July 9, 2020 § Leave a comment
By LYNDA MILLNER
Nature intervened in 1925 with a giant earthquake, which struck down the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and the Hall of Records. A $700,000 bond was passed, but expenses went up to almost $1.4 million. Now what? A stroke of luck. The Rio Grande Oil Co. struck oil at Ellwood, west of Santa Barbara. Revenue from the oil tax paid for the rest of the courthouse. And amazingly it was finished just two months before the stock market crash in 1929.
The Mural Room has never been a courtroom, but was the meeting place for the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors until the 1960s. Now the Mural Room is used for weddings, ceremonies, parties and the like.
Artist Dan Groesbeck wasn’t given many instructions except to paint the history of Santa Barbara on all four walls. He had two helpers and was paid $9,000. It took them four months.
He began with the Canalinos Indians watching Juan Cabrillo landing near Santa Barbara in 1542. Then in 1602 along came Vizcaino, a Spanish explorer and mapmaker. He arrived on December 4, which was Saint Barbara’s feast day, hence our name and claim of the territory for Spain.
The next part of the mural is when Mexico was independent of Spain, beginning in 1822 and lasting only until 1846, when Captain John Fremont descended through San Marcos Pass and claimed Santa Barbara for the United States.
The third wall portrays what makes Santa Barbara’s economic engine run. First came minerals: oil, silver and diatomaceous earth. Next came cattle: thousands, giving hides and tallow until the big drought in the 1800s. Lastly agriculture: strawberries, broccoli and grapes, grapes, grapes.
On the same wall there is a painting of California’s symbol, the grizzly bear. Peeking out from around a tree is a young boy with a pixie hat depicting Peter Pan. What did he have to do with Santa Barbara? At the time a film company was out on one of the islands filming the story of Peter Pan, silent and in black and white.
The back wall shows the Chumash Indians working on the Santa Barbara Mission — the fourth since 1786, when our mission was 10th in a line of 21 in California. The signature in the bottom left-hand corner is a forgery. After Groesbeck was paid and on his way to Europe, they discovered the mural was unsigned. Upon being asked to return and sign his work, he said: “No. Just have someone do it.” And so they did.
— Excerpted from the Montecito Journal
‘The grandest ever built’
By RAY McDEVITT
Santa Barbara is one of the 27 original counties and the City of Santa Barbara has always been the county seat. By the 1870s, the Anglo political and economic ascendancy had become evident in architecture as well. The 1875 courthouse designed by Peter Barber, in a restrained classical style, was welcomed in part because it represented such a decisive break with the Hispanic past.
At the turn of the century, however, changing fashions led to a new appreciation of the provincial Spanish adobes now becoming scarcer. After World War I, interest in reclaiming the city’s Spanish architectural heritage intensified. The old courthouse, though a distinctive piece of architecture when built in 1875, had been outgrown by the 1920s. But no real progress was made in planning for its replacement until matters were brought to a head in 1925 when it was severely damaged by a powerful earthquake.
The board of supervisors commissioned William Mooser Co. Architects, the oldest architectural firm in the state, having been founded in 1854, to develop plans for a courthouse in harmony with the Spanish origins of the county. William Mooser Jr., son of the founder, was an accomplished architect. His son, William Mooser III, a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris who had lived for 17 years in France and Spain, returned from Europe to assist his father.
They succeeded beyond all expectations. Architectural historian David Gebhard assessed the Santa Barbara courthouse as “certainly the public monument from the 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival in California.” Charles Moore, in The City Observed, deemed it “the grandest Spanish Colonial Revival structure ever built.” Harold Kirker praised it as “a beautifully integrated structure . . . sensitively related to a vast sunken garden of stone terraces and half century old pines, palms and redwoods. The courthouse is equally impressive from every vantage point and is rich in wit, fantasy and surprises. It is a treasure house of architectural and decorative devices — archways, towers and loggias; tiled walls, vaults and floors; wrought-iron grills, balconies and landings — in which nothing is repeated or exactly alike.”
— Excerpted from Courthouses of California (Heyday Books, 2001), edited by Ray McDevitt. Reviewed by Thomas Reynolds
June 30, 2020 § 1 Comment
MICHAEL REARDON’S painting Light and Shadow has been juried into the 100th international exhibition of the National Watercolor Society, to be presented online this fall from October 1 to December 20.
Reardon, one of the nation’s most respected watercolor painters, tells how it happened.
