California art history

Seeing Color in the Desert - International Artist Magazine

My article Seeing Color in the Desert (originally posted on CaliforniaDesertArt.com) has been reprinted in the August/September 2014 issue of International Artist magazine. It originally started with notes from my sketchbook about what I was observing while out painting, and what to do about certain problems that color posed or provided a solution to.

Art & USC's New Church

USC has just completed a new church on their campus called Our Savior Church. They commissioned local artists to create works to be part of the church, and included fourteen Stations of the Cross painted by Peter Adams, eight large stained glass windows created by Judson Studios in Highland Park, and a large bronze crucifixion by Christopher Slatoff (not pictured).

The author as John the Beloved.

The author as John the Beloved.

Along with a number of other artists and models including Alexey Steele, Tony Pro, Richard Probert, Junn Roca, and the Director of The Irvine Museum, Jean Stern, I posed for Peter's Stations in the role of John the Beloved (wearing white with a red headscarf). I don't usually find myself on the other end of a paintbrush, but enjoyed being a part of this process. The completed paintings are beautiful and a great contribution to the church.

Your truly as the Good Samaritan (with turquoise scarf).

Your truly as the Good Samaritan (with turquoise scarf).

Coincidentally, some of the artists from Judson Studios came over during the photo shoots for Peter's reference, and since everyone was in costume they shot reference of their own for the stained glass. You can see me again as the character of the Good Samaritan in the windows. It's slightly amusing to be able to recognize nearly all of the historic characters portrayed in the church as friends of mine. As a window into oneself and a great point for contemplation, the art complements the church and creates a wonderful experience.

Remembering Daphne Huntington (1910-2012) and Her Contributions to CAC Art History

by Eric Merrell, CAC Historian

Florence "Daphne" Huntington, c.1920’s. Courtesy Christopher Kennedy.

Florence "Daphne" Huntington, c.1920’s. Courtesy Christopher Kennedy.

It is a rare opportunity to engage in conversation with a living link to the California Art Club’s past. I had just such an opportunity when I met Daphne Huntington on a number of occasions, each of which I remember fondly. She recalled stories of her time with the CAC, both as an exhibiting member as well as the club’s Vice President. My wife Ramona and I took Daphne to the CAC’s 98th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition in 2009, held that year at the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA). Although just shy of her 99th birthday, and with more than one-hundred artworks to be seen, she was so happy to take in the entire exhibit and talk about the art that she never stopped for a break. We had lunch with her afterwards, where we heard stories about her life in Los Angeles, the film and animation industry, and the artistic personalities with whom she and her sister, Venetia Epler, worked.

Daphne Huntington and author Eric Merrell at the California Art Club’s  98th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition , PMCA, May 17, 2009.

Daphne Huntington and author Eric Merrell at the California Art Club’s 98th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition, PMCA, May 17, 2009.

Daphne Huntington, born October 24, 1910 in Ketchikan, Alaska to Franklin Epler (1891-c.1920s) and Anne Farrer Epler (1892-1994), was the eldest of three children, including sister Venetia Epler (1912-2005) and brother, Richard Epler (1913-2002). (1) Throughout their lives Daphne and Venetia were inseparable, and their friends often referred to them collectively as “The Girls.” It would be nearly impossible to describe one without including the other.

Daphne at her birth was christened Florence Daphne Epler, while Venetia was named Louise Van Ingen Epler. Neither sister liked their given names, so they often changed them; in their youth several different last names can be found on their work, including Peyton, Farrer, Quintain, and McLane (all but Quintain were family names). (2) The family resided in Hollywood, but they also for a time lived in Seattle and Colorado, and around 1921 travelled overseas from New York to England on The Turrialba, spending nearly a year with an aunt in Dunsfold, Surrey. (3)

The girls’ great-great-grandfather was the English artist Thomas Charles “T.C.” Farrer (1838-1891), a student of Pre-Raphaelite philosopher and artist John Ruskin (1819-1900) at the Working Men’s College in London. T.C. emigrated from London to New York City in 1858, and began exhibiting there and in Philadelphia. T.C.’s brother Henry Farrer (1843-1903), also an artist, joined his brother stateside in 1861. There the younger Henry became a founding member, along with William Trost Richards (1833-1905) and a handful of others on January 27, 1863, of the Association of Advancement of Truth in Art, which was based on the principles of Ruskin. (4) With their background, the Farrer brothers became leading American Ruskinians and an integral part of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in the United States (c.1860s-1880s). (5)

Other artists of note in the family include the English portrait painter Dominick Elwes (pronounced “el-wez”) (1931-1975) and his sons, painter Damian Elwes (b.1960) and actor Cary Elwes (b.1962). The girls are also related by marriage to English artist Walter Sickert (1860-1942). (6)

On another trip to England (after 1934 (7) ) the girls, along with their brother Richard and one of their British cousins, Geoffrey Alexander Farrer Kennedy (1908-1996) took part in a play titled “Spring Leaves,” which had been written by their father, Franklin Epler, a prolific poet, writer, and editor. The gala opening of the play was performed at the Court Theatre in London, with the Duke of Kent, Prince George (1902-1942) in attendance. The three siblings took to the stage in London again for the performance of another play written by their father, titled “Kept Woman,” presented at the Theatre Royal. (8)

In London, presumably on the same trip, Daphne and Venetia studied mural painting, stained glass, and mosaic at the Slade School of Fine Art and the London School of Arts and Crafts. They also took time to learn techniques of the Old Masters at the École du Louvre in Paris. (9)

The girls’ first stained glass window design was developed in England of “The Good Shepherd” for the Child’s Chapel in the Old Crusader’s Church in Compton, Surrey. Later, and in the U.S. they would create stained glass windows for churches in Beverly Hills and East Los Angeles. (10)

Back in California and living under the same roof with their mother and brother (Richard began to go blind at about age thirty, and their father had died mysteriously when the children were just teenagers), the girls continued their art studies with several well-known California artists, including Percy Gray (1869-1952), Sam Hyde Harris (1889-1977), Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939), and Claude Parsons (1895-1972). Percy Gray reportedly adored Venetia, and called her “Vanilla;” his watercolours became a big influence on the girls’ landscape work.

Along with their works of fine paintings, the multi-talented sisters designed public murals, wrote poetry, illustrated books, such as The Fables of Moronia, 1953, by Brigadier General Herbert C. Holdridge (1892-1974), and began working for Hollywood studios, including Hanna-Barbera and Warner Brothers, creating background animation artwork for early popular children’s TV programs, Bucky and Pepito (1959) and Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse (1960, Trans-Artists Productions). Later in 1973 the sisters worked together for Paramount Pictures on the highly successful full-length feature animation, Charlotte’s Web. (11) Although Venetia is usually credited for her animation work, Daphne often assisted her anonymously.

Daphne and Venetia also created ceramics and jewellery, including earrings, brooches, and various wearable adornments, and sold the work through companies bearing their brother’s name. The Richard Epler Novelty Company and Richard Epler Studios—Venetia’s Creations as well as Designs by Venetia of California are recognized today as collectible labels. Their line of Aztec-inspired turquoise ceramic-ware won them awards and publicity. (12)

Following their mother’s lead in social circles, Daphne and Venetia became closely involved with many southern California women’s and arts organizations, including the Hollywood Association of Artists, the National League of American Pen Women, National Society of Arts and Letters (Daphne served as president), the American Institute of Fine Arts (AIFA) (Daphne served as president and on the board of directors), the Women’s Club of Hollywood, San Gabriel Fine Arts Association, Artists of the Southwest, The Ebell, and the California Art Club (CAC) (Daphne served as exhibition chairman in 1960 and 1961, and vice president in 1967), among others. (13)

Daphne often assumed the role of mother hen, taking on the responsibilities of the household; this only increased when their mother fell ill. During this time it appears that Daphne’s selfless generosity, well known within her community, allowed a gypsy and his “relatives” to take advantage of the Epler family. The gypsy convinced Daphne that they needed money to aid their terminally ill child. After loaning the gypsies nearly all they had, Daphne was confronted with the sharp realization that not everyone possessed her sense of integrity.

As a member of the CAC, Daphne was the first of the two sisters to exhibit with the organization, submitting her painting, The Emerald Hour, to the 50th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition held in 1959 at the Greek Theater in Griffith Park. She exhibited as an “Invited Guest Artist,” a category that year that included other established names such as Joe Duncan Gleason (1881-1959) and Conrad Buff (1886-1975). (14) The following year, in 1960 Daphne was elected California Art Club’s Exhibition Chairman, and re-elected for a second term in 1961.

In addition to her demanding work as a volunteer exhibition organizer, she managed to exhibit her own work at The Rancho Club and the Friday Morning Club in Los Angeles, where she won first place for a landscape painting. Along with fellow CAC members, Elsie Palmer Payne (1884-1971) and CAC President Horace Edmund “H. E.” Huey (1895-1963), Daphne presented painting demonstrations at the Duncan Vail Gallery. (15)

In 1964, Daphne’s work was included in an exhibition of five California artists showing at The Waldorf-Astoria in New York City along with her mentor, Claude Parsons, and CAC artists Orpha Mae Klinker (1891-1964), Paul Lauritz (1889-1975), and Edgar Payne (1883-1947). (16)

Daphne exhibited again with the CAC in 1967 at the 58th Annual Gold Medal. In the exhibition materials, she is listed as not only an exhibiting artist, but also as the Club’s Vice President. The following year at the 59th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition (1968), Daphne won a 1st place award in the Marine category for her painting, Emerald Sea.

In four of the subsequent CAC Gold Medal exhibitions, including the 60th Annual (1969), 62nd Annual (1971), 64th Annual (1973), and the 66th Annual (1975), Venetia exhibited alongside Daphne in all but the 64th Annual (1973).

(L-R): Mrs. Wells (AIFA), Daphne Huntington, Colonel Wells (AIFA), President Richard Nixon, Venetia Epler with her portrait of President Eisenhower. Courtesy Christopher Kennedy.

(L-R): Mrs. Wells (AIFA), Daphne Huntington, Colonel Wells (AIFA), President Richard Nixon, Venetia Epler with her portrait of President Eisenhower. Courtesy Christopher Kennedy.

Venetia created many portraits—her most famous was commissioned by President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) of President Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969). The painting hung in the White House during the Nixon presidency (1969-74). The Eisenhower portrait garnered Venetia another dignitary portrait commission, this one of Peter J. Valez de Silva, the Ambassador from Malta to Guatemala, where Venetia and Daphne were invited for the unveiling. (17)

A few years later, after their brother Richard had passed away in 2002, “the girls” somehow again become the victims of a scheme by a vagrant to rob them of their house. This person had moved into the upstairs portion of their house that wasn’t in use. Cousin Christopher Kennedy declared that although the girls at times seemed almost “incapable of understanding that a human being could be even remotely dishonest,” there were clues that they might have slightly enjoyed a sense of intrigue! Daphne related to Christopher once—with a twinkle in her eye—that when the vagrant and his friends were watching movies on an ill-gotten TV in her living room, she would drink beer out of a can. During this colorful period, the girls also learned how to fire a handgun in the backyard and “how not to BBQ a steak (quite so close to the garage).” (18)

Venetia (left) and Daphne working on the painting for “The Life of Christ” mosaic at Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks and Mortuaries in Covina Hills. Courtesy Christopher Kennedy.

Venetia (left) and Daphne working on the painting for “The Life of Christ” mosaic at Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks and Mortuaries in Covina Hills. Courtesy Christopher Kennedy.

The girls have two massive mosaic murals in their oeuvre; although each bears the title “The Life of Christ,” the two mosaics are different. The earlier and larger of the two, dedicated on June 22, 1975, resides at Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks and Mortuaries in Covina Hills, California. The second, dedicated on April 9 (Good Friday) in 1993, is located at Woodlawn Memorial Park & Funeral Home in Orlando, Florida. (19)

The Covina Hills mosaic, one of the largest of its kind, (20) immediately strikes the viewer as they drive through the front gates at the memorial. Originally designed and painted in oil by Daphne and Venetia, the mural features twenty-six scenes from the life of Jesus, including a rendering of “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) as the centerpiece. The 3-story mural was created out of 13 million pieces of hand-crafted, multi-coloured Venetian glass, tesserae, painstakingly copied from the original painting by the workshop of Italian master mosaicists, Ferrari e Bacci di Bacci Enzo e Bertellotti Aldo S.n.c (Ferrari & Bacci), in Pietrasanta, Italy. The project took six years to complete while being overseen by the two sisters; when completed, the monumental mosaic measured 172 feet long, 34 feet high and contained 460 figures. (21)

The Orlando mural features twenty-three scenes from the life of Christ and includes another rendering of Da Vinci’s famous work. Ferrari & Bacci returned for their second project with the sisters, where master mosaicist Aldo Bertolotti and his son Manrico began assembling the mural using 11 million tesserae in their studio in Italy in 1989. Taking four years to complete, the mosaic measured 78 feet long by 20 feet high. (22)

The mammoth mosaic at Covina Hills carries no mention of or credit to its creators. A small inscription to be placed on the sisters’ crypt, located inside the mausoleum that bears the mosaic, will be the only visible sign. (23)

When Venetia passed away in 2005, Daphne went to her bedside and just sat holding her sister’s hand. It was one of those rare periods that the two weren’t together. Though her production slowed, Daphne continued to create artwork and write poetry in these later years, always full on energy and smiles. When she joined her sister on October 2, 2012, she was just shy of her 102nd birthday.

The following is one of the earliest poems written by Daphne Huntington. It was read at her memorial service.

HAPPINESS By Florence McLane Peyton (a.k.a. Daphne) at age 12-ish

Free, free, free With limbs of ecstasy I shall leap from crag to crag Like a bounding stag On the lightning light of morning

Higher higher I shall aspire Where that star Burns afar With a golden light adorning

From there Through the air I shall spring And swing On festoons Of crescent moons And climb a star vine That glows with an iridescent shine Until I reach A golden beach That the waves from the Sea of Happiness kiss

I will sail On the sea in a pale Rose cloud boat And float In infinite bliss (24)

Notes: To learn more about the artwork and lives of Daphne Huntington and Venetia Epler, visit daphnehuntington.com

FOOTNOTES:

1 Christopher Kennedy, “Daphne Huntington and Venetia Epler, Career Notes,” p.1

2 Christopher Kennedy email to author, Oct. 23, 2012

3 Kennedy, “Career Notes,” op. cit.

4 http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/DLDecArts/DLDecArts-idx?type=div&did=DLDECARTS.NEWPATHV1N01.I0008&isize=text, (retrieved Oct. 23, 2012)

5 Andrew Melville-Smith, on AskART.com (retrieved Oct. 15, 2012) http://www.askart.com/askart/artist.aspx?artist=27198&GUID=CA95E6C1-8093-4A92-A3EC-2A7E6C101E75

6 Kennedy, “Career Notes,” op. cit.

7 Prior to Prince George becoming Duke of Kent in 1934, the title had not been used for some time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_of_Kent (retrieved Oct. 25, 2012)

8 “Duke of Kent Attends Opening Performance of Charity Play,” newspaper clipping, n.d.; “Charming Americans Thrill London Audiences,” newspaper clipping, n.d.

