Arthur Millier

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 ( 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

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: (

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

[7] Art: Intrinsically Native, Time, September 30, 1929 (,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;,%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,

[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

[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;,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

[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;

[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,

[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,


[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!


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]


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, (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, (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, (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

[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]

[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;

[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;

[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

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, " [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. (

[5] Email to author from Shaun Dingwerth, Executive Director of the Richmond Art Museum, Sept. 11, 2008;

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

[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:

[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.