I had long been interested in doing a fire escape painting, mainly because of the beguiling shadow patterns. After several false starts over the years, last June I saw this fire escape outside Specs’, an old San Francisco dive and thought this could be the one. I did a sketch but put it aside because there was something wrong with the composition.
In April, I was rearranging my stack of “problem” sketches when a piece of paper covered the right side of the sketch and, voilá, the composition problem was solved.
Sometimes painting works in mysterious, or not so mysterious, ways.
June 7, 2020 § Leave a comment
HANDS WERE OFTEN an important subject for Ruth Bernhard, the world-renowned photographer who lived in our neighborhood for more than 50 years. She took this photograph in 1956 after attending a Sunday service at the Fellowship Church on Russian Hill.
HOW IT HAPPENED: I knew no one in the photo community when I arrived in San Francisco in the early 1950s, but I was invited to one and then another of Ansel Adams’s many cocktail parties and through those parties I got acquainted with the community.
There were so many interesting photographers in San Francisco at that time! Several of them developed a group called the San Francisco Photographers’ Roundtable. There was Jerry Stoll, who really was the star of the group, and his wife, Gini Stoll Harding, who became a lifelong friend. Other photographers in the group were Phiz Mozzeson, Jackie Paul, Miriam Young, Paul Hassle and Pirkle Jones and his wife, Ruth Marion Baruch. They met in the Stoll studio to share their work and got the idea to have an exhibition on a theme, suggested by Dorothea Lange. It was decided that photographers had to use new pictures all taken for an event that was called “San Francisco Weekend.” They sent out a call to photographers all over the city. I heard about it and went over to the studio on Potrero Hill and introduced myself to Jerry and Gini.
Now, I never go out with my camera and wonder what I am going to photograph. I never do that, ever. But when Dorothea Lange said we had to, I did. That walk resulted in three photographs, including Hand in Hand (above) and Mr. Reilley (below).
These photographs hung in the San Francisco Arts Festival in 1956. There were about 10 of us in the show. Dorothea was the advisor and Imogen Cunningham, Nat Farbman, who was the senior editor of Life magazine, and I were the jury. Everyone pitched in and worked for the exhibition, which won top honors at the festival. Gini and Jerry were so proud because we photographers were considered only “button-pushers” in those days.
— Ruth Bernhard
May 22, 2020 § 1 Comment
By HARVEY L. JONES
Arthur F. Mathews’ well-deserved reputation as a hard master was revealed in his frequently harsh criticism and caustic comments about the students’ work. Although they regarded him with fear and awe, the students in his drawing classes were noted for the high quality of their draftsmanship.
As it was in the Parisian art academies, Mathews met with his classes twice weekly for the purposes of instruction and review of the students’ accumulated work. He had little patience with the untalented and was known to ignore some of the students working at their easels, making neither comment nor criticism for days or weeks at a time, as a way of discouraging all but the most diligent and dedicated in the class. Those students who aspired to Mathews’ high standards were rewarded with his generous attention and encouragement.
Despite his dictatorial teaching methods, Mathews did not expect the students to imitate his own approaches or themes. Moreover, during his 16 years as director of the California School of Design in San Francisco, he always advised his best students to seek further study in Paris. Mathews was also very supportive of the efforts of women in the arts.
A large number of California’s best artists, both men and women, from the first half of the 20th century were his students. They include, among many others, his wife Lucia Kleinhas Mathews, Armin Hansen, Florence Lundborg, Francis McComas, Xavier Martinez, Anne Bremer, Gottardo Piazzoni, Ralph Stackpole, Giuseppe Cadenasso, Isabel Hunter, Granville Redmond, Joseph Raphael and Euphemia Charlton Fortune.
— Excerpted from The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews by Harvey L. Jones (Pomegranate 2006), published by the Oakland Museum.
February 17, 2020 § 2 Comments
JOHN PAYNE had no desire to settle in California until he visited San Francisco. He immediately fell under the city’s charms and uniqueness.
There was no doubt that in the 1950s it was the place to be. Lawrence Ferlinghetti had just opened City Lights bookstore in North Beach, and the free-spirited culture of the Beat generation appealed to the young painter. The hills, the Victorian houses and the liberal politics were irresistible. Best of all, his allergies disappeared like magic in the gray fog.
December 22, 2019 § Leave a comment
ARCHITECT AARON GREEN, who lived in an apartment overlooking San Francisco’s Lafayette Park for many years, helped Frank Lloyd Wright establish an office here in 1951 at 319 Grant Avenue.