9 Famed Artist-Sisters Hold Exhibition of Their Work, Walter A. Bailey, South Pasadena Review, Dec. 14, 1977, p5

10 Christopher Kennedy, text for Daphne’s eulogy, email to author, Oct. 22, 2012; http://www.askart.com/askart/h/daphne_huntington/daphne_huntington.aspx (retrieved Oct. 24, 2012)

11 http://www.bcdb.com/cartoons/Other_Studios/T/Trans-Artists_Productions/index.html (retrieved Oct. 23, 2012); also Filmation Associates, TV shows, late 1960s; Hanna-Barbera, Warner Brothers, Churchill/Wexler Productions

12 Kennedy, “Career Notes,” op. cit.

13 Famed Artist-Sisters, op. cit.

14 California Art Club Archives

15 “Exhibition Chairman,” “Demonstrators,” June 1960 CAC Bulletin; “Award Winners,” March 1961 CAC Bulletin; “Committees, July 1961 CAC Bulletin, CAC Archives

16 Kennedy, p.10

17 Famed Artist-Sisters, op. cit.

18 Kennedy, op. cit.

19 It Took the Patience of Job To Create Life of Christ Mosaic, Adelle M. Banks, Orlando Sentinel, Apr. 4, 1993; ‘Life of Christ’ Mosaic Dedicated, The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, June 23, 1975

20 Though not in the world: “The largest mosaic in the world is in the central library of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in Mexico City. Two of the four walls are each 12, 949 square feet.” Ibid.

21 ‘Life of Christ’ Mosaic Dedicated, Herald-Examiner, op. cit.

22 Banks, Orlando Sentinal, op. cit.

23 Daphne Huntington memorial pamphlet, CAC Archives

24 Huntington memorial pamphlet, op. cit.

The New Naturalists: Borrego Landscape Painters

by Ann Japenga [CaliforniaDesertArt.com], published in the The Sand Paper, Fall 2012 issue of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association [ABDNHA]

"Borrego Desert, Wind Canyon Cliffs," © Victor Schiro

"Borrego Desert, Wind Canyon Cliffs," © Victor Schiro

If you meet a woman in Surprise Canyon who can name 40 different wildflowers, or a man in rapture over the strata of the Wind Canyon cliffs, you might mistake them for scientists. But in fact these are contemporary landscape artists Kirsten Anderson and Victor Schiro.

Any wash or slot around Borrego these days is likely to harbor an artist. They're part of the statewide revival of landscape painting, spurred in part by the renewed vigor of the prestigious 100-year-old California Art Club.

The current crop of Borrego painters follows in the distinguished steps of early landscape masters who painted here - Maurice Braun, Charles Reiffel, Marjorie Reed, and Edith Purer, also California's first woman ecologist.

With the explosion of outdoor painting and the opening of a major new gallery by the Borrego Art Institute this winter, Borrego seems destined to be an arts destination. Local collector Jim Anderson says Borrego has everything it needs - isolation, iconic scenery, artists, - to draw art fans. "We should definitely promote it as an artist's retreat, like Bisbee (the eclectic mining town in Arizona)," he says.

For painters, the desert is one of the "California classic" essentials to be mastered, along with the Sierras and the coast. Like traditional naturalists, landscape painters bring intense observation to their study of the desert. As Victor Schiro says: "I do this for no other reason than to record the natural world."

For ABDNHA members, getting to know the local artists and their styles can be as rewarding as getting to know the names of 40 wildflowers. For every "known" painter there are ten discoveries waiting to be made. Due to space limitations, only a few of the best contemporary painters are profiled here.

"Desert Moonlight with Jupiter Setting," 24" x 26", © Eric Merrell

"Desert Moonlight with Jupiter Setting," 24" x 26", © Eric Merrell

How do you decide who is good? That's the fun part, as there are few experts. You have as much chance as anyone of finding the next Maurice Braun. Shannon O'Dunn, owner of O'Dunn Fine Art in La Mesa, says what you should look for is "a soul connection, a reverence."

CAROL LINDEMULDER [website]

Lindemulder moved to Borrego Springs in 2007 after the Fallbrook fire destroyed her home and four years of accumulated artwork. Following the fire, she faced hip surgery, nearly died from anesthesia and was in serious need of refuge. "I think I needed a womb," she said.

So she and her dog moved to Borrego Springs. Her paintings contain human traces such as trailers, roads, housing tracts, and agricultural fields. She is especially taken with the trailer communities of Ocotillo Wells. Still, she says, " I consider myself basically a landscape painter - we all live in the landscape."

It was a good day for the Borrego arts community when Lindemulder moved to town, as the painter supports her fellow artists and brings a sophisticated presence to the local scene. She would be right at home at any urban art opening, yet she's a true desert rat who even appreciates the annoying desert wind. As she wrote in a poem, she loves the sound of "sticks and rattles and bones."

VICTOR SCHIRO [website]

Schiro discovered the Mojave Desert as a toddler, romping across 120 acres his uncle owned. He studied art at California Institute of the Arts and exhibited his work widely as a modern painter. Later, while working as a producer and writer in the movie industry in Los Angeles, he developed a love for California history and the early exploration artists who toted sketchpads to uncharted places. When he took up traditional landscape painting, he says he did it "for the same reason those guys did it." Experiencing a place is paramount for him; painting it is secondary.

The Camarillo-based artist has been expeditioning in Borrego in recent years in his 4-wheel Land Cruiser, with his beagle and Jack Russell as crew. He plans to spend the next few years concentrating on the region - the rocks, crystals, geology, and landscape. When he paints the wind cliffs, you can feel the grit. He once wrote about his paintings: "If I buried a doubloon there, I'd want you to be able to find it."

GEOFFREY STONE [website]

Stone belongs to an exclusive subset - artists who actually grew up in Borrego Springs. "The whole park was my playground," he says. The Brawley-born artist moved to town at age four. His late mother, Barbara, and father Herb were both schoolteachers. Geoffrey's grandmother, Catherine Stone, was a watercolor painter who took him on painting trips. "I would splash the paint around," he says. She was always looking at the "long vistas" and instilled the same habit in him. (Catherine and her husband, Joe, were active in ABDNHA; Joe edited The Sand Paper for years).

Geoffrey later worked as a State Park aide and also studied animation and illustration at San Jose State University, where he earned an MFA. Defying recent trends, he is not a big fan of painting outside. He jokes that "plein air" is French for: "Painting outside while wearing a big hat and ignoring tourists who want to come up to you while you're desperately trying to determine the correct shade of blue..."

Look for Geoffrey Stone to take desert art in unexpected directions as he is now working on a study of Borrego life and residents, inspired by his background in illustration and animation.

KIRSTEN ANDERSON [website]

Anderson has a demanding job as a radiation therapist, competing in outrigger canoe races in her spare time. She's lived in Alaska and rafted all over Utah. Formerly married to a desert tortoise researcher, she has read widely in Chemehuevi Indian and desert history. "I am a renaissance person who likes to paint," she says.

Based in Long Beach, Anderson has attended the Borrego Plein Air Invitational three times. Her subjects include iconic landscape features such as Palm Canyon and Indian Head - but also airstream trailers and roadside motels. Like most of the artists featured here, she's dedicated to conserving the lands she paints. "Contemporary plein air painting is about recording the landscape before it's built on or torn down," she says.

Watch this artist in the future for her brainy, ceaselessly reaching paintings incorporating her wide interests in history, mythology, environment, science, and nature.

BARBARA NICKERSON [website]

Director of the Borrego Art Institute, Nickerson lives part-time in Borrego Springs. In the hot months she's found with husband Jul aboard their yacht, Sounder, in the Pacific Northwest. Working in Sumi and watercolor, Nickerson has painted classic Borrego subjects such as Font's Point, the mudhill formation called the Elephant's Knees, and the resident comedic ravens. She brings texture, contemplation, and a primeval feeling to any subject she tackles.

Nickerson, who has a BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, is teaching a class in Gravity Painting this season. If you're a budding desert artist, sign up and learn to work with paint that moves in a landscape - some would say - that moves as well.

MARK KERCKHOFF [website]

Kerckhoff and the next artist profiled, Eric Merrell, are active members of the influential California Art Club. Both teachers as well as painters, they are introducing new landscape artists to Borrego and influencing others with their distinctive styles.

A sixth generation Californian based in San Juan Capistrano, Kerckhoff is known for his elegant abstract realist landscapes. He likes to make a solo camp along the Borrego-Salton Seaway and paint "the best arroyos in the low desert for color and design." A true naturalist-artist he can tell where he is by the color of the sand (a pink cast means he's near the Arizona border). Kerckhoff likes working in the Arroyo Salado, Truckhaven Rocks and Palo Verde washes, and a place he christened "Blistered Lip Arroyo" in honor of his own parched lips.

ERIC MERRELL [website]

Merrell is the historian for the California Art Club and is increasingly well-known around the state as an envoy for California art. A desert aficionado, he has completed an artist's residency in Joshua Tree, and participated in an exhibit of Salton Sea painters, "Valley of the Ancient Lake." He came to Borrego Springs for the first time recently as a judge for the Plein Air Invitational sponsored by the Borrego Art Institute. It was an immersion experience as the young artist was stuck in the sand at Coachwhip Canyon, impaled by a cholla on the Earth Narrows Trail, and soaked up Borrego ghost stories about a driverless stagecoach each evening.

He aims to return soon to visit the Pumpkin Patch and the Ocotillo Wells region. Until then, Merrell and the other highly regarded artists featured here are Borrego's best ambassadors - exporting images of this lesser-known desert region to L.A. art circles and the world.

Unearthing CAC History at the Smithsonian Institution

Published in the Spring 2012 CAC Newsletter

© By Eric Merrell, CAC Historian

When the history of the California Art Club (CAC, founded 1909) began to intrigue me about a decade ago, the club’s known past was partial at best. Entire decades were denuded of information. Sometimes tantalizing rumors survived, such as those of a CAC art collection and library. As I was drawn further into the Club’s storied history, I decided to try and put it all back together.

Taking what was already in the CAC Archives, I began to organize it into a history section on the CAC’s website (www.CaliforniaArtClub.org/home/history.shtml). This way it was much easier to get a broad picture of the Club and missing areas became readily apparent. As I documented past presidents and members, exhibitions and old CAC haunts, I zeroed in on places where other history might be hiding.

One of the first spots I started to dig was at the Mr. and Mrs. Allan C. Balch Research Library at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), where I found numerous exhibition catalogues. Founded in 1913 as the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art (LACMHSA) in Exposition Park, the museum split into two entities about 1961 – LACMA, opening at its current location on Wilshire Boulevard, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles continuing on at the original location. The club’s Annual Exhibitions were held at LACMHSA for at least 25 years straight, from the 5th Annual (1915) through the 29th Annual (1938).

I soon found myself searching other past CAC venues such as the Greek Theater inGriffith Park (a dead end), the Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Park (a few extant items), and Glendale’s Brand Library (three annual exhibition catalogues); I also contacted club members who had participated in these past events. Yet another source (that has yet to be exhausted) is the Archives of the Los Angeles Times. Antony E. Anderson (1863-1939), the first Times art critic and an Honorary CAC Member, reported quite thoroughly on club exhibitions for many years, going so far as to list artists, painting titles and descriptions of the works. Anderson’s successor at the Times as art critic, Arthur Henry Thomas Millier (1893-1975), was also an Honorary Member and continued the in-depth reporting.[1]

During my forays I came across a brief listing on the website of the Archives of American Art, apart of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Titled “California Art Club guest register and scrapbooks, 1927-1961” and accompanied by a short description of the contents (“1.5 linear ft.” worth), I was curious to see what these archives contained. However, the only way to access them was to travel to Washington D.C. and make an appointment to visit the Archives in person. The trip would have to wait.

When I was given a solo exhibition at The Forbes Galleries in New York City during the summer of 2010 for my paintings of the California desert, I saw an opportunity. Since I was traveling to New York for the opening of the exhibition, it would be easy to take a train from New York to D.C. afterwards. With such a diminutive online description, I didn’t think it would take too much time to go through the archives, so I generously allotted myself three full days in the city. With the extra time I could check out the myriad D.C. museums.

On my first day at the Archives, I quickly realized that the brief online description was a hefty understatement. During their tenure as “scrapbook chairman” - Florence Adler [1882-1954] maintained it from about 1945-51, Greta Ammon through 1955, and then Emily Kelsey through 1960[2] - decades of newspaper clippings, California Art Club Bulletins, pamphlets, member rosters and more had been attached, affixed, and poured into the scrapbooks. When these custodians had run out of space, the next item was simply tacked the on top of the last, creating multiple layers one could lift up and leaf through. Since the Archives only allows photocopying of loose-leaf material, photography was the only option - but the petite two mega-pixel camera I brought with me was sorely outmatched by the task.

Luckily, there was a camera store between my hotel and the Archives, so I rented a powerful digital camera with a good lens. Now, instead of shooting one newspaper clipping (that may or may not be in focus), I could include an entire scrapbook page worth of clippings in one shot. Over the next two days I photographed everything I could – eventually totaling over 800 high-resolution images, some 20 gigabytes worth of material. Marisa Bourgoin, the Richard Manoogian Chief of Reference Services at the Archives, along with her many assistants, was a wonderful help. I spent the entire three days in the Archives, but since they closed at 4:30 pm, I would head across the street each evening to the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

After returning home, it required numerous days to process the raw files and then sort the multitudinous images; but I’ve begun to fill in a lot of information: the CAC Archives now has two additional decades of the Bulletin (1942-1961), plus exhibition pamphlets, clippings detailing events, parties, meetings, the gold medals, club presidents, and the busy activities of members. Overall, it gives us a much clearer picture of the club during the period after their fifteen-year tenure at the Hollyhock House.

I can now verify that rumor about the CAC library and art collection: Antony Anderson did donate five hundred volumes from his personal collection to form the nucleus of a nascent library about 1927 or early 1928. Supplemented by donations by other club members, the Antony Anderson Library, named for its benefactor, numbered nearly one thousand volumes.[3]

The club also at one point possessed a small art collection: one painting by William Wendt (1845-1946) and another by Jack Wilkinson Smith (1873-1949), though neither painting is named.[4] The collection grew when someone named Corinne Wood donated The Yellow Tea-Pot by John Hubbard Rich (1876-1954),[5] and later it also apparently included a fourth donated painting, one of the “finest works” of Charles J. Bensco (1894-1960). [6] Unfortunately, both the Anderson Library and CAC Art Collection have gone missing over time.

The next piece to the puzzle? Once everything has been gleaned from the first D.C. foray, a return visit to the Archives may be in store. One of my predecessors as CAC Historian during the 1950s was artist and art historian Ferdinand Perret (1888-1960), who worked for decades to create the Perret Art Reference Library. This collection, consisting of “thousands of reference works, art reproductions and material collected from newspapers and magazines,” was donated to the Smithsonian in 1945. The entire library covers a broad range of art history including European, American, California, Spanish colonial, and much more, and comprises NINE TONS of material.[7] I imagine that I’ll discover some CAC history buried in there somewhere.

