The Irvine Museum in Perspective
by Jean Stern
The Irvine Museum opened its doors on January 15, 1993. Nine months earlier, on April 15, 1992, I started my first day as Executive Director and sole employee of The Irvine Museum, not long after Joan Irvine Smith and her mother, Athalie R. Clarke, had signed the documents to create the museum.
At that time, there was no such place as "The Irvine Museum," and so for several months, I went to work every day at The Oaks, Joan Irvine Smith's ranch and private equestrian training center in San Juan Capistrano. The Oaks is well known for training world-class horses for jumping and hunting, and the daily agendum that Mrs. Smith supervises there is precise and exhausting.
Mrs. Smith and I had daily meetings at The Oaks, often with her son James Irvine Swinden attending. As the Vice President of the museum, Jim was essential to the planning and eventual realization of The Irvine Museum. Each day, in the course of our continual series of meetings, I accompanied Mrs. Smith while she managed the various aspects of equestrian training. Whenever we could, we returned to our in-depth discussions of how we would set up and run the museum. The topics we discussed varied from how to properly catalogue and store the works of art, to how to produce our first traveling exhibition, including setting up the various museum venues and publishing our first book for the show.
Even before we opened our doors, we received our first important gift on June 6, 1992. A superb mural, painted in oil paint and gold leaf by Jessie Arms Botke, assisted by her husband Cornelis Botke, was offered as a gift to the Irvine Museum. The large mural, measuring six and one-half feet by twenty-six feet, had been commissioned for the east wall of the ballroom of the Oaks Hotel, in Ojai, California.
Painted between 1954 and 1956, the mural had been the pride of the Oaks Hotel for over forty years. By the 1990s, the venerable hotel had become a health spa and the old ballroom that held the mural became the Coral Spa, or the aerobics exercise room. With a general renovation of the hotel underway, the wall that displayed the mural was scheduled to be demolished in order to greatly expand the exercise area.
After meeting with the owners of the spa, we gratefully accepted the significant gift. It came with the sole proviso that the museum had to bear all costs of removal and conservation. In other words, if we managed to take it off the wall, it was ours.
We arranged to have Scott Haskins, an expert mural conservator, examine it and find a way to remove it. Fortunately, the mural had been painted on canvas that had been glued to the wall. Had the mural been painted directly on the wall, it would not have been feasible to remove it. The mural was in fact painted on two large pieces of canvas, one piece was six and one-half feet high by 12 feet long, while the other was six and one-half feet high by fourteen feet long. Over the years, two small pieces of mural along the top edge had been cut out, one to allow for installation of a heating/air conditioning vent, and the other for an exit sign. Also, one or two other peripheral strips had been cut off near the doorway.
The mural came off the wall very quickly and the two sections were sent to be cleaned and remounted onto two very substantial sets of stretcher bars that were made specifically for our newly acquired Botke mural. We awaited delivery of the restored mural with great anticipation as there was nothing else like it in any museum or private collections.
The delivery of the Botke mural to the Irvine Museum caused great excitement among the tenants of our building. The sight of the two large sections, painted in vivid colors and gold leaf, drew a large crowd to the lobby. However, in those early years, the museum was located in a large suite on the twelfth floor, and after much brainstorming and careful measuring, the building engineer declared that neither section would fit in any of the six elevators that serve the building.
Once the disappointment had passed, Mrs. Smith arranged to have both mural sections shown on a long-term loan basis at UCI's Joan Irvine Smith Hall, where the dean and administrators of the UCI Medical School have their offices. The awe inspiring mural instantly dominates the field of vision as one enters the building. As of this writing, they are still displayed at Joan Irvine Smith Hall and may be viewed by the public.
Over the years, the Irvine Museum has received numerous gifts of art works, some which we consider important examples of the style, such as the Botke mural, and some very interesting minor works, such as watercolors and drawings, which serve to fill out our holdings of a particular artist. Here are a few of the important paintings that were accessioned as gifts.