Green’s mother-in-law, Jeannette Pauson Haber, lived near him at 2510 Jackson Street, on Alta Plaza Park, with her sister, Rose Pauson, who was a former client of Wright’s. In 1940 she had built the Pauson House in Arizona, which was destroyed by fire in 1943.
Rose was a painter, and Jeannette a ceramicist. When Wright decided to create red tiles, inscribed with his initials, to be affixed to a select number of his buildings, he asked Jeannette to fabricate them. Wright provided a drawing of what he wanted; Jeannette formed the tiles; Aaron Green inscribed the initials — FLLW — into each one; and Jeannette produced the “Taliesin red” glazed surface that Wright specified.
Among the Bay Area buildings that Wright designated as worthy of bearing the tiles were the V.C. Morris shop on Maiden Lane — his only building in San Francisco and a precursor to the circular Guggenheim Museum in New York — and the Marin County Civic Center, which was completed by Aaron Green after Wright’s death.
— From Frank Lloyd Wright and San Francisco, by Paul V. Turner, published by Yale University Press.
December 13, 2019 § Leave a comment
“ONE LEAVES THE Legion show with a deep sense of disappointment,” writes San Francisco Chronicle art critic Charles Desmarais in his review of the Tissot exhibition at the Legion of Honor, while acknowledging Tissot “was a skillful painter who left us intimate glimpses into the styles and customs of wealthy France and England in the 19th century.”
More to the point are Desmarais’ comments in his weekly newsletter:
“James Tissot: Fashion & Faith,” at the Legion of Honor, is the kind of exhibition we had once come to expect from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: uncritical, untethered to the issues of today, and very pretty to look at. Then things changed, we thought.
I chose not to go down that critical road in my review. I think the museums are still shaking off the decorative flourishes of the Buchanan/Wilsey years, and in a big institution that doesn’t happen overnight. I’m willing to cut the new team some slack as it works through the deep investments made in the backlog of long-planned projects. And “Tissot” is, after all, a very pretty show.
REVIEW: “A story more of love than of art“
October 21, 2019 § Leave a comment
IN THE EARLY 1880s in San Francisco, Samuel Marsden Brookes had been hard at work, waiting patiently for better times. His paintings, of which he by now had a large number, were stacked all around the studio, with good prices affixed to them. Once Brookes put a price on a canvas, not even Satan himself could make him reduce it.
One portrayed a life-size peacock, posed on a balustrade before a palatial country house. The painting had been languishing in Brookes’ studio for quite some time, waiting for a buyer. The longer the bird remained on his hands, the higher Brookes jacked up the price. He had started at $750, a figure already pronounced much too high by his dealer. Out of sheer spite Brookes immediately raised it to $1,000. Thereafter, the price of the peacock had steadily escalated. From $1,000 it went to $1,200, then $1,500, then $1,700. By the time Timothy Hopkins, adopted son of the late Mark Hopkins, came to see the painting, the price had soared to $2,000. A few days later, when Timothy returned with Mark Hopkins’ widow for a second look, Brookes promptly raised the price to $2,500, announcing that, while he did not have any money he did have the picture, “and here it stays until I get my price.” In the face of such rapid developments, Mrs. Hopkins surrendered on the spot, adding two still lifes, one with apples, one with fish, for a total of $3,000.
The idea of the solitary artist brandishing his mahlstick on the ramparts of High Art, willing to die, yet prevailing in the end, was inspiring. However, it was merely the exception confirming the rule.
— From Artful Players: Artistic Life in Early San Francisco by Birgitta Hjalmarson
August 26, 2019 § Leave a comment
IT’S BEING HAILED as a victory. The school board in San Francisco reversed course and voted merely to cover up — not paint over — a remarkable series of murals by noted artist Victor Arnautoff at George Washington High School. But the plan is still to make the frescoes disappear.
That’s a shame. A quickly scheduled, little noted public viewing of the controversial murals on a weekday afternoon nonetheless brought out scores of people eager to see for themselves what the fuss was about. It turned into an art party, with a gathering of many leading figures from the Bay Area art world. Most seemed to agree it was a silly idea to destroy — or even hide — the murals so that the young minds of high school students would not be subjected to the trauma of passing by Arnautoff’s intentionally provocative art.
Said one: “If they’re worried about the kids being traumatized, don’t let them read the front page of The New York Times.”
MORE: “The case for keeping the murals”
August 5, 2019 § Leave a comment
FIRST PERSON | D. A. PENNEBAKER
I WANTED to make a film about this filthy, noisy train and its packed-in passengers that would look beautiful, like John Sloan’s New York City paintings, and I wanted it to go with my Duke Ellington record, Daybreak Express.