[1] Honorary Life credits: Anderson, elected Feb. 27, 1910, Los Angeles Times; Millier: 1964 CAC Roster

[2] Box 3/5, “Scrapbook “1945-’6-’7-‘8’-‘9” (Adler); Box 5/5, Scrapbook “September 1953 – December 1961” (Ammon, Kelsey), CAC Archives, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.

[3]Artist’s Library Planned, Los Angeles Times, April 21, 1927; Art Library His Gift, Hollywood Magazine, January 6, 1928

[4] March, May 1949 CAC Bulletins

[5] October 1954 CAC Bulletin

[6] November 1960 CAC Bulletin

[7]Ferdinand Perret, Art Research Expert, Dies, Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1960

Out Now: California Light book

Now available: "California Light: A Century of Landscapes," by Jean Stern and Molly Siple (published by Skira Rizzoli, NYC). Though you can buy it on Amazon (for slightly less), if you get your copy through the California Art Club for a few dollars more, those extra dollars will greatly help the non-profit club continue to organize great exhibitions, lectures and paint-outs. There is also a very limited number of copies signed by all of the authors - this is available exclusively through the CAC. This beautiful coffee-table sized book (276 p., full color) features historic and contemporary members' artwork, as well as the history of the first 100 years of the club. Authored by Jean Stern, Director of the Irvine Museum, and Molly Siple, a frequent author on California art. As the Club Historian, I wrote the brief chronology of the club that was also included (Reducing 100 years' worth of history to fit on two pages is incredibly hard - here is the expanded version if you're interested.)

Salton Sea Museum Exhibition

Salton Sea, Haze, 30" x 30", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

In conjunction with Desertscapes: A Month Long Celebration of Plein Air Artwork occurring throughout the Coachella Valley during April, the Salton Sea History Museum will present its inaugural exhibition, Valley of the Ancient Lake: Works Inspired by the Salton Sea. The opening reception will be on Sunday, April 3 from 3 - 7 p.m. The museum is open daily from 10 am-4 pm (closed Wed. & Thurs.)

Andrew Dickson, Late Afternoon Down Harbor Drive, 11" x 24", Oil on canvas, © Andrew Dickson

The exhibit will include work by Bill Leigh Brewer (photography), Cristopher Cichocki (new media), Andrew Dickson (artist), Joe Forkan (artist), Mary-Austin Klien (landscape artist), Christopher Landis (photography, author of In Search of Eldorado: The Salton Sea), Deborah Martin (American realist painter), Eric Merrell (artist), Joan Myers (photography, Salt Dreams), Kim Stringfellow (photography,  author of Greetings From the Salton Sea). Accompanied by a full-color catalogue and curated by Deborah Martin, the exhibit will also include historic works of the area.

The Salton Sea History Museum is located inside of the historic North Shore Beach & Yacht Club on the north shore of the Salton Sea. Recently restored, this architectural landmark was designed by famed mid-century architect Albert Frey, who went on to design many homes and buildings in Palm Springs. The Club was a favorite hangout of the Beach Boys, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra and many other entertainers during it's heyday in the 1950s and 60s.

Amongst numerous artist talks and lectures during April, Joe Forkan and myself will speak at the Salton Sea History Museum on April 23 from 1-3 pm on "The Artist’s Eye: Landscape Painting in the Desert," covering our individual approaches to painting on location in the desert.

Read more at CaliforniaDesertArt.com - Inaugural Salton Sea Exhibit Opens April 1.

100th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition

Embers: The San Gabriel Mountains After the Station Fire, 24" x 32", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

I'm so thrilled to be included in this historic exhibit with these two paintings that I decided to make this announcement early. The California Art Club, founded 1909, is continuing to celebrate their Centennial by presenting the 100th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition at the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) from April 3-24, 2011, with a special Gala Reception on April 2 from 6-9 p.m. Hope you can make it!

Casting Shadows - The San Gabriel Mission, 12" x 9", Oil on canvasboard, © Eric Merrell

Wishes for a Happy New Year

Thanksgiving, 20" x 16", Oil on canvas panel, © Eric Merrell

This year flew by - I got married to my sweetheart Ramona! Adding to that excitement, I had a solo exhibition at The Forbes Gallery in New York City, gave a lecture on California art history, and took trips to paint out in Cape Cod and the Salton Sea, among other places. I'm looking forward to 2011 - lots of exciting new projects and travels!

One particularly neat item coming to fruition is a new book titled California Light: A Century of Landscapes. Due to be published in April 2011 by Rizzoli International, this will be a beautiful coffee-table sized book featuring the artwork and history of the first 100 years of the club. Authored by Jean Stern, Director of the Irvine Museum, and Molly Siple; little ol' me even has a credit for contributing the chronology of the club! You can purchase an advance copy online here.

Wishing you a warm and happy holiday season and a prosperous 2011. Here's a toast to all Art that adds to our lives, creates memories, opens our eyes to new things, challenges us and gives us a sense of purpose: Prost!

Desert Wanderings

The Call of the Desert (Box Canyon), 12" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

The lure of the desert recently bit me again and so I went out to the Coachella Valley to paint with Andrew Dickson, Joe Forkan, Yu Ji and Larry Groff at the Salton Sea and some other great spots in the area. We explored some places I haven't been yet, like Box Canyon and Painted Canyon, hiked to the Dos Palmas Adobe and Oasis, once the home of artist John W. Hilton (who lead quite an interesting life: he was a friend of President Eisenhower, James Cagney, Howard Hughes, and the early desert artists including Nicolai Fechin and Maynard Dixon used to gather at his place for parties - more info on Hilton here and here). We also spent some time painting the surreal landscape of Bombay Beach.

The Solid Becomes Light (Painted Canyon), 9" x 12" sketch, Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

In Hilton's words, the desert ". . . is a land of peace, silence and boundless skies …It is as if nature herself set aside these vast areas …so that thinking men might have a place where they go to regain their perspective and find themselves and their true meaning.” From what I understand, the Dos Palmas Adobe has been designated a Historical Monument and is no longer in danger of demolition.

In the top painting above I was interested in the composition - the focus on the deep shadow on the left that then moved across the calligraphy of the face of the cliff in sunlight. After I sketched it and made some notes in my sketchbook,  the color harmonies brought it all together. The painting below that was a fun challenge - frontally lit with almost no shade save under a bush or two - I had to use subtle temperature shifts to suggest some of the form changes on the hills.

If you're in Mecca, make sure to eat at Plaza Garibaldi Restaurant, 91275 66th Avenue, Mecca, CA 92254, 760/396-1500. Some of the best Mexican food I've had in California - you can get a good idea of the quality of a place by their chips and salsa, and these were amazing! Also, homemade tortillas!

Back to Back: An Art Lecture and Showcase

I'll be giving a lecture this coming Sunday in Pasadena on the history of the California Art Club, specifically the 1940s. That decade was an exciting and turbulent period for the organization - it found itself squarely in the midst of the red-hot controversy over modern art in Los Angeles, contributed locally to the war efforts, and lost its beloved clubhouse. I'll share insights on the club's inner workings as well as how they fit into the changing national landscape of art and the theater of World War II.

"In the Trenches: The California Art Club during the 1940s" Sunday, October 24, 2010, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.

$10 CAC Members/$15 Non-members

The Historic Blinn House at the Women's City Club of Pasadena 160 North Oakland Avenue Pasadena, CA 91101 626/796-0560 www.womenscityclub.com | Directions

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Evening in the Foothills, 16" x 20", Oil, © Glenn Dean

Shadows on the Mountain, 30" x 40", Oil, © Logan Hagege

Spaceship Landing (The Salton Sea), 30" x 30", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

Alexey Steele's Classical Underground, a collection of world-class musicians and artists performing in an intimate studio setting in Carson, CA, has gained quite a following since its inception only a few years back. From the beginning, Classical Underground has featured contemporary paintings along with amazing classical performances unlike anything you'll find elsewhere.

The next concert on the evening of Monday, October 25, 2010 will feature work by Glenn Dean, Logan Hagege and myself, These events have limited seating and sell out quickly, so you'll need to purchase your tickets soon after they go on sale. You can find more info (and buy tickets) on the Classical Underground blog.

Article on CaliforniaDesertArt.com

Spaceship Landing (The Salton Sea), 30" x 30", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

If you're in New York, my exhibit opens today at The Forbes Galleries with an opening reception next Tuesday, July 20 from 6-8 p.m.

Article below by Ann Japenga of californiadesertart.com:

"Most Manhattan gallery-goers don’t know the names Jimmy Swinnerton or John Hilton; they can’t tell a smoketree from a cholla. While desert art is expanding its geographic appeal, it hasn’t reached the east coast yet. That transcontinental link may finally be forged, though, with Eric Merrell’s show “No Man is an Island”, opening July 14th at the Forbes Gallery in the lobby of Forbes Magazine headquarters in New York City. The exhibit is a collection of Merrell’s paintings made during an artist’s residency at Joshua Tree National Park in 2009."

"Will east coast viewers take to the yuccas..." [Read more]

Artistwocky Redux

While you're probably familiar with Lewis Carroll's original Jabberwocky from 1872, you most likely haven't come across Louise and Mary Everett's 1928 parody, Artistwocky, into which they inserted various names of California Art Club members. Because both of those versions made me chuckle, I wrote my own, updated for 2009 (the Everett version follows below).

Artistwocky 2009 by Eric Merrell (From the California Art Club Newsletter, Spring 2010)

`Twas Burdick, and the Roski Tsai Did Orlov and Gallup in the Wray: All Mirich were the Knowles Ly, And the Roberts Solliday.

"Beware the Gertenbach, my Rahm! The Roca that Peters, the Carlson Slatoff! Beware the Doheny bird, and Damm The Nemesio Zlatkoff!"

He took his Dempwolf sword Elstad: Long time the Mendez foe Lipking So Riesau he by the Pinkham tree, And Burtt awhile Bohling.

And, as in Humphrey thought he Lentz, The Gertenbach, with eyes of Greene, Came Wurmser through the Abbott Jenks, And Apinchapong it Skene!

One, Zhou! Two Liu! And all three Situ The Dempwolf Steele went Sidrane-LeGrue! He Kaiser dead, and Siple head He Prior Dickson too.

"And, has thou Muench the Gertenbach? Dean to my Merrell, my Adams boy! O Ignatov Pro! Stout! Asaro!' He Aspevig in his joy.

`Twas Burdick, and the Roski Tsai Did Orlov and Gallup in the Wray: All Mirich were the Knowles Ly, And the Roberts Solliday.

-----

Artistwocky by Louise and Mary Everett (From the California Art Club Bulletin, Dec. 1928)

‘Twas Barton, and the Cressy [sic] Yens Did Buff and Cotton in DeKruif; All Shrader were the Rich Reiffels, And the Botkes man and wife.

Beware the Vysekal, my son, The Borgs that Clark, the Hopes that Wendt; Beware the Herron bird and shun The Sample Soper sent.

He took his Daggett sword in hand, Long time the Leighton foe he sought – So Parshalled he the Everett tree, And Parkinson in thought.

And as in Hazen thought he stood, The Vysekal, with Lion’s flame Came Thurston through the Ulber wood And Hinkled as it came.

One two, one two, and Burnham through, The Daggett blade went Dowiatt; He Weber dead and Miller head He Johnson Whelan back.

And Baxter slain the Vysekal? Come to my arms, my Bartlett boy! O Schuster Smith! Modra! Brandriff! He Alvarezed his joy.

‘Twas Barton, and the Cressy [sic] Yens Did Buff and Cotton in DeKruif; All Shrader were the Rich Reiffels, And the Botkes man and wife.

Siqueiros in Los Angeles and His Collaborations with the California Art Club

Since so much has already been written about Siqueiros' work and politics, I wanted to focus specifically on his activities and the people he worked with during his brief time in Los Angeles. So below is the Director's Cut of my article that will appear in the Spring 2010 Issue of the California Art Club Newsletter. A large Siqueiros exhibit will be opening this September at the Autry National Center of the American West, coinciding with the centennial of the Mexican Revolution. Due to copyrights on photos of Siqueiros and his art, you'll either have to Google images of the artist and his murals or get a hard copy of the Newsletter itself. Cheers!

Siqueiros in Los Angeles and His Collaborations with the California Art Club

© By Eric J. Merrell

Although David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974) spent only a short time in Los Angeles, forced to return to Mexico in November 1932 [1] after his visa expired and was not renewed [2], it was a period of busy innovation for the artist. Along with attending meetings, giving lectures, painting portraits and presenting exhibitions, the artist created four frescos that would gain him instant notoriety for their controversial content as well as for the subsequent aftershocks that surged throughout the city. In most of these events, members of the California Art Club (CAC) aided Siqueiros.

Born in Camargo, in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, Siqueiros, whose art would speak of a strong identification with the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) and the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), was first exposed to radical political ideas as an adolescent. The young Siqueiros and his two siblings were sent by their father, Cipriano Alfaro, to be  raised in the country by their paternal grandparents, Antonio Alfaro Sierra and his wife Eusebita (Siqueiros’ mother had died when he was two years old).  Grandfather Antonio had been a heroic guerilla fighter in the Republican Army of Benito Juárez (1806-1872), earning himself the nickname Siete Filos (“Seven Blades”). In 1911, at age fifteen and back in Mexico City with his father (who had decided he could raise the children better himself), Siqueiros participated in the famous student strike at the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts, arguing for the “discontinuance of Academic methods.” The students demanded the removal of the Academy's Director, the architect Antonio Ribas Mercado (1853-1927), and “the nomination of the liberal painter Alfredo Ramos Martinez [1871-1946].[3] These protests eventually led to the formation of an “open-air” academy in Santa Anita. Around this time the young artist also began to clash with his father, a strict Catholic of the bourgeois class; as a result Siqueiros ran away from home, never going back. Soon afterwards, in 1914 and not quite eighteen, he and several fellow students joined the Constitutional Army of Venustiano Carranza de la Garza (1859-1920), which later fought against José Doroteo Arango Arámbula (1878-1923), (a.k.a. Pancho Villa), and Emiliano Zapata Salazar (1879-1919) for control. [4]

In late 1922 Siqueiros and fellow artists, Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and Xavier Guerrero (1896-1974), [5] created the famed but short-lived Revolutionary Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters & Sculptors, a major proponent of the new mural renaissance. [6] Prominent artists José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) and Francisco Goitia (1882-1960) [7] were also members along with Roberto Montenegro (1885-1968) [8]. The Syndicate’s newspaper, El Machete, helped energize the resurgence, with much of its radical ideological and political content written and edited by Siqueiros himself. Siqueiros, Orozco and Rivera are often referred to as Los Trés Grandes or “The Big Three,” acknowledging their stature as the top three Mexican muralists of their time.