In October 1993, Jack and Suzie Kennefick gave The Irvine Museum a painting entitled "Girl with Calabash of Fruit" painted by Millard Sheets in 1968. Although quite late for our collection's focus, we were delighted to have a fine example of Sheets' late work.
In November of 1993, the Irvine Museum received a very generous gift from James and Linda Ries of two important paintings, "Lifting Fog, Laguna" by Guy Rose, and "The Farmhouse, Monterey" by Armin C. Hansen.
In 1994, we were delighted to accept from Rory White the gift of a magnificent painting entitled "On Fishermen's Wharf, Monterey" by Frank Gavencky. Although not of the era of the California Impressionist style, Gavencky represents the modernist period that came with the Great Depression and ended with the advent of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1950s.
In 1995, Ray Redfern, of the Redfern Gallery in Laguna Beach, donated a magnificent large early painting by Granville Redmond. Painted in Southern California in 1903, "Bringing Home the Flock" shows a shepherd taking his sheep home at the end of the day. While the sky is painted in brilliant end-of-the-day colors, the landscape is rendered in moody, dark tones, characteristic of the French Barbizon influence.
Later that year, George and Irene Stern, of George Stern Fine Arts in Los Angeles and Carmel, donated "Halos" a rare major painting by Hamilton Wolf. This large Regionalist style painting is a significant example of Industrial Modernism in California.
In 1996, we received a gift of a large, superb painting entitled "In Laguna Canyon," dated 1928, painted by Laguna Beach resident artist William Griffith. The painting came as a gift from Mrs. Josephine N. Milnor, at the suggestion of Ray Redfern. It shows Laguna Canyon Road near Big Bend, as an unpaved path along a gravel-strewn stream bed.
In December, 1996, our good friend Robert McChesney Bethea gave the museum an imposing oil painting by Arthur G. Rider, his step-father. "Morning in Taxco" is a large, light-filled view of a plaza near the cathedral. In addition, the gift came with the companion pencil study for the painting.
In 2004, noted collectors Thomas and Barbara Stiles gave us a large figural painting by Charles Reiffel entitled "Nymphs by the Sea." Reiffel made a lasting contribution to the art communities of San Diego and Silvermine, CT.
The Irvine Museum's inaugural exhibition was Selections from The Irvine Museum, which curiously opened not in Irvine but in Scottsdale in 1992, a few weeks prior to our own museum's grand opening. The exhibition tour was originally scheduled to open at The Irvine Museum, continue to the Fleischer Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona, and then move on to the Oakland Museum of California. However, as we approached the opening date, it became evident that we could not meet the schedule because our museum, which was under construction in a temporary location, would not be ready in time. We discussed the issue with Mort and Donna Fleischer in Scottsdale and revised the show so that it would be shown first at the Fleischer Museum, then continue to Oakland, and end its tour in Irvine. James Irvine Swinden and I attended the black-tie opening at the Fleischer Museum, as we have done for every single venue of each traveling exhibition to date. Russell Penniman, Jim's brother and a museum board member, also attended the opening in Scottsdale.
We published our first Irvine Museum book, Selections from The Irvine Museum, as a companion volume to the exhibition, with an introduction by Joan Irvine Smith and essays by Harvey Jones, Senior Curator of the Oakland Museum; Janet Blake Dominik, at that time Curator of Art at The Irvine Museum, and myself. The book proved extremely popular, and within two years, we ordered a second printing.
At that time, just after the publication of our first book, Mrs. Smith and the board of directors of the museum instituted a policy that any public, non-profit institution that requested the museum's books for its library would receive a complete set in hardbound editions, free of charge. The only requirement was to have the request presented on the institution's letterhead. This policy, administered by James Swinden, has been in effect since 1993. One single gift of Irvine Museum books to the California State Library System in 2004 comprised 1,000 sets. To date, it is estimated that more than 2,000 sets of books have been given to libraries in public schools, private schools and colleges, as well as local, county and state public libraries.
