbering a bit.
The almost-1-year-old baby girl belongs to David Cuzick and Meegan Nolan Cuzick, the young couple who own and operate Magpie, the one-room boutique and gallery on Fern Street in South Park. Meegan and David have been running the space since 2004 as a venue for vintage and local independent clothing lines and an art gallery exhibiting local and regional emerging artists. Business has been good, they say; they've been drawing in big crowds at both the monthly art openings and frequent trunk shows they hold in-store, but they're ready for a change.
"Magpie is a huge amount of work," says David. "It's been a lot of fun, but it's like having another child."
David's hands are covered in paint, his eyes bloodshot. He hasn't slept in more than 24 hours; instead, he's been busy finishing up pieces for an art show the next day in Los Angeles.
"For now," he continues, "we're just going to simplify things in our lives and do our own stuff."
By "own stuff," David means his and Meegan's artwork and clothing. Both are painters -- they paint pop-art characters that are sometimes cute and sometimes sullen, often using wood as a canvas -- and Meegan heads up their new line, Squares and Circles, which specializes in baby clothes, handmade dresses, skirts, blouses, purses and accessories for women and T-shirts for both men and women. The bulk of the baby clothes are American Apparel and organic cotton onesies with heat transfers of Meegan's paintings emblazoned across the front.
The pair say they opened Magpie with the idea that it'd last forever, or at least a long while, but the business venture has inspired them to branch out and focus on their own creative ventures rather than facilitate others'.
"Having Magpie showed us that it's not as hard as we thought it was," says Meegan.
"If an artist comes by and says, "Do you want to look at my work because I'd really like to have a show here?' -- if we like their work, we give them a show. It's that easy. It's not like there's a bunch of red tape."
Soon after their lease at Magpie is up in January, the Cuzicks plan to pack into their '85 Toyota van and head across the country. They've researched different galleries and boutiques they'll hit up along the way. The hope is to establish wholesale contacts for their clothing line and schedule a few art shows before they settle in Ashville, N.C., where Meegan's family lives and the cost of housing isn't quite as outrageous as it is in San Diego.
Much of the courage for the big change stems from an art show Meegan and David had at Magpie in February. After an artist flaked at the last minute, the pair decided to hang their own work. It was the first time Meegan had ever shown her paintings in public. She was surprised when she sold every piece and got commissions to do more. David, too, sold most of his work by the end of the show.
"We launched ourselves," Meegan laughs.
"Yeah, it was definitely narcissistic of us," adds David, "but it was fun."
When the Cuzicks moved to San Diego from San Francisco, they came with the belief that the city had an active art scene; it just needed a little boost. "We wanted to try and help with it as much as we could," David says.
And help they have. Meegan and David have become central figures in the lives of many local artists and designers who use the space to help support themselves. Artists and designers drop by Magpie regularly to say hello or to just sit and talk shop.
"Magpie is really unique," says Krystina Grammatica, the local designer who runs Grammatique Creative Endeavors, a clothing and accessory line that's been carried by Magpie for the last year and a half. "A store in San Diego [selling] both local designers and art-it's the only one of their kind."
Grammatica is so supportive of Magpie that she's considering buying it. She says she recognizes its importance as a business, but more so as a place where artists and designers can meet and network. "I feel like it has a strong vibe," Grammatica says. "People are attracted to it."
Little Sada's on the ground now and she's playing with a set of keys. She starts to fuss when she's not the center of everyone's attention.
"I think there are definitely people who are trying to get the art scene connected," says Meegan as she swooped down to pick Sada up, "but it's really discouraging because even since we've opened, we've seen a lot of galleries go under. It's a total labor of love; you just have to work and work and work and it's just like pulling teeth sometimes to get people interested in what you're doing."
"But I think it'll take hold here," David adds "There are a lot of people that get excited about art shows, and there are a lot of talented people here."
"If we find somebody who wants to buy Magpie and keep it going," David continues, "that would be great. If not, then not. I'm sure something else will pop up."
The Cuzicks' last show as the owners of Magpie, Twinklepie, a group show featuring the works of more than 40 artists-including Albert Reyes, Wilson Hsu, Lesley Reppeteaux, Jasmine Worth and the Cuzicks themselves-opens from 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Dec. 16, at Magpie, 2205 Fern St. in South Park. www.magpielovesyou.com or 619-563-5124.