After being jailed in 1930 for his role in inciting the May Day pro-communist demonstrations in Mexico City, Siqueiros was confined to the nearby village of Taxco through early 1932, his activities closely watched by the government. While sequestered there, he met many artists and others of a sympathetic mindset, including Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (1898-1948) the Soviet filmmaker and Nelbert Murphy Chouinard (1879-1969), an artist who in 1921 founded the Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles. Mrs. Chouinard had established the school with the idea of creating a new place for modern art to be taught, and invited Siqueiros to teach a course in fresco painting. [9]

To earn some income while in Taxco, Siqueiros accepted a number of portrait commissions and eventually completed nearly seventy works, including oils, woodcuts, lithographs and watercolors for his first one-man exhibition entitled Casino Español, held in Mexico City from January 25 to February 15, 1932. [10] On February 18 Siqueiros closed his exhibition with another politically-charged speech. The speech was so successful that, despite Siqueiros’ fomentations, the government of Plutarco Elías Calles (1877-1945) had no choice but to give Siqueiros the option of either going into exile or returning to the seclusion of Taxco. (Siqueiros also later claimed that Calles ordered him killed). Siqueiros made the decision to leave Mexico. [11]

As early as April 17, 1932, news of Siqueiros’ arrival, accompanied by his Uruguay-born wife, the poet Blanca Luz Brum Elizalde (1905-1985), spread quickly throughout Los Angeles’ art community. [12] Siqueiros quickly set to work, and on May 7th an exhibition of the his recent work opened at Stendahl’s Ambassador Hotel Galleries, [13] where “fifty paintings, lithographs, and mural designs” [14] were on view through May 31st. [15] On May 9th Jacob IsraelJake” Zeitlin (1902-1987) hosted a separate exhibition in his downtown Los Angeles bookshop, which had become a gathering ground for the local intelligentsia, focusing on Siqueiros’ lithographs from Taxco. [16] Both Stendahl and Zeitlin produced exhibition catalogues for their shows, but those catalogues are presumed lost today. [17]

Zeitlin had begunhis career as a book dealer in April 1927 by selling them out of a suitcase. Soon he opened his first bookstore in a small building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) and located at 567 South Hope Street in downtown Los Angeles. The following year Zeitlin's bookstore began hosting art exhibits, the first in May 1928 by photographer Edward Weston (1886-1958), later including Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) and Peter Krasnow (1886-1979), among others. At a future location Zeitlin presented the first Western American exhibit of German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) in 1937. [18]

At the end of May, the Stendahl-Siqueiros exhibition travelled to the Plaza Art Center in historic Olvera Street, where it was on view from June 1st through the 10th. [19] Also during this time the Los Angeles Times reported that Siqueiros had painted a 40” x 48” portrait of Josef Von Sternberg (1894-1969), Director of Paramount Pictures, a well-known collector “of the most violent modern art.” [20] It is believed that Sternberg helped to bring Siqueiros, with his paintings and lithographs, across the border. [21]

In early June Siquieros was contacted by CAC Member Millard Owen Sheets (1907-1989), at that time a young watercolorist teaching at Chouinard, to conduct a fresco class at the school. [22] A new class, composed of professional artists and graduate students, began creating their own fresco “blocks” by utilizing plywood frames and chicken wire layered with plaster. Before long the popular course would lead to a second class. “Enthusiastic over the classical method of painting watercolor into wet lime plaster” wrote the Times, the equipo or team that would work on the mural dubbed themselves the “Fresco Block,” though it was later renamed the “Block (or Bloc) of Mural Painters” by Siqueiros (who used both spellings himself, sometimes in the same correspondence). [23]

The team included: Luis Arenal (1909-1985), Thomas Montague Beggs (1899-1990) [head of the art department at Pomona College, 1926-47], Lee Everett Blair (1911-1993), Henri Gilbert de Kruif (1882-1944), Robert Merrell Gage (1892-1981), Donald Wilkinson Graham (1903-1976), Philip Guston (1913-1980), Murray Hantman (1904-1999), Reuben Kadish (1913-1992), Harold Lehman (1913-2006), Fletcher Martin (1904-1979), Katherine McEwen (1875-1945), Barse Miller (1904-1973), Phillip “Phil” Herschel Paradise (1905-1997), Paul Starrett Sample (1896-1974), Myer Shaffer, and Millard Sheets. [24] Five were CAC members: de Kruif, Gage, Miller, Sample and Sheets. Gage was the current CAC President, Sample having held the post in 1931; Miller was First Vice President during this period. [25] The team assisted Siqueiros as he worked on his first Los Angeles mural, Street Meeting, a 19 by 24 foot fresco executed on an exterior wall at Chouinard.

Later, after Siqueiros returned to Mexico, the Block of Mural Painters assisted in a campaign organized by the Hollywood John Reed Club behalf of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young black defendants in Alabama on trial for rape charges. The John Reed Club, named and the journalist and communist activist John Reed, was founded in October of 1929 to support leftist and Marxist artists and writers, and was officially affiliated with Moscow in November 1930. In preparation for a John Reed Club-sponsored exhibition in December 1932 at the California Art Club's Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Park, Block members created a series of transportable panels portraying racial violence. However, the night before the panels were to be displayed, The Los Angeles Police Department Red Squad “confiscated the unveiled mural panels and returned them full of bullet holes.” [26]

During the planning stages of Street Meeting, Siqueiros consulted with world-famous architect and CAC member Richard Josef Neutra (1892-1970) [27] and Sumner Spalding (1892-1952), [28] also an architect, about new approaches to conserve the outdoor mural from southern California's warm climate. [29] Although a fresco of this type would normally take four months to complete, Siqueiros’ “radical experimentation” with airbrush or paint “guns” allowed him to finish Street Meeting in two weeks. [30] Interestingly, on both the Chouinard and subsequent Olvera Street murals, Siqueiros reportedly completed the paintings alone: after professing fatigue and the others had left, the artist would continue to work late into the night. [31]

While working on Street Meeting, Siqueiros was the guest of honor and principal speaker at a dinner meeting of the California Art Club on June 17, 1932 at the Hollyhock House. Also present was Alfredo Ramos Martinez, founder of the open-air art schools of Mexico City, one of Siqueiros’ early instructors now living in Los Angeles, and Regino Hernandez Lilergo, editor of La Opinión, a Spanish language daily of the city. José Arias and four members of his Troubadours Mejicanos, who were also playing at the Teatro Leo Carrillo on Olvera Street, presented music for the evening. Martinez became a CAC member, probably at that meeting. [32] (José Clemente Orozco was a CAC dinner guest earlier on April 17, 1930 while in the midst of his work on the Prometheus murals at Pomona College. [33])

On July 7, 1932, eight hundred people attended the evening dedication and unveiling of Street Meeting. Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier (1893-1975) introduced Siqueiros who gave a speech entitled “The Mexican Renaissance,” denouncing “capitalism, North American imperialism, and ‘snob’ easel painting.” [34] The program was arranged by “the art committee of the association for founding the New School for Social Research in Los Angeles.” The committee consisted of Millier as Chairman, Mexican Consul Joaquin Terrazas, Mrs. Chouinard, Ted Cook, Plaza Art Center Director Franz K. Ferenz (1889-1956), Gage, Neutra, Spaulding and Zeitlin. [35] Siqueiros’ depiction of a union organizer speaking to a multi-ethnic crowd “of twenty figures” [36] was met with somewhat of a mixed public response: some viewed it as “bold and powerful painting unlike anything previously done in Southern California,” while others saw in it too much political commentary and “the dull red glow of Communism.” [37] Also on exhibit that night were other paintings and lithographs by Siqueiros, as well as some of the first fresco experiments created by his students. [38]

There is disagreement about what subsequently happened to Street Meeting. Siqueiros claimed that “unceasing newspaper criticism” forced Mrs. Chouinard to construct a wall in front of the mural, and the mural was subsequently destroyed. But in a later account he contradicted himself, implying that the mural was destroyed by the artists themselves because it was “only [a] simple class exercise in mural painting.” [39] Though Merrell Gage remembers that “police…descended on the school to inform Mrs. Chouinard [that] the mural had to be removed,” and she then painted over it, Sheets, Paradise, Beggs and Millier all believed that the “experimental airbrush technique [Siqueiros] used was so faulty [that] the colors either chipped or ran from the wall with the first rain and had to be whitewashed.” [40]

The charge of Communism was not without merit. An art instructor, Grace Richardson Clements (1905-1969), who taught at the Stickney School and at Chouinard, and was a member of the Hollywood John Reed Club, wrote a letter to Louis Lozowick (1892-1973) of the New York branch of the John Reed Club stating “Comrade Siqueiros is at the present time in L.A….at the Chouinard Art School where he has also had a class in fresco painting – the members of which he claims to have ‘propagandized’ under his tutelage and should supply at least a few possible members…” Siqueiros later gave a lecture to the Hollywood John Reed Club titled “The Vehicles of Dialectic-Subversive Painting.” [41] (As guest speaker at an April 1, 1932 CAC dinner meeting, Lozowick delivered an address titled “The Evolution of Modern Art.” [42])

Although Siqueiros’ communist sympathies were well known, an amusing exchange took place during a 1935 conference at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City when he was “expounding his theories” on the podium. In the rear of the audience Diego Rivera became incensed at some of Siqueiros’ statements, and suddenly, stood up and attempted to shoot him, but was prevented at the last moment by audience members. A debate was set up for the following day; at issue was the charge that “neither was sufficiently Communist.” [43]

Shortly after the unveiling of Street Meeting Siqueiros received a new proposition from the Plaza Art Center’s Director and CAC member Ferenz [44] to paint another mural at Olvera Street. This project called for a much larger team of assistants under Siqueiros’ instruction, as the new project would tackle a wall measuring 82 by 18 feet on the second story of an old Italian Hall.[45] The internationally-known artist Dean Cornwell (1892-1960), along with Karoly Fulop (1893-1963) and Frederick John Vrain Schwankowsky (1885-1974) were three known CAC members in this larger team of assistants.

Earlier in 1931 Cornwell gave an intimate and informal talk at a CAC dinner, at the time when he was finishing five years of work on the murals in the rotunda of the Los Angeles Public Library, [46] where he was assisted by artist and CAC member Theodore Nikolai Lukits (1897-1992). [47] (Cornwell became a member of the CAC in April 1932 and also served as a juror that year for the Club's 23rd Annual Exhibition. [48]

Twenty-nine artists (including four women) assisted Siqueiros on América Tropical, which would become his best-known mural in L.A. They included Jean Osborne Abel (1906-1991), Maria Andrade (1882-), Luis Arenal, Jacob Assanger, Peter Ballbusch (1902-1966) [who worked for MGM], Victor Hugo Basinet (1889-1956), Dean Cornwell, Karoly Fulop, Dorothy Virginia Groton (1902-1984) [who married Ferenz in 1946], James Hyde, Wiard Boppo Ihnen (1897-1979), Murray Hantman, Harold Hemenway Jones (1901-1989), Arthur Hinchman, Stephen de Hospodar (1902-1959), Reuben Kadish, John Kehoe, Richard Franz Kollorsz (1900-1983) [close friend of director Josef Von Sternburg], Martin Felix Obzina (1892-1992), Sanford L. Pollock (1910-) [brother of artist Jackson Pollock], Leandro and Tony Reveles [or Revels], Frederick John Vrain Schwankowsky, Myer Shaffer, Jean Stewart, Ivan Stoppe (1904-1971), Jeannette Summers, Wolo von Trutzschler (1902-1989) [established a studio on Olvera St. in 1927] and John Weiskal (1894-1984). [49]

While the Chouinard fresco may have attempted to leave a touch of ambiguity in its message, the Olvera Street mural, América Tropical, was unashamed in its depiction of a crucified indigenous native, despite the fact that the commission had hoped for “a cheerful tropical paradise.” [50] Scaffolding was erected and work was begun in late August; spray guns were again used to apply the color, but now Siqueiros experimented with using Portland cement as a base. In the center of the fresco, the native is tied to a double crucifix, above which sits a screaming eagle; this drama is viewed directly in front of a giant Mayan-esque pyramid in the jungle. With two native snipers eyeing the eagle from atop a structure at the far right side of the mural, giant writhing trees flowing throughout the composition, and all painted in “brilliant color,” the effect was dazzling. Siqueiros put the final touches to his Olvera Street mural just as his six month visitor’s permit expired. [51] Indeed, at the October 9th unveiling at which Cornwell gave an address, it was reported that the crowd “gasped” when the scaffolding was finally removed. [52] For a second time, opinions of the mural were sharply divided. Great admiration came from the artists, like CAC member Lorser Feitelson (1898-1978) [53] who recalled “…it had guts in it! It made everything else of the time look like candybox illustrations. Many of the artists said, ‘My God! This is wonderful vocabulary!’” [54]

But there was a muted seething from city officials, and southern California’s sunny skies wouldn’t gaze down on the mural for very long. [55] At some point between Siqueiros’ looming departure and April 1934, [56] Ferenz was obliged to paint over part of the mural, notably the right-hand section which could be seen from the street, though he made sure “a harmless covering” was employed. [57]

Mrs. Christine Sterling (1881-1963), often referred to as the “mother of Olvera Street” for her efforts (starting in 1926) to revitalize the historic area with the help of Harry Chandler (1864-1944), publisher of the Los Angeles Times, [58] later “would only renew the lease of the upstairs club, which had become a bar, on condition the fresco was completely covered.” By 1973, the fresco was in such disrepair that two restorers from Mexico were of the opinion that restoration was impossible. [59] Sterling also apparently offered the CAC an exhibition space (“a large upstairs hall”) on Olvera Street in 1930, although it is unknown if this ever came to fruition. [60]

Around the time Siqueiros was working on América Tropical, he also served on the painting jury for the 1932 Summer Olympics (officially the Games of the X Olympiad). The Olympic art exhibition was held at the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art in Exposition Park (renamed “Olympic Park” for the Games); [61] joining him on the jury was the third CAC president [1915-16], Benjamin Chambers Brown (1865-1942). During September, Millier reported in the Times of another mural in progress, knowledge of which seems almost completely omitted from the record today: “A third [unnamed] fresco by Siqueiros is now in process, this time in the auditorium of the John Reed Club of Hollywood. The four walls are to be covered with a mural symbolic of the cultural role of the club, it is announced. The work will be done, as at Chouinard and the Plaza Art Center, by a class of students working with the noted Mexican.”[62] Grace Clements confirms the account: “Out of a lecture which Siqueiros gave at the John Reed Club of Hollywood, grew an interest to construct a mural in the auditorium of the club. Such a mural…is now in progress…In powerful perspective across the wall which faces the proscenium, march the ordered ranks of the international proletariat…”[63]

The fourth Los Angeles mural, Portrait of Mexico Today, is the only one that survives intact today. It was executed on a sheltered exterior wall of the private Santa Monica [64] home of film director Dudley Murphy (1897-1968). A close friend of Sergei Eisenstein, Murphy also collaborated with artists like Fernand Léger (1881-1955), Ezra Pound (1885-1972) and Man Ray (1890-1976). In an unpublished memoir, Murphy writes that “to help [Siqueiros] out, I…held a three day exhibition of… [his] paintings in my house.” Actors Charles Laughton (1899-1962), Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) and Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) came, as well as Josef Von Sternberg, and Siqueiros sold about ten of his paintings. [65]

On this mural, measuring a bit smaller than the others at 8 feet high by 32 feet long, [66] Siqueiros had the help of three artists from the Chouinard team: Arenal, Martin and Kadish. [67] One speculation offered is that Siqueiros took the commission to escape the uproar he had created on Olvera Street. Also, since his visa was now expired, working away from the public eye at a private house would keep the officials at bay at least a little longer.