On the evening of January 14, 1993, The Irvine Museum celebrated its grand opening with a gala reception; the following morning, on January 15, we opened our doors to the public for the very first time. Our initial location was in Suite 1250, on the twelfth floor of Tower 17, a beautiful building located at 18881 Von Karman Avenue in Irvine. Most people who visited us expressed their astonishment that a museum was located in an office building, but their bewilderment quickly changed to enchantment after a tour of the exhibition.
The entire staff of The Irvine Museum on the occasion of its opening and during those first few months of operation consisted of just two full-time employees, Janet Blake Dominik as Curator and myself as Executive Director, with Allison Beaumont as part-time Assistant Curator and Gwen Brewton as receptionist. Gwen was "on loan" from Joan Irvine Smith Fine Arts, Inc., which had not yet opened its doors. From the beginning, our museum administration was managed by James Swinden in his offices in Newport Center. Additionally, we had the as-needed services of Pam Ludwig, the then director of Joan Irvine Smith Fine Arts, who managed our art inventory and storage needs.
In 1992, even before we had opened the museum, we mounted exhibitions to accompany The Oaks Classic and The Oaks Fall Classic, two Grand Prix horse jumping events held at The Oaks, Mrs. Smith's equestrian training facility in San Juan Capistrano. These art shows were held for two days, twice a year, until 1998, when the art exhibitions were discontinued. The exhibitions were displayed in a large tent that was air conditioned for the benefit of the paintings. Accompanying the art shows were displays by a selection of art dealers that specialized in California paintings.
When Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke, Joan Irvine Smith's mother and the co-founder of The Irvine Museum, died at ninety years of age on May 22, 1993, the museum started planning Reflections of California: The Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Memorial Exhibition, its second traveling exhibition. Because Mrs. Clarke had been a longtime friend of President and Mrs. Richard Nixon, and because she had been appointed by President Nixon to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, her memorial exhibition opened at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California. As Mrs. Clarke had also been re-appointed to that committee by President Ford and President Carter, the show traveled on to the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta and to the Palm Springs Desert Museum before coming home to Irvine.
In recognition of his friendship with Mrs. Clarke, President Nixon had readily agreed to officiate at the opening of her memorial show in Yorba Linda, but he fell ill and died just a few days prior to opening night. As part of the period of national mourning, President Nixon's body lay in state at the Nixon Library at the same time that Reflections of California was displayed there. The many thousands of people who came to pay their respects to the late president also viewed our exhibition. This remarkable timing of events afforded us the unlikely satisfaction that as a very young museum, we had a show that claimed more than 100,000 visitors.
Reflections of California was accompanied by a fully illustrated book featuring a superb essay by Joan Irvine Smith that is distinguished both as an eloquent tribute to her mother and as a synopsis of the history of Orange County. To accompany her text, I wrote an essay discussing the paintings that comprise the show. Reflections of California was produced by our incomparable graphic designer Lilli Colton, who has designed all of our books since.
Also in 1994, the museum organized a sweeping exhibition and book on the historic Franciscan missions of California. Romance of the Bells: The California Missions in Art was a compilation of paintings, watercolors and etchings of the twenty-one California missions, painted in the period between 1880 and 1940. The book, which has an introduction by Joan Irvine Smith and essays by Gerald J. Miller, Pamela Hallan-Gibson, Norman Neuerburg and myself, has received popular acclaim as a readable survey of California's historic missions and their representations in art.
Romance of the Bells: The California Missions in Art opened at the Mission San Juan Capistrano with a dramatic and magnificent evening gala in the historic mission courtyard. Many of the paintings, which were painted there more than a century ago, were displayed in the two-hundred-year-old arcade, using a hanging method that did not impact the ancient adobe walls, and were illuminated by a lighting system installed specifically for the event. It was a unique and mystical experience to stroll the softly lit grounds of the time-honored mission and see the historic paintings in the same setting.
