Los Angeles Times

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

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.

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

[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.