Originally titled Delivery of the Mexican Bourgeoisie Born of the Revolution into the Hands of Imperialism, the mural was re-named Portrait of Mexico Today. It portrayed Mexican President Calles, (whose government had previously exiled Siqueiros from Mexico), money bags at his feet and a mask falling from his face, along with forlorn women, a naked child, and two assassinated peasants along with a Red Army soldier. At one end Siqueiros painted a gold-framed picture of American financier J. P. Morgan (1837-1913), whom Siqueiros implicated for his involvement in the Mexican oil industry and subsequently the poor condition of that country.

Although slightly delayed, his lack of a valid permit forced Siqueiros to leave the United States in late 1932. In 1946, Dudley Murphy sold his house to Minna and Willard Coe (Willard, ironically, was a nephew of J.P. Morgan). The couple originally planned to cover up the mural, but Murphy eventually persuaded them to preserve it. Robert and Justine Bloomingdale purchased the house and mural in 1986, and in 2001, gifted Portrait of Mexico Today to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. [68] Seen for the first time publicly on October 20th, 2002 at the museum, [69] seventy years after it was created, Portrait of Mexico Today is one of the few tangible works left of Siqueiros’ immense mark on Los Angeles.

---------

Recent Developments: In January 2005 an article in the Los Angeles Times revealed that after some preliminary tests at the old Chouinard building, now a Korean Presbyterian Church, conservators believe that  the Street Meeting mural is at least partially intact, its bright colors surviving under layers of paint. At that time in 2005, the Chouinard School of Art had been reformed in South Pasadena (the original school closed in 1972) [70] by artist Dave Tourje, who had inadvertently purchased Mrs. Chouinard’s former home there. Although the article is cautiously optimistic, it also says that nothing further will be done in the near future, at least not until the building is secured and has an owner who will work with the conservators in its preservation. [71]

There has also been a push to rediscover and preserve América Tropical on Olvera Street, on-going since the early 1970s but only now gaining steam. Los Angeles and its Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have partnered with the Getty Institute and its Director Tim Whalen to preserve the landmark; though instead of restoring or repainting the faded mural, the Getty has painstakingly worked to preserve what is left. Although far from a done deal, the current plan to have the site restored for public viewing seems on track and is set to be finished by September 2010, the centennial of the Mexican Revolution with which Siqueiros identified so strongly. The historic Sepulveda House on Olvera Street will house an interpretive center for exhibitions, as well as contain a color replica of what the mural might have looked like. [72]


[1] Laurance P. Hurlburt, The Mexican Muralists in the United States, University of New Mexico Press,1989, p.205

[2] Shifra M. Goldman, Siqueiros and Three Early Murals in Los Angeles, Art Journal, Summer 1974 XXXIII/4, p.322

[3] Strike of the Plastic Art Students, Siqueiros Papers, Getty Research Institute, Box 3, folder 3-29

[4] Philip Stein, “Siqueiros: His Life and Works,” New York International Publishers, 1994, p.14-16

[5] Guerrero dates: Answers.com (http://www.answers.com/topic/xavier-guerrero-1)

[6] Desmond Rochfort, Mexican Muralists, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1993, p.38

[7] Art: Intrinsically Native, Time, September 30, 1929 (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,737946,00.html);

[8] Grace Clements, Fresco as a Subversive Art, p.2, Siqueiros Papers (acc. 960094), Getty Research Institute, box 3, folder 3-24

[9] Rochfort, p.145

[10] Casino Español exhibition catalogues – “Exposicion de Sesenta Obras del Pintor David Alfaro Siqueiros,” “Clausura de la Exposicion Siqueiros,” Siqueiros Papers, box 1, folder 1-14, Getty Research Institute

[11] Hurlburt, p.203-205; footnote #29, p.283

[12] Arthur Millier, Brushstrokes, Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1932, B14

[13] Ibid; Arthur Millier, Brushstrokes, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 1932, B8; Goldman, p.322. Goldman lists the Stendahl opening date as May 12 or 13, “four days later” after the May 9 opening at Zeitlin’s.

[14] Goldman, p.322

[15] Millier, Brushstrokes, May 29, 1932

[16] Goldman, p.322

[17] Goldman, footnote #13, p.327

[18] Jacob L. Chernofsky, Jake Zeitlin, Impresario of the Printed Word, Cite AB October 5, 1987, p.1269-72; http://www.historyofscience.com/pdf/Jake%20Zeitlin,%20impresario%20of%20the%20printed%20word.pdf

[19] Millier, Brushstrokes, May 29, 1932

[20] Goldman, p.322

[21] Arthur Millier, Von Sternberg Dotes on Portraits of Himself, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1932, B13; Goldman, p.322

[22] Goldman, p.322. Though it appears Mrs. Chouinard made the initial offer of the fresco class to Siqueiros while in Taxco, Sheets might have been following up on that offer once Siqueiros was in L.A.

[23] Goldman, p.322

[24] Goldman, footnote #19, p.327. Arthur Millier noted that fifteen artists formed “The Fresco Block,” though he doesn’t specify whom in his article. (Arthur Millier, “Guns” Turn Patio Wall Into Fresco, Los Angeles Times, July 3, 1932, B5)

[25] Sarah Schrank adds seven more to Goldman’s ten Block members: Arenal, Guston, Hantman, Kadish, Lehman, Martin, and Shaffer. [Sarah Schrank, Art and the City: Civic Imagination and Cultural Authority in Los Angeles, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, footnote #26, p.180]

[26] Schrank, p.51; Harold Lehman biography, http://www.haroldlehman.com/siqueiros.html

[27] Neutra became a member in February 1929, and was often present at meetings and dinners. [Welcome!, CAC Bulletin, February 1929, Vol. IV No. 2, p.6]

[28] Spalding dates: Andy Jelmert & Michael Locke, Edwin Loeb Estate, Sumner Spaulding Architect 1940 (with alterations by Richard Neutra (1948), Silver Lake Architecture http://www.thesilverlakenews.com/amenities/?action=picture&itemId=605498

[29] Rochfort, p.146

[30] Millier, “Guns”

[31] Goldman, p.323; Hurlburt, footnote #34, p.284

[32] June Meetings, Welcome New Members, California Art Club Bulletin, July 1932, Vol. VII No. 7, p.1,3

[33] Announcement: April Dinner, CAC Bulletin, April 1930, Vol. V No. 4, p.2; The April Dinner, CAC Bulletin, May 1930, Vol. V. No. 5, p.2

[34] Hurlburt, p.207

[35]Ibid.; Arthur Millier, Outdoor Fresco Art Unveiled This Evening, Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1932, A10

[36] David Alfaro Siqueiros, The Vehicles of Dialectic Subversive Painting, p.1, Siqueiros Papers, box 2, folder 2-32, Getty Research Institute

[37] Goldman, p.323

[38] Art Events During the Week, Los Angeles Times, July 3, 1932, B6

[39] Hurlburt, footnote #35, p.284

[40] Goldman, p.323; Interview with Beggs, March 5, 1980, Hurlburt, footnote #30, p.283

[41] Hurlburt, p.206; Clements letter to Lozowick, July 26, 1932, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.

[42] Louis Lozowick, CAC Bulletin, April 1932, Vol. VII No. 4

[43] Art: Honor Among Revolutionaries, Time, September 9, 1935; http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,748989,00.html

[44] Ferenz became a member at the same time Neutra did in 1929. [Welcome!, CAC Bulletin, February 1929, Vol. IV No. 2, p.6]

[45] Millier’s earlier articles (Huge Fresco, Aug. 24, & Great Art, Oct. 9, 1932) specify those dimensions; Goldman’s article gives the dimensions as 16 by 80 feet.

[46] Goldman, p.323

[47] From photographs of Lukits and Cornwell working on the Public Library murals, in the collection of Morseburg Galleries, Los Angeles, CA.

[48] New Members, CAC Bulletin, April 1932, p.2; Twenty-Third Annual CAC Exhibition catalogue; The Club Dinner, Notes from Business Meeting, Echoes From Cornwall, CAC Bulletin, July-Aug. 1931, Vol. VI No. 7, p.2-4

[49] Arthur Millier, Huge Fresco for El Paseo, Los Angeles Times, August 24, 1932, p.15; Great Art Work to be Unveiled, Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1932, p.11; Goldman, footnote #26, p.327. Artist dates compiled from http://www.askart.com.

[50] Susan Emerling, A Wall on the Fly, Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2002

[51] Arthur Millier, Power Unadorned Marks Olvera Street Fresco, Los Angeles Times, October 16, 1932, B16

[52] Great Art, op. cit.; Siqueiros Plaza Art Dedicated, Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1932, A2

[53] Honorary CAC Artist and member, 1964 CAC Roster

[54] Goldman, p.325

[55] Loc. cit.; Nieto, loc. cit.

[56] Hurlburt, op. cit, p.213

[57] Goldman, loc. cit.

[58] Goldman p.325; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olvera_Street

[59] Goldman, op. cit., p.324-5

[60] An Exhibition Opportunity, CAC Bulletin, September 1930, Vol. V No.9, p.1

[61] Art Juries Will Finish Task Today, Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1932, A1; Olympic Art Jurors Honored by Museum Board, Los Angeles Times, July 29, 1932, A12; Margaret Nieto, Mapping of a Decade: Los Angeles During the 1930’s,http://artscenecal.com/ArticlesFile/Archive/Articles1999/Articles1099/MNieto1099.html

[62] Arthur Millier, Brushstrokes, Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1932, B16

[63] Clements, Fresco as a Subversive Art, p.7

[64] Some accounts of Murphy’s house place it in Pacific Palisades or Malibu.

[65] Emerling, loc. cit.; Hispanic News, loc. cit.

[66] Emerling, loc. cit. Schrank [p.51] lists the same dimensions, which equals 256 sq. ft.; Goldman cites “172 square feet,” p.326

[67] Schrank, loc. cit.

[68] Emerling, loc. cit.

[69] Diana C. du Pont, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Imagery and Aesthetics of David Alfaro Siqueiros' “Portrait of Mexico Today, 1932,” Santa Barbara Museum of Art, http://www.sbmuseart.org/siqueiros/mural_imagery.html

[70] http://www.chouinardfoundation.org/history

[71] For developments with the Chouinard mural, please see Suzanne Muchnic’s article, Art: They’ve Barely Scratched the Surface; Under Layers of Paint and Structural Work, a 1932 Mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros is Found. Will It Ever See the Light of Day?, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2005, E1

[72] For developments with the Olvera Street mural, please see Agustin Gurza, Political Muscle Pumps 1932 Mural’s Return, Los Angeles Times, October 18, 2008, E1

California Art Club in Search of a Home: The Hollyhock Years, 1927-1942

Along with painting I like to write about some of the lesser known stories in California's art history. This will be published in the upcoming Winter 2010 issue of the California Art Club Newsletter. Some of the many famous names you'll encounter include illustrator Dean Cornwell, oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, conductor Leopold Stokowski, physicist Albert Einstein, General Harrison Gray Otis, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, bandleader Xavier Cugat, artist Edgar Payne and sculptor Robert Merrell Gage. Read on for more!

1927aug_s

California Art Club in Search of a Home: The Hollyhock Years, 1927-1942

© By Eric J. Merrell

Finding a home for the California Art Club hasn’t always been easy.  In the early years permanent accommodations seemed to elude the Club, who over time held meetings and programs at various members’ homes and studios, as well as at short-lived galleries, and even at some of the local art schools.

At some point, early Club meetings were held in Los Angeles at the Earl House, once the home of Edwin Tobias Earl (1858-1919), inventor of the refrigerated railcar. The house was built in 1895-98 and was located at 2425 Wilshire Boulevard in Westlake Park,[1] now MacArthur Park, (demolished in 1957).[2] The once affluent neighbourhood was home to many of the city’s top tycoons, including publisher and owner of the Los Angeles Times, General Harrison Gray Otis (1837-1917), and oilman, Captain G. Allan Hancock (1875-1965).

Eventually, the Club decided to push for a more concrete situation, and set a goal to raise $150,000 for a building fund. The plan was to raise money selling artwork by Club members through various exhibitions. In 1922 under the efforts of CAC Managing Director and artist Walter Farrington Moses (1874-1947), achieving their goal looked promising. A one-night exhibition was held in 1923 at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium, a sizeable venue that was donated for the fundraising occasion. Amongst the smaller sums donated was “$500 on the spot.”[3]

By the following year discussion of a new permanent home was well underway. At “an animated meeting” held at the Club’s temporary headquarters at 623 Park View, the Club debated two plausible options: One was Olive Hill in Hollywood offered by oil heiress Aline Barnsdall (1882-1946); and the other was a location at “the southwest corner of Grand View and Third Street.”[4] In 1925 the idea was still heartily pursued, but the Club had to restructure their building campaign as it was “suspended temporarily on the resignation of the business manager,” with the funds only partially raised. Still, strong interest in the project remained.[5] While the Club delayed, the City of Los Angeles was approached by Barnsdall to manage part of her estate at Olive Hill as a cultural arts centre.

The 36-acre prime hilltop site was set amidst olive and citrus groves and overlooked Hollywood Boulevard on the east with views of the Pacific Ocean on the west. Also on the property was Miss Barnsdall’s recently-built Hollyhock House, named after her favourite flower and designed by internationally-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).

The original plans for the property included multiple buildings dedicated to the arts such as a theatre, housing for artists, a children’s school and playground, a petting zoo, shops, and more. As Wright was preoccupied with designing the Imperial Hotel in Japan, he was unable to simultaneously supervise the building of Hollyhock House; this served to aggravate Barnsdall enough that she stopped the project before all of the structures were completed.[6] Due to this eventual rift between patroness and architect, only three buildings were completed on the property: the Hollyhock House and two other buildings known as “Residences A and B.”  Speculation provides that perhaps Wright’s retribution on Barnsdall for halting the project was to angle her bedroom walls in Hollyhock in such a way that she could not hang pictures.

In 1926 the City of Los Angeles finally agreed to take eight acres of the Hollywood estate, but initially didn’t do anything with it probably because of Barnsdall’s restrictions on how the land could be used, as well as her controversial ideals. Part of the ensuing negotiations between the City and Miss Barnsdall included a provision that the California Art Club would be granted a fifteen-year lease on Hollyhock House.[7]

Barnsdall was known throughout Los Angeles for her “unorthodox and radical” views. She was an outspoken feminist, led a bohemian lifestyle as a single, unmarried mother with theatrical aspirations, and had a desire to build a “utopian artists’ colony” on Olive Hill.[8] (Wright’s personal life and affairs made headlines too.) While her eccentricities may have given the City pause, it appears the California Art Club didn’t blink at the association. A short commentary from CAC President Edwin Roscoe Shrader (1878-1960) in the Club’s monthly publication, the California Art Club Bulletin read “Aline Barnsdall has brought to fruition her plans to establish a cultural centre amidst the beauty of Olive Hill. The California Art Club happily, gratefully, accepts its share in this great movement and opens on August 31 the palatial home granted to the Club for fifteen years as its new galleries and headquarters.”[9]

Miss Barnsdall was feted for her gift during a CAC Dinner at Otis Art Institute on January 20, 1927, while President Shrader delivered an address of acceptance.[10] The preparation for the August opening exhibition began earnestly about May 1, 1927, which included some remodelling to better accommodate the CAC’s desire to display artwork.[11] They needed gallery space in the new clubhouse, and the first floor guest bedroom was rearranged to accommodate this. Next, the “guest baths were removed along with the partitions separating the two bedrooms[12],” creating a major exhibition space. On August 13, it was announced that Mrs. Milford McClouth, a former assistant curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art, was chosen to supervise the operations of the clubhouse, and H. K. Gavaza was recruited for the galleries.[13]

At Miss Barnsdall’s urging to fill the empty spaces in the Music Room (two of four “priceless Japanese screens” had been removed shortly after the CAC moved in[14]), a mural competition was announced in the Bulletin; CAC members Richard Joseph Neutra (1892-1970), the famous architect; Arthur Henry Thomas Millier (1893-1975), the second art critic for the Los Angeles Times; President Shrader and Kem Weber (1889-1963) composed the Jury of Selection.[15] Only two members responded to the announcement, so both their designs were accepted. But, because “some time passed without any real progress,” another artist, Louise Everett (1899-1959), who was also editor of the Bulletin, took on the project in July 1931 and created a 5 by 8 foot mural. The following September during one of her visits, Miss Barnsdall admired the mural in the music room and commented about the “…decorative interpretation of the desert by Miss Everett, especially with regard to its appropriateness to the surroundings.” A study for a fresco painting by Barse Miller (1904-1973) that was intended for the sitting-area received favourable comments, but it is unknown whether it was ever brought to fruition.

Other ideas for remodelling and expanding were proposed by architect and Club member Joseph Weston, and Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. (1890-1978), the son of the famous architect, commonly known as “Lloyd Wright.” However, Miss Barnsdall and the gallery committee turned down the architectural plans.[16] Lloyd Wright had supervised the building of Hollyhock House in his father’s absence along with Rudolph Schindler (1887-1953).[17]

A new logo was introduced with the February 1927 issue of the Bulletin.[18] Designed by Columbia Pictures’ Art Director Harrison Wily, the logo was also used on Club stationery and annual exhibition pamphlets. The design was based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s “formalized” geometric concept of a hollyhock.[19]

The Gala Opening for the California Art Club’s new headquarters lasted four days. Beginning with the reception and formal opening on the evening of Wednesday, August 31, 1927 and the Opening Exhibition[20] of works by CAC members at the new clubhouse, the celebration was officially underway. President Shrader presented Miss Barnsdall that evening with an engraved golden card, officially making her a life and honorary member of the Club.[21]

The festivities continued the next day with an Open House for the public and a Children’s Pageant. That evening Catalonian-born violinist and soon to be celebrity bandleader, Xavier Cugat (1900-1990) [22] gave a concert, his first in America.[23] The evening was presented by Aline Barnsdall and sponsored by the German conductor Alfred Hertz (1872-1942). Friday afternoon saw an Open House “to all Club Organizations,” and Sunday afternoon presented an Open House reserved for members of the California Art Club and their friends (no activities were held on Saturday).[24]

President Shrader lost no time arranging a whirlwind of activity, using the new headquarters “to sponsor lectures, host photography and poster exhibitions,” hold an “open-house for all local art clubs,” as well as “a luncheon for lithographers and printers, [a] luncheon for art teachers, a tea for high school teachers, a Spanish-feature musicale, an East Indian dancing exhibition and philosophy talk, addresses by noted art collectors, anthropologists, American Indian experts, explorers, a Philharmonic Society reception, and innumerable small group meetings having to do with widely varied forms of cultural work.”[25]

After seeing the success of the CAC in its new headquarters that attracted some 5,000 visitors by early 1929, CAC member Francis William Vreeland (1879-1954) predicted that Los Angeles would become a “world-beating metropolis.” With this in mind, Vreeland successfully petitioned Aline Barnsdall to donate more of her property for public use. In March 1929 Barnsdall revealed she was donating another eight acres, but with the stipulation that the land support an art museum, and that the institution be “built with funds raised independently from the municipal government or other ‘political ties.’”

Although Barnsdall’s contribution would have created Los Angeles’ first art museum, the entire project lost momentum when she publicly renewed her political position supporting imprisoned labour organizer, Tom Mooney, by placing huge signs on her property calling for his release. Mooney spent time in jail, despite “questionable evidence,” for participating in the 1916 San Francisco Preparedness Day bombing that took place during a strike by longshoremen.[26] The City scrambled to explain that these signs were on Barnsdall’s own property, and therefore not reflective of City opinions, but soon realized that it was politically problematic to do business with Aline Barnsdall.

In 1928 the City renegotiated a new agreement with Miss Barnsdall that named the Los Angeles City Park Commission as owners of Olive Hill, as well as the lessee of twelve additional acres. Part of the property included a smaller but roomier house known as “Residence B,” where Miss Barnsdall and her daughter would live until Aline’s death in 1946.[27]

As part of Miss Barnsdall’s earlier conditions to her donation she requested that public memorials be restricted to only those of artist memorials. War memorials were completely off limits. In the end, the city decided that Barnsdall’s conditions were unacceptable, which enraged the heiress. After informing the Park Commission that they had better reach an agreeable decision, she threatened to take back her property and transfer it to “radical groups.” Barnsdall promptly directed her lawyer to file suit against the City of Los Angeles for the return of her property. The legal battle lasted for nine years when, in 1940, the City agreed to return her Edgemont Street house (Residence B), which prompted Barnsdall to waive her restrictions. [28]

Aline Barnsdall continued to express interest in the California Art Club activities over the years, often attending meetings and events. At one point she presented a rose-coloured flower bowl as a gift for the living room; on another visit she gave a copy of Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography to the house library.[29] Monthly meetings were held to give members a chance to get together and talk shop. Business matters usually preceded a guest speaker, the latter including artists, doctors, singers, dignitaries and more. At the outset, these meetings included a formal sit-down dinner for $1 per person. Proving too expensive, a more informal “cafeteria-style” meal was introduced at 50¢ per person. Weekly forums were also held, covering a variety of arts-related topics.[30] Years later, Evelyn Payne Hatcher (1914-2009), daughter of renowned California artists Edgar Alwin Payne (1883-1947) and Elsie Philippa Palmer Payne (1884-1971) fondly recalled dances at the Hollyhock House that would last well into the night.[31]

Some other interesting notes from this period:

  • President Shrader filmed a party at the Hollyhock House on July 30, 1929 using his personal movie camera (whereabouts of the film are unknown);
  • The loggia hallway roof leaked as early as 1932, a problem that persists today (Wright houses are notorious for roof leaks, such as his Crimson Beech House (aka “Prefab #1”) in New York City with its “more than 50 leaks” [Fred A. Bernstein, Living with Frank Lloyd Wright, New York Times, Dec. 18, 2005];
  • Much of the house was used for exhibition space, including the inner courtyard, the outdoor court adjacent to the main gallery, and the “Greek Theatre” located around the circular pool, as well as the bedroom of Louise Aline “Sugartop” Barnsdall (b. 1917) (Barnsdall’s daughter with Polish actor Richard Ordynski (1878-1953));
  • The CAC extended an invitation, although unfruitful, to Albert Einstein (1879-1955) for a speaking engagement;
  • While the famous orchestral conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) was a guest of nutritionist and writer Dr. Philip Lovell, he visited the Hollyhock House on New Year’s Day, 1929. (Lovell’s Los Angeles house, now known as the Lovell Health House, was designed and built in 1927-29 by Richard Neutra.);
  • Frank Lloyd Wright and his son Lloyd Wright visited a forum meeting in February 1928. Frank Lloyd Wright Sr. expressed his thought that “the gallery should always be open to the serious and sincere artist with a new message no matter how revolutionary it may appear.”[32]

During the height of the Great Depression, monthly meetings continued to be well-attended (one such “Social Meeting” of December 19, 1931, was attended by 175 members and guests [33]), and continued to attract prominent new members, such as Colin Campbell Cooper (1856-1937), and Dean Cornwell (1892-1960).[34] However, the burden of the “Threadbare Thirties” forced the CAC to reduce membership fees for “Artists…and Lay Members” and noted that “a few more new members would enable us to join in the popular sport of ‘Balancing the Budget.’”[35] Also, following the example of other groups, the Club “cancelled all unpaid dues prior to January 1932, providing the current dues [were] paid in full.” In addition, it created an Assistance Fund for any member needing financial aid.[36]

Club President Robert Merrell Gage (1892-1921) requested donations to help fund the maintenance of the Clubhouse. One member set a charitable example by writing a check for $20, and twenty-two others followed suit by donating paintings and sculpture for fundraising purposes. Concerned about the artists’ economic well-being, the CAC conducted a voluntary and anonymous survey to gather information that could be used as “some sort of a remedy for the difficulty.”[37] The deep impact of the Depression on the CAC was evidenced by “a dwindling membership,” which corroborates reports that “the house was in pretty bad shape towards the end of [their] tenure” when their fifteen-year lease with the Hollyhock House ended in 1942.[38]

The Hollyhock House was later leased in the 1940’s and 50’s to Dorothy Clune Murray’s Olive Hill Foundation, the house again being altered to accommodate particular needs.[39] Barnsdall died in 1946, and by the next decade the grounds and house were in dismal condition. At that time Kenneth Ross, director of the City’s newly created Municipal Arts Department, contacted Wright at his Wisconsin home and arranged for his help on a master plan to renovate the property. Wright agreed to design additional buildings for the site free of charge. In June 1954, Los Angeles’ first Municipal Art Center opened, and Aline Barnsdall’s dream of children’s art classes and a cultural art centre was finally realized. This would be one of Wright’s last projects before his death in 1959.[40]

Hearkening back to the words that appeared in the June 1932 issue of the Bulletin, “One reason that we are blessed in the possession of this wonderful building we now call ‘Home’ is that Miss Barnsdall once told us that we were the only organization that did not have self-interest at heart in desiring a place on Olive Hill, and that this Club was honest and deserving, and that she respected us for that reason.”[41] In acknowledging her gesture to the California Art Club, Aline Barnsdall said, “I would like this gift to grow like our own California oak…No country can be great until the least of its citizens has been touched by beauty, truth and freedom; unless all three radiate from this little hill it is as nothing.[42]

Notes:

Contributing Editor Eric Merrell is the California Art Club’s Historian, in addition to being an Artist member. As of May 1, 2007 the California Art Club has leased offices at 75 South Grand Avenue in Pasadena.

Interior photo of the main hallway at the Hollyhock House. Through the doors to the left is the outdoor courtyard, and to the right, the living room. [Feb. 1927 CAC Bulletin]


[1] Mary Jarrett, Foreword, Who’s Who in the California Art Club, Inc., Roster and By-Laws, 1984, 75th Anniversary Edition, p.8

[2] Edwin Tobias Earl, http://teachmath.net/FamilyTree/persons/person24.html (accessed January 13, 2010)

[3] Of Interest to Artists, Los Angeles Times, December 17, 1922

[4] Antony Anderson, Of Art and Artists: California Club Planning to Build, Los Angeles Times, September 21, 1924, p.30

[5] Antony Anderson, Of Art and Artists: Members of Club Vote for Gallery, Los Angeles Times, April 5, 1925, p.30

[6] Hollyhock House, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollyhock_House (accessed January 13, 2010)

[7] Art Club Takes Over New Home, Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1927, A1; Sarah Schrank, Art and the City: Civic Imagination and Cultural Authority in Los Angeles, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, p.38-39; California Art Club Bulletins

[8] Art and the City, op. cit., p. 37

[9] E. Roscoe Shrader, Realization, CAC Bulletin, Aug. 1927, Vol. II, No. 8; p.3

[10] The original location of the lunch was at the Club headquarters on Park View Street. [Miss Barnsdall Honor Guest at Art Club Lunch, Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1927, A2]

[11] Art Theater to be Built, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1927, A1, p.2

[12] Clark E. Pardee, III, Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years–A Brief Overview, 1988; p.2-4. Full details about the rooms at the Hollyhock House are included in this essay, including paint colors, carpeting, decoration, etc.

[13] Club Picks Director of Art Project, Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1927

[14] Ibid.

[15]Competition for Mural Decoration to be Installed in the South Alcove of California Art Club Living Room and in West Wall of Music Room, CAC Bulletin (cover announcement), February 1929, Vol. IV, No. 2

[16] Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years, op. cit., p.4-5

[17] Hollyhock House, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollyhock_House (accessed January 13, 2010)

[18] This is the earliest known appearance of the logo at the time this article was published.

[19] Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years, op. cit., p.1

[20] CAC Opening Exhibition Pamphlet, Aug. 31-Sept. 30, 1927, Hollyhock House, Barnsdall Park; Collection of the CAC; Complete exhibition details online at http://www.californiaartclub.org/history/exhibits/hhopenexh.html

[21] Art Club Takes Over New Home, A1

[22] Cugat’s older brother Francesq “Francis” Cugat was an artist best known for his cover art on the original 1925 The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940). [Art Club Fete Announced, Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1927; Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Cugat]

[23] Art Club Fete Announced, op. cit.

[24] Calendar of Gala Opening, CAC Bulletin, Aug. 1927, op. cit., p.4

[25] Art and the City, op. cit., p.39

[26] Ibid.

[27] Cheryl Johnson, Aline Barnsdall - The Ultimate Iconoclast, Discover Hollywood Online;  http://www.discoverhollywood.com/pagemanager/templates/content.asp?articleid=87&zoneid=5

[28] Art and the City, op. cit., p.39-40; Miss Barnsdall Sues for Land, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1938, Section II, p.1

[29] Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years, op. cit., p.4

[30] Ibid., p.5

[31] Interview of Evelyn Payne Hatcher in Minnesota by the author, January 2001.

[32] Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years, p.### [p.6]

[33] December Meetings, CAC Bulletin, Jan. 1932, Vol. VII, No. 1, p.2

[34] January Meetings, CAC Bulletin, Feb. 1932, Vol. VII, No. 2, p.2

[35] Important Notice, CAC Bulletin, May 1932, Vol. VII, No. 5, p.2

[36] Dues; An Assistance Fund, CAC Bulletin, Oct. 1932, Vol. VII, No. 9, p.2

[37] Meeting of May 13th ; Why The Depression?, CAC Bulletin, June 1932, Vol. VII, No. 6, p.2,4

[38] Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years, p.5

[39] Hollyhock House History, informational pamphlet available at  the Hollyhock House, p.2; http://www.hollyhockhouse.net/hhhistory.html

[40] Art and the City, op. cit., p.41

[41] Items of Interest, CAC Bulletin, June 1932, op. cit., p.2

[42] Aline Barnsdall, An Expression From Miss Barnsdall, CAC Bulletin, Aug. 1927, op. cit., p.4

Happy 100th Birthday CAC!

One Hundred Years! It's an amazing feat for any group, let alone an art club where the demands of the career as well as individual temperaments generally keep members working in isolation. Today marks the Centennial of the California Art Club. The founding of the club was first reported by Antony E. Anderson in the Los Angeles Times on December 12, 1909, one hundred years ago to the day. The early meetings took place along the banks of the Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena and throughout greater Los Angeles, and included artists like Franz Bischoff, Aaron Kilpatrick, and William and Julia Wendt. The CAC's predecessor, The Painters' Club of Los Angeles (1906-1909), had limited its members to male painters in the L.A. area. With the founding of the new club, the rules were widened to allow women, sculptors, and others living as far away as New York City to join. Throughout the CAC's storied history it has embraced time-honored techniques found in the grand traditions of painting and sculpture, molding them into contemporary relevance; at the same time it helped to present such progressive events as the first black American art exhibition in Los Angeles (1929) and the first G.I. Arts & Crafts exhibit (1946, also in L.A.), and maintained a venue to present exhibits of diverse themes and backgrounds.

Over the past century, the club has counted among its members Sir Winston Churchill, architect Richard Neutra, illustrator Dean Cornwell, artists Alfredo Ramos Martinez, Sergei Bongart, Nicolai Fechin and Theodore N. Lukits, as well as many distinguished guests and speakers: the Mexican muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, conductor Leopold Stokowski, violinist Xavier Cugat, architects Frank Lloyd Wright and his son, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. (And of course, most of the well-known Southern California artists throughout the years, too numerous to mention in this post but listed online here).

In recognition of this milestone, I thought I'd link to my article on the Birth of the California Art Club, originally published this past spring. Here's to the next hundred years!

The California Art Club will be publishing a large coffee table art book (due out in early 2011) with Rizzoli Publishers to commemorate the Centennial, and will be full of paintings by historic and contemporary members of the CAC. Purchase your copy here.

The new logo above was designed for the Centennial by CAC Associate Artist Member Stan Prokopenko.

The First Black American Art Exhibit in Los Angeles, 1929

tanner_s This painting [above] by Henry Ossawa Tanner, now in the collection of LACMA, was not part of the 1929 CAC exhibition at the Hollyhock House, but was purchased directly from the artist when Harrison was in Paris in 1918. Harrison was a well-known Los Angeles collector. [1]

You can find the following short essay by yours truly published in the Summer 2009 issue of the California Art Club Newsletter. Here is a list of the exhibiting artists.

The First Black American Art Exhibit in Los Angeles, 1929 © By Eric J. Merrell.

Obscured by the years and smog of Los Angeles is an historic event: the first black American art exhibition in the city, which was shown in the California Art Club rooms at the Hollyhock House [the CAC's headquarters from 1927-42, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright], in late 1929. Assembled and premiered in Chicago by William Edouard Scott (1884-1964) and then brought to Olive Hill in Los Angeles with the combined efforts of CAC President Edwin Roscoe Shrader (1878-1960) and Dr. Elzora Gibson of Los Angeles,[2] the exhibition was only possible at the Hollyhock House, as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) would not host a black artist for another six years. In 1935 Beulah Ecton Woodard (1895-1955), founder of the Los Angeles Negro Art Association [in 1937], became the first black American to have a solo exhibition at LACMA. [3]

The December 1929 issue of the California Art Club Bulletin casually mentions that "there will be [Henry Ossawa] Tanner's work among this representative collection." [4] The exhibit was described as consisting of "seventy canvases of the leading negro artists of the United States" and also included sculpture, etching and photography, receiving coverage in the local papers. Hanging alongside the highly-decorated Tanner was work by three local artists, Constance Phillips, Paul R. Williams (1894-1980), and A. F. Taynes (Williams and Taynes were also important architects), along with two other artists from Indiana: John Wesley Hardwick (1891-1968), whose exhibited works included Jesus of Nazareth and landscapes, and organizer William Edouard Scott. Scott was an artist of international distinction, whose notable The House Behind the Cedar was exhibited, as well as other paintings. Artist William McKnight Farrow (1885-1967) exhibited "delicately melancholy" landscapes, Hale Aspacio Woodruff (1900-1980) presented landscapes and "scenes of Paris," and Albert Alexander Smith (1896-1940) showed etchings, while K. D. Ganaway contributed photography to the group. Curtis McHenry and Arthur Taylor both exhibited "naive" works in the form of wood carvings and paintings, including a "curiously carved and decorated box mounted on a carved stick and surmounted by a nude figure" by the former and a painting of "a tiger in the desert"  by the latter. [5]

The Sunday reception was opened at 3:00 p.m. with an address given by Francis William Vreeland (1879-1954) of the CAC, followed by Dr. H. Claude Hudson (1886-1989) [6], President of the Los Angeles Branch of the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People (NAACP) and California State Assemblyman Frederick Madison Roberts (1879-1952), the first black man to be elected to that body. A short musical program was presented by Eugene Edgar Page, composer and pianist, and Evelyn Warren, soprano. [7]

Dr. Gibson, a guest at the November 1929 meeting of the California Art Club, spoke and asked "in a plea for the abolition of racial prejudice, told  of the all-negro art exhibition to open in the Club rooms on December 1st [1929, running for two weeks]. [8] It comes direct from San Diego, and will be the first of its kind for Los Angeles." [9] At the same meeting, Richard E. Mann, student and relative of the famous tenor Roland Hayes (1887-1977) [10] sang a number of spirituals and "filled the rooms with...rich and stirring rhythms." [11] A schedule for the December Forum of monthly CAC events includes a lecture on December 9th by one of the local exhibitors, prominent architect Paul R. Williams, titled "The Negro in Art." [12]

On the last page of the December 1929 CAC Bulletin is a closing quote from Dr. Gibson: "Color of the skin does not count - only character and the qualities of the human soul is important." [13]

_______________________________________________

[1] Author's email with Ilene Susan Fort, the Gail and John Liebes Curator of Armenian Art, LACMA, 11/25/2008

[2] Exhibitions, December at the Clubhouse, California Art Club Bulletin, Dec. 1929, Vol. IV, No. 12, p.4

[3] Sarah Schrank, Art and the City: Civic Imagination and Cultural Authority in Los Angeles, U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, p.178 #110; U. of Missouri, Museum of Art and Archaeology Collections: http://maa.missouri.edu/news/newsrelease-maudelle.html

[4] Exhibitions, December at the Clubhouse, loc. cit. William E. Scott traveled to France in 1909 and 1911 as part of his artistic training; while there, he studied with Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the leading black American artists of the day (www.AskART.com). This may help explain Tanner's participation in the exhibition.

[5] Arthur Millier, Negro Art Attracts, Los Angeles Times, December 8, 1929, 21.

[6] Dr. H. Claude Hudson was elected President of the L.A. branch of the NAACP in 1924 and served ten consecutive years. The Dec. 2, 1929 L.A. Times article mistakenly refers to him as "Dr. H. V. Hudson." http://www.naacp-losangeles.org/history.htm

[7] Exhibitions Opened at Art Center, Los Angeles Times, December 2, 1929, A8; Negro Artists' Work to be Seen, Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1929, A2.

[8] Exhibitions Opened at Art Center, loc. cit.

[9] November Meeting, California Art Club Bulletin, op. cit., p.2

[10] Roland Hayes was a tenor who was the first African American to win international fame as a concert performer. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-1671

[11] November Meeting, loc. cit.

[12] Ibid., p.3

[13] Ibid., p.4

Birth of the California Art Club: Its Founding and First Annual Exhibition

This is the second cover article I've written for the California Art Club Newsletter (the first being my interview of Evelyn Payne Hatcher in June 2001, daughter of Edgar and Elsie Payne). Thanks to Peter and Elaine Adams, and Jean Stern of the Irvine Museum for their help and contributions in writing this. Disclaimer: I've added citations and notes at the end of this article that are not included in the print copy due to space, but I felt were important here to elaborate on some of the details. CAC Newsletter, Spring 2009 issue

Birth of the California Art Club: Its Founding and First Annual Exhibition

© By Eric J. Merrell

John Hubbard Rich (1876-1954), The Idle Hour, 1917, o/c, 14" x 14", Collection of the Irvine Museum

"Twas a dark and stormy night. The lightning zig-zagged and the heavens fell down in torrents. But Hotel Ivins, on Figueroa and Tenth Streets, was ablaze with many lights, nevertheless, and the artists' reception held there last Monday night was a tremendous success, social as well as artistic." Thus wrote the first art critic of the Los Angeles Times, Antony E. Anderson (1863-1939), nearly 100 years ago on February 1, 1911 describing the momentous first exhibition of the California Art Club (CAC).

Anderson's enthusiasm for Los Angeles' developing art scene was expressed in his description of the CAC's opening reception at the Club's art gallery located in the Hotel Ivins as the height of the city's social calendar: "The handsome new gallery of the California Art Club, its walls a subdued riot of harmonious colors and the gleaming gold of picture frames, was thronged with men and women...Many of these are well-known, some of them are distinguished - painters, sculptors, poets and story writers, with a sprinkling of gilded youths and golden girls whose doings are daily chronicled in the society columns of the newspapers."

"Indeed, the gallery, with its shifting groups of buzzing people, presented such a metropolitan appearance, such a well-remembered first night aspect, that I stopped on the threshold in  pleased amazement. Was I dreaming? Had I suddenly been transported to New York or Chicago, or was this really Los Angeles? I rallied from my stupor, and recognizing good friends to right and left of me, realized that art had come to stay in Los Angeles, that our atmosphere was no longer mere "hot air," and that our artists were up and doing. My surprise and pleasure were echoed on every side. Without a doubt the present exhibition of the California Art Club is the most important ever held here."[1]

The formation of the California Art Club began in 1909, two years prior to its first exhibition, and grew out of a fifty-member organization known as the Painters' Club of Los Angeles. The Painters' Club was founded in March 1906 to serve a burgeoning population of artists arriving to Los Angeles during a time when the city consisted of approximately 281,000 residents. As reported in Antony Anderson's column "Art and Artists" in the March 25, 1906 issue of the Los Angeles Times, the Painters' Club was formed for the "mutual betterment in their craft and for good-fellowship," and brought artists together through meetings "every fortnight" and presented artwork for friendly critique.[2]

Franz Anton Bischoff (1864-1929), Carmel Rocks at Sunset; o/c, 30" x 40", Paul and Kathleen Bagley Collection

One significant difference between the California Art Club and the Painters' Club was in the makeup of their membership: The Painters' Club did not include women, sculptors, or members who lived outside of Los Angeles; while the California Art Club included all of these. On December 12, 1909, a small cadre of the newly disbanded Painters' Club reorganized themselves, and, as reported by Anderson, "...the new club, which will be wider in scope that the old," rose out of the ashes that same month. The California Art Club's membership guidelines were broadened to include women as well as artists who lived outside the state - as far east as New York - and the new club grew quickly in size and stature.[3]

The Painters' Club also had predecessors, beginning with the Rambler's Sketch Club (circa 1881), founded in Richmond, Indiana.[4]  The self-taught Indiana-born artist, Albert Clinton "Pops" Conner (1848-1929), was one of the founders of the Sketch Club, which later metamorphosed into the Richmond Art Association (founded 1898, but had exhibited artwork in local schools as early as 1896) and then became an integral part of the Richmond Art Museum.[5]  After Conner moved to California he became the first President of the Painters' Club of Los Angeles and was also later elected an Honorary Member of the California Art Club, as well as being an active exhibitor.[6]

Antony Anderson was born in Norway on May 1, 1863. He studied painting at the Art Students League in New York City and at the Art Institute of Chicago under George de Forest Brush (1855-1941) , Gari Melchers (1860-1932), and Frederick W. Freer (1849-1930). He was at one time associate editor of Boys World. Upon moving to Los Angeles in 1903, he came the first art critic for the Los Angeles Times, and worked in that post for twenty-three years, eventually relinquishing his position to British-born artist and art critic Arthur Millier (1893-1975) in 1926. Anderson died on March 12, 1939 in Hermosa Beach, California. Although mainly known as a critic, his artwork includes landscapes, portraits, and figure studies.

Charles Percy Austin (1883-1948), San Juan Capistrano Mission, 1927; o/c, 30" x 36", Collection of The Irvine Museum

During his tenure at the Los Angeles Times, Anderson was a diligent recorder of city life and cultural events in the young metropolis, commonly including the titles and vivid descriptions of the artwork on view. Although there exists no record of a first meeting[7]  of the California Art Club, in his article describing the demise of the Painters' Club of Los Angeles, Anderson revealed in the next paragraph that there would be a successor "to be called the California Art Club." He informed readers that Charles Percy Austin (1883-1948) would be Secretary and Frank Rennsselear Liddell (1864-1923) would serve as the first President.[8]  Austin was a student of John Henry Twachtman (1853-1923) at the Art Students League in New York and is today renowned for his paintings of Mission San Juan Capistrano. Liddell, originally from Wisconsin, settled in Los Angeles in 1883 where he was a banker and self-taught plein-air landscape painter. Although Anderson continued his weekly column throughout this period, the next mention of the CAC wasn't until February 1910.

Despite the brief lapse in coverage, the CAC had been busy. When we next hear about the young club, Anderson reported on their second meeting, held at Franz Bischoff's studio at 320 Pasadena Avenue, Pasadena (now South Pasadena) on the 5th of February. At this meeting seven new members joined the group. Both John Hubbard Rich (1876-1954) and Robert Leicester [Rob] Wagner (1872-1942) joined as Active Members. Mauritz de Haaff (1877-1948), Allen Durand (1865-1939), William A. Matern (1867-1923), Frederick Roland Miner (1876-1935) and Jack Wells enlisted as Associates. In addition to the new members there were four others present who apparently were already members; they were Franz Anton Bischoff (1864-1929), Carl Oscar Borg (1879-1947), Aaron E. Kilpatrick (1872-1953) and William Wendt (1865-1946).[9] Bischoff, Borg, and Wendt are probably familiar to the reader. However, Aaron Kilpatrick, who may be less well-known, was also an artist of merit.