Romance of the Bells was displayed in several museums and academic institutions throughout California, including the Mission San Luis Rey, the University of San Diego Art Gallery, the Santa Barbara Historical Society Museum, the Bakersfield Museum of Art, the Monterey Museum of Art, the Santa Cruz Museum and the Redding Museum.
In 1995, three small museums in California approached The Irvine Museum with the idea of organizing a show and publishing a catalogue that featured landscapes from each museum's immediate region. This wonderful idea became Palette of Light, which was organized and displayed at the Santa Cruz Museum, the Redding Museum, the Bakersfield Museum of Art and The Irvine Museum. I wrote a text to accompany the fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition.
One of the very first projects initiated by the museum while we were still holding all of our meetings at The Oaks was the Guy Rose exhibition and monograph. This idea, first pursued in 1992, brought us together with several of the leading figures in the young field of California Impressionism, including Ray Redfern of the Redfern Gallery, Roy Rose of the Rose Family Archives and Harvey Jones of the Oakland Museum of California. Guy Rose (18671925) was the most important of our Impressionist painters, and after numerous failed attempts by others to document his life and works, we felt certain that we would succeed.
In 1995, after three years of preparation, The Irvine Museum and the Oakland Museum of California jointly produced Guy Rose: American Impressionist, a retrospective exhibition accompanied by a definitive book on the artist. Dr. Will South, a scholar on American art, was commissioned to write a comprehensive biography of Guy Rose, and noted American art history professor William H. Gerdts wrote an introduction. Mrs. Smith wrote an introduction, and I wrote an essay that examined Rose's unique and important role in the California art community.
As part of the Guy Rose project, The Irvine Museum and the Oakland Museum of California sponsored a video documentary on the life of the artist. The captivating twenty-six-minute film, produced by Robert Boudreaux, aired on many local PBS television stations.
Guy Rose: American Impressionist opened to a tremendous attendance at the Oakland Museum and continued with great popularity at The Irvine Museum, the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey and the Greenville Museum in South Carolina. For many years, Guy Rose claimed the highest attendance of any of our exhibitions.
In 1996, The Irvine Museum became one of the few museums in the United States to be invited to participate in the Olympic Games Cultural Olympiad Arts Festival. Working with the University of Georgia Art Museum in Athens, Georgia, one of the venues for the Games, we produced California Impressionists, the most important show of California painting up to that time. Drawn from our collection as well as from several notable private collections, this superb exhibition was documented in an accompanying book with introductions by Joan Irvine Smith and James Swinden and essays by Dr. Susan Landauer, Donald D. Keyes, curator of the Georgia Museum of Art, and myself.
California Impressionists opened at the University of Georgia Art Museum in Athens in conjunction with the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Atlanta. The show continued to the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida; the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, South Carolina; the University of Utah Museum in Provo, Utah; the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and The Irvine Museum.
Also in 1996, a PBS video project called Impressions of California, with lead funding by the Joan Irvine Smith & Athalie R. Clarke Foundation, came to fruition. A few months before, Paul Bockhorst, an award-winning filmmaker and producer at KOCE-TV in Huntington Beach, had completed a PBS documentary entitled Visions of California, which examined the art and artists of California during the Great Depression. Soon after the station aired Visions of California, he approached the museum for assistance in producing the second installment of a planned three-part series, to be called Impressions of California. This was to be a "prequel" to Visions in that it would examine an earlier period of art in California, between the 1870s and the 1920s. Since some of the key artists featured in Visions were aging but still available for interviews, he realized that time was of the essence and acted quickly to tape the second segment first.
To accompany Impressions of California, the Irvine Museum and KOCE jointly produced an exhibition of paintings and an illustrated book to complement the video. The book boasts essays by a who's who of California art historians, including Harvey Jones of the Oakland Museum of California, Bolton Colburn and Janet Blake of the Laguna Art Museum, Martin Petersen of the San Diego Museum of Art, noted art writer Ruth Westphal, Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, Susan M. Anderson and myself. The program is still shown on various PBS stations.
In 1998, a long-term project between the Art Gallery at California State University, Dominguez Hills and The Irvine Museum came to fruition with the opening of Painted Light: California Impressionist Paintings from the Gardena High SchoolLos Angeles Unified School District Collection. This superb exhibition, organized by Kathy Zimmerer and curated by myself, featured the well-respected Gardena High School art collection, amassed by the student body over a period of thirty-five years.
Starting in 1917, Gardena High initiated a policy of having the graduating class purchase a work of art for the school collection. This tradition continued into the 1950s, with two, or sometimes three, paintings added each year.
As an art historian in the field of California painting, I had heard of this collection and had seen it on several occasions starting in the late 1970s. The collection was superb, but its handling, storage and conservation were alarming. Gardena High School did all it could to protect the paintings, but after years of mishandling, damage and destructive "restoration" by well-meaning art teachers, several of the pieces had become irretrievably damaged and others were very near that point.
At the suggestion of Kathy Zimmerer, I attended a meeting at Gardena High School to see if something could be done to preserve the collection. Also in attendance were various representatives of the faculty, school district and alumni. Most importantly, Kathy had invited DeWitt Clinton McCall, an art dealer and conservation expert that I've known and respected since 1978, when I was director of Petersen Galleries in Beverly Hills and first asked him to clean one of my paintings. Since that first job, De cleaned and repaired more than a thousand works of art that came through Petersen Galleries.
The meeting at Gardena High School led to an agreement on initiating this difficult and costly project-that is, to prepare the paintings for display, to document and publish a book on the collection, and to tour the collection in a traveling exhibition. Not long afterward, Kathy called me and De McCall to announce that she had secured funding from the W. M. Keck Foundation, which allowed us to start the project.
Painted Light was a tremendous success. The exhibition was shown at California State University, Dominguez Hills, The Irvine Museum and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. The story of how this remarkable collection was saved became an episode in Huell Howser's California's Gold program, which airs on PBS stations.
Gardena's method of building an art collection through gifts of art by each graduating class was at one time widespread in Southern California, but only a few other schools continued it past a few years and accumulated great works of art. Following the success of the Gardena High School collection exhibition, the Irvine Museum has since been approached by two other schools wishing to repair, document and publish their incomparable long-term collections. Severe budget limitation, however, has hampered any progress on these proposals.
Our first traveling exhibition to reach the Northeastern United States, All Things Bright & Beautiful, was organized in 1998, with noted American art authority William H. Gerdts serving as Guest Curator. The show consisted of a selection of fifty-eight paintings drawn from our collections as well as from those of several private lenders, representing the best exhibition of California Impressionists to date.
All Things Bright & Beautiful was shown at the National Academy Museum in New York, the Terra Museum of American Art in Chicago, the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, the Oakland Museum of California as well as The Irvine Museum. This was the first time that an exhibition of California Impressionist paintings was displayed in New York or Chicago.
As is usual with The Irvine Museum, we published a full-color book to accompany the show, with an congratulatory letter by Governor Pete Wilson, introductions by Joan Irvine Smith and James Swinden, and scholarly essays by Professor Gerdts, myself, Harvey Jones of the Oakland Museum of California, and David Dearinger, curator of the National Academy Museum. In addition, I presented a slide-illustrated lecture at the Terra Museum in Chicago, and Professor Gerdts and I each presented lectures on Impressionist paintings at the National Academy.
A significant gift to The Irvine Museum was presented by the Geoffrey Beaumont family in December 1998. The gift consisted of a large collection of watercolors, drawings and other artwork by the celebrated painter of U.S. Navy scenes Arthur E. Beaumont (18901978).