Aaron Kilpatrick (1872-1953), Eucalyptus Trees, 1909, o/c, 36" x 48", Collection of The Irvine Museum

Born in 1872 in St. Thomas, Canada, Kilpatrick was educated in the public schools of Winnipeg and moved to the United States in 1892. He had settled in southern California in 1907 where he established a successful commercial art business. He studied with William Wendt and often accompanied him on month-long painting excursions. When he was fifty years old, Kilpatrick sold his business and devoted the rest of his life to painting fine art. He received national acclaim as a fine artist and was elected an Associate of the prestigious National Academy of Design. Also at the second meeting of the California Art Club, a constitution similar to that of the Chicago-based Society of Western Artists (est. 1896) was adopted to gain prominence for the artists and to allow travelling exhibitions. A permanent exhibition committee was established, consisting of Wendt, Wagner, Bischoff, Borg and Austin.[10]

By the end of its second month, the Club elected their first Honorary Members, they were Antony Anderon, Hector Alliot (1862-1919) and Everett C. Maxwell. Alliot was an internationally-known art critic, director of the Southwest Museum, and the first art history professor at the University of Southern California. Maxwell was a popular western fillm writer, whose works include the 1925 silent version of Northern Code and the 1928 film, The Old Code.[11]  The membership then numbered approximately sixteen.[12]  The next few monthly meetings were held at various locations in the Los Angeles area, including at members' homes and studio, Kanst Gallery and Blanchard Hall.

On July 16, members of the CAC exhibited their works in the First Annual Art Exhibit of the Chautauqua Association of Southern California, which opened in the galleries at the Long Beach Public Library and continued through September 15, 1910 with free admission to the public. This was a multi-group exhibition which consisted of sixty-three pictures,[13] with one wall dedicated to work by CAC members. This was the first time members of the CAC exhibited together and was acknowledged as a group since the club's formation about eight months prior. Five new members appeared for the first time in the exhibition: Benjamin Chambers Brown (1865-1942), Valentine J. "Val" Costello (1875-1937), Hanson Duvall Puthuff (1875-1972), John [Jack] Wilkinson Smith (1873-1949)[14]  and Julia Bracken Wendt (1868-1942).[15]

Hanson Duvall Puthuff (1875-1972), Topanga in the Spring; o/c, 24" x 36", Collection of The Irvine Museum

There is a possibility that Julia Wendt was also a founding member of the CAC, probably along with her husband William, and may have had a hand in the demise of the Painters' Club. The men-only Painters' Club had, on at least two occassions (Aug. 24 and Dec. 8, 1908; PC Minutes), visited the Wendt house and admired the works of both Julia and William. Although only William was a member, Julia was exhibiting just as frequently as her husband and probably more frequently than many of the other Painters' Club members. In Anderson's December 12, 1909 column, he made a comment about women in the new CAC: "Apparently women will not be debarred from membership in the new club. But will they really be admitted? They certainly won't stay out if there's a loophole for getting in." This seemingly negative comment provoked two letters to the Editor of the Los Angeles Times. Along with a "Lydia Pinkham" (Anderson didn't believe this to be the author's real name) whose letter was reproduced in Anderson's column of January 9, 1910 (The Ladies Once More), Julia Wendt wrote a letter to Anderson that was reprinted in the December 26, 1909 column (An Open Letter), taking issue with Anderson's comments and strongly supporting women artists. Although we don't know what provoked Anderson to make the comment, it is interesting to note that this exchange took place within the first two weeks after the CAC had supplanted the Painters' Club. Years later, Julia was "introduced as [a] pioneer member" of the California Art Club at a 1932 party held at the CAC's Clubhouse, the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Hollyhock House, as recorded in the August 1932 issue of the CAC Bulletin.[16]

A little more than four months after the Chautauqua Association exhibit, the California Art Club opened their first Annual Exhibition on January 30, 1911 to great acclaim in the California Art Club Gallery and Club-Room, located in the Hotel Ivins in Los Angeles: "All [of] this is [a] performance well worth taking note of, for it means that our prophecies are coming true, that Los Angeles is really becoming an art center - and that from today it is up to us to make our work keep pace with our abilities," wrote Antony Anderson.[17]

The CAC has a fascinating history and has experienced many twists and turns and ups and downs. The California Art Club of the present is now kicking off three years of centennial celebrations. From 2009 through 2011 the Club's two "100-year" anniversaries include the founding of the Club in 1909 and its first major exhibition held in 1911. In many ways the CAC has never been in better shape than it is today. The founders would be pleased to know that today the California Art Club has a membership of more than 2,000 artists and patrons, as well as offices with four full-time employees and four consulting staff members, many dedicated volunteers and committees, and a new research art library. In addition, the Club has Chapters in San Diego, Orange County, Malibu/Ventura County, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. The Club is exhibiting members' works continuously at the California Art Club Gallery at The Old Mill in San Marino, the Blinn House in Pasadena, and at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, as well as curating exhibitions at numerous museums. To celebrate the Centennial, the CAC announced a logo competition open to all members and a book based on the history about the first 100 years of the CAC is currently underway. Indeed, as Antony Anderson remarked nearly 100 years ago, "...art [has] come to stay..."

Benjamin Brown (1865-1942), Autumn Glory; o/c, 25" x 30", Collection of The Irvine Museum

___________________________________________

[1] Antony Anderson, California Art Club, Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1911 (All of Anderson’s columns were published under the “Art and Artists” title. I have used the subtitles here in citing specific sections within each weekly column.)

[2] Antony Anderson, The Painters’ Club, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1906, VI2

[3] Ibid.

[4] Conner and his brother Charles Conner (1857-1905), along with Frank Joseph Girardin (1856-1945) and Micajah Thomas Nordyke (b. 1847), founded the Rambler's Sketch Club and soon added John Elwood Bundy (1853-1933) to their group. Another group by the same name was founded 1914 in Washington, D.C., by Charles H. Seaton (1865-1926), Winfield Scott Clime (1881-1958) and Edwin H. Cassedy; they soon included Benson Bond Moore (1882-1974) and later August H. O. Rolle (1875-1941), Edgar Hewitt Nye (1879-1943), and Henry Hobart Nichols, Jr. (1869-1962). This group later became the Washington Landscape Club in 1920. (http://www.nev.com/art/bbmoore/index.htm)

[5] Email to author from Shaun Dingwerth, Executive Director of the Richmond Art Museum, Sept. 11, 2008; http://www.AskART.com

[6] Antony Anderson, The Painter From Indiana, Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1911, pg. III22
2

[7] We can infer from the other known meetings that a first meeting probably took place on or around Jan. 5, 1910 at an unknown location. There were four other artists present at the second meeting (referred to as such by Anderson) on Feb. 5, 1910 who weren’t mentioned in Anderson’s Dec. 12, 1909 article along with Liddell and Austin, so they must have joined at some point in between. At least initially, meetings took place on the 5th of the month.

[8] Antony Anderson, Exit the Painters’ Club, Los Angeles Times, December 12, 1909, III17

[9] Antony Anderson, California Art Club, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 13, 1910, III11

[10] Ibid.

[11] Though he wasn’t a member of the Painters’ Club, Maxwell appears in their Minutes of Oct. 19, 1909: Mr. Everett Maxwell, who was “furnished gratuitously by Mr. Blanchard,” was to serve as Curator for the Second Annual Exhibition of the Painters’ Club, held at Blanchard Art Gallery.

[12] The Anderson column begins by saying that the club “has decided to enlarge its membership, and has sent invitations to many of the prominent painters and sculptors in Los Angeles and Pasadena to join the new organization.” Though producing unknown results, this could have included Ralph F. Mocine, Benjamin C. Brown and others who appear with the club shortly afterwards. (Antony Anderson, Art Notes, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 27, 1910, III14)

[13] Only 53 works are listed; also, some CAC member names are undecipherable in the article.

[14] John W. Smith and Jack W. [Wilkinson] Smith appear to be the same person – during his years with the PC and early in the CAC he went by “John,” later going by “Jack.” In fact, the Painters’ Club roster lists “John Smith, c/o Varney + Green [Billboards], San Pedro” – the faintly inscribed “John” is crossed out and boldly rewritten “Jack.” Jack W. Smith also later worked for Pacific Outdoor Advertising during the Depression. (Edan Hughes, Artists in California 1786-1940, Vol. II, p.1036)

[15] Originally, the opening was July 8 and the venue was to be “the beautiful galleries of the Carnegie library.” Both of these were subsequently changed. (Antony Anderson, Coming Exhibition, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 1910) Many of the other exhibitors in the Chautauqua exhibition – listed by Anderson specifically as not belonging to the CAC, as he reviewed CAC work and non-CAC in two separate columns - eventually became CAC members in the following years. Some were even early members of the Painters’ Club – William Swift Daniell (1865-1933), Norman St. Clair (1863-1912) and possibly “W. E.” (W. A.?) [William Alexander] Sharp (1864-1944). They too will eventually join the CAC. (Antony Anderson, Exhibition at Long Beach, Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1910, III11; Antony Anderson, At Long Beach, Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1910, III14; The exhibition list of participating CAC and other artists and artwork is available online here: http://www.californiaartclub.org/history/founders2.shtml#July)

[16] Gage Cuts the Cake, CAC Bulletin, Aug. 1932, Vol. VII, No. 8

[17] California Art Club, Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1911; op. cit.

Evelyn Payne Hatcher (1914-2009)

evelynpaynehatcher_s I've just learned that Evelyn Payne Hatcher, born January 12, 1914 in Chicago, passed away on February 16, 2009 at Rosewood Estates in St. Paul, Minnesota. She was 95. Evelyn was the only daughter of Edgar Alwin Payne (1883-1947) and Elsie Palmer Payne (1884-1971), both well known California artists. I had the great fortune to meet this wonderful lady at her home in Minneapolis, MN; three times, actually. The first time, at her invitation, I flew to Minnesota in January 2001 and interviewed her for the California Art Club (this interview became the cover article of the June 2001 issue of the California Art Club Newsletter). This was extremely convenient as I could stay with my grandparents, who lived only 10 minutes away. Evelyn had many records and scrapbooks from the lives of both of her parents, some of their artwork, and generously answered my many questions. She had lots of great stories of early life in Laguna, Pasadena, and Santa Barbara and the colorful characters that inhabited the artist colonies. Evelyn always had a quick wit, something in the vein of Mark Twain; once, after I introduced my family who were in town to her, she later remarked "I was happy to meet your parents. You chose nice ones." I took her out to dinner one cold winter night for her birthday, which my trip coincided with. I remember she lamented the cold Minnesota winter; compared to California, the growing season for her flowers was much inhibited. We became friends, corresponding through email and letters, and on a cross-country painting trip in January 2002 I met her at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a favorite spot of hers, where we spent some time looking through the collection.

Though an accomplished artist herself (she had some of her own paintings up at her house, and even gave me a critique or two of my own work), she told me that after growing up with such famous parents she tended to look for something a little different. 

payne_s

So she became interested in Anthropology and Art History, in particular American Indian art (Navajo), a good fit for someone of her background and knowledge (Evelyn earned a doctoral degree in anthropology from U of MN in 1953). Among her accomplishments as an author are two books, Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art, and The Drawings of Edgar Payne 1883-1947,; she also edited, updated and re-released her father's famous book Composition of Outdoor Painting for multiple printings (currently 7th edition). One of her good friends was Rena Neumann Coen, mother of the Coen Brothers of film fame. Both women taught at St. Cloud University (Evelyn was a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at St. Cloud and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Minnesota), and Mrs. Coen wrote a book titled The Paynes - Edgar and Elsie, American Artists.

A final book is due this spring, titled Made for Trade.

Evelyn donated several paintings by her parents to the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts ("Canyon Portal," by Edgar Payne, which used to hang over Evelyn's fireplace), ensuring the work for future generations.

Coincidentally, a few weeks ago I was reminded of the fact that I had tape-recorded my 2001 interview with Evelyn and decided to see if I could find the tape. I did, and have started to transcribe it. I haven't gotten very far into it yet, but I can picture myself sitting again at her kitchen table drinking tea, snow piled high outside, her stories making that long-gone era seem like just yesterday.

Bischoff's Bright Idea

This is the second article on the history of the California Art Club that I've researched and written, which will be published in the upcoming Winter 2009 issue of the California Art Club Newsletter. If you would like a hard copy of the Newsletter, let me know and I can get one to you. To see more of the history of the CAC that I've been researching, click here.

Bischoff’s Bright Idea

© By Eric J. Merrell

When the conversation turns to color, and continues on to the painting of flowers, the name of Franz Arthur Bischoff (1864-1929) is not far away. Born in Bohemia, he first traveled to Vienna to study art before immigrating to America in 1885.[1] In the United States, he began working as a china decorator in New York City before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and then Fostoria, Ohio, continuing to work in the same vein. In 1892 he relocated to Michigan, where he produced ceramic work as well as taught china painting in Detroit and Dearborn. When he moved to Pasadena in 1906 he brought with him a reputation as one of the greatest china painters of his time.[2] In a few short years Bischoff would be rivaled only by Paul de Longpré (1855-1911) in his distinction as a floral artist.[3]

hist_bischoff_s

Bischoff was a member of the Painters’ Club of Los Angeles (albeit a late joiner, becoming a member on September 7, 1909, a mere three months before that group disbanded[4]) and then an early and integral member of the new California Art Club, hosting club meetings at his studio in South Pasadena[5] and exhibiting extensively with them.[6] His personal sense of color is evident across the breadth of his work (he added landscape painting to his oeuvre upon his arrival in California[7]), as much a signature of authenticity as his own name.

Franz Bischoff in his studio; Courtesy The Irvine Museum

In 1911, a unique idea gave Bischoff further press and rippled through the art community. The Pasadena Daily News reported that Bischoff had come up with “something entirely new in the way of painting flowers.” He had painted a few new still life pieces - nothing new here - but his most recent floral paintings showcased “great California blooms with the glow of the electric light full upon them.”[8] The article goes on to credit Bischoff with originating the idea, and stimulating viewers’ thoughts with his three paintings of roses lit by an electric light. “…Those who have seen them declare that for illusiveness, delicacy and beauty, nothing can parallel them.” Some of these new paintings would be included in his upcoming fall exhibition.[9]

Post Script: As a way of illustrating how significant this idea was at the time, there is another story involving electric light, which comes from the Painters’ Club a few years earlier: William A. Matern (1867-1923), an Associate Member of the Painters’ Club, donated an electric bulb and shade to that group on February 2, 1909. It was motioned, seconded and unanimously carried to send him a thank you letter.[10] The Secretary, Martin Jacob Jackson (1871-1955) [11], suggested that the Club present Mr. Matern with an illuminated testimonial - Jackson to donate the work, and other members to contribute to the frame and materials.[12] Such was the importance of an electric light bulb to early 20th century artists.

[1] Edan Milton Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940, Third Edition, p.107

[2] Ibid., p.108

[3] Art and Artists, Pasadena Daily News, July 1, 1911, 8:1-2

[4] Minutes, The Painters’ Club of Los Angeles, September 7, 1909

[5] Antony Anderson, California Art Club, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 1910

[6] California Art Club Annual Exhibitions (1911-12, 1915-19, 1921-26), and Spring Exhibitions (1917-19)

[7] Artists in California, loc. cit.

[8] Art and Artists, loc. cit.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Minutes, op. cit., February 2, 1909

[11] Ibid., December 1, 1908

[12] Ibid., February 2, 1909