Beaumont was born in England as Arthur Eadwine Crabbe. In 1908, he went to Canada to work on a horse ranch in Saskatchewan. After a year of cowboy life, he moved to Oakland, California, and in 1910, enrolled at the San Francisco School of Art. After one year of art studies, he returned to ranch work as a cowboy in the San Joaquin Valley.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1915, and began, for reasons that are unclear, to use the name Arthur Beaumont Crabbe, and not long thereafter, simply "Arthur Beaumont." He supported his art studies by taking construction jobs, and on one of those, at the Los Angeles Bible Institute, he met Dorothy Dean, his future bride. By 1917, he had opened his own commercial art studio and devoted himself to art on a full-time basis. In 1919, he married Dorothy, and the couple moved in with her parents in Los Angeles.
In 1921, Beaumont enrolled at the Chouinard School of Art and took classes with the modernist Stanton MacDonald-Wright (18901973), all the while continuing his career as a commercial artist. He accepted a scholarship from the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1925, and later went to Europe to further his art education. He returned to Los Angeles in 1927, and took a teaching position at Chouinard.
The great turning point in Beaumont's career came in 1932, when he painted the first of three formal portraits of Admiral William D. Leahy. Knowing of Beaumont's love of ships and of his earnestness, Leahy arranged a commission for Beaumont as Lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve, a position he held for two years. Thereafter, from 1932 to 1977, Beaumont was the Official Artist of the U.S. Navy, and he devoted his life and career to documenting the Navy.
In 1935, he was commissioned to paint backdrops for the movie Mutiny on the Bounty and was selected as one of America's 50 best watercolor artists. That same year, he was elected president of the Long Beach Art Association, a post he held several years. Beaumont's renown was growing every year. In 1939, he was chosen Chairman of the Art Jury for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.
In 1941, the National Geographic Society selected Beaumont to paint "Ships That Guard Our Ocean Ramparts," a series of paintings of battleships, destroyers and other naval vessels. The article was especially timely as it appeared in the September issue, barely three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The tremendous popularity of these paintings prompted the National Geographic Society to commission Beaumont to paint a similar series on the U.S. Army. These were published in 1942. In 1943, Beaumont served on the citizens committee that raised $40 million to build the cruiser USS Los Angeles. His paintings and posters of the proposed ship were used in the fundraising drive and accounted for more than $1.5 million of the money raised.
Throughout World War II, Beaumont's paintings of the ships and crews that fought in the various battles were instrumental in shaping the public's view of the gallantry and determination of the U.S. Navy. After the war, he continued as Official Artist of the U.S. Navy by recording the testing of the atomic bomb on Bikini Atoll. His series of more than 180 watercolors described the effects of two tests of the atomic bomb. These were exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and sent on a nationwide tour.
In 1957, Beaumont was the Official Artist of the U.S. Navy Arctic Expedition. He painted the North Polar Ice Cap and was one of only a few people to complete the fabled "Northwest Passage" from the Pacific to the Atlantic aboard the USS El Dorado.
Correspondingly, in 1960, he painted at the South Pole as the Official Artist for Operation Deep Freeze. Aboard the USS Glacier, he produced 350 sketches and 25 paintings of the Bellinghausen Sea. Later that year, he returned to Antarctica and produced 25 sketches and 3 paintings of the U.S. South Pole Station and the geographic pole. Moving about in the perilous landscape, Beaumont fell through a snow bridge into a crevasse and narrowly escaped death before being rescued by a New Zealand navy captain.
In 1967, he and Dorothy moved to Leisure World, a senior citizen retirement community in Laguna Hills, California. Far from being retired, he continued to paint aboard a number of Navy ships and exhibited his works throughout the country. In 1964, Beaumont was bestowed the highest civilian award offered by the U.S. Navy, the Meritorious Public Service Citation for his service as "a distinguished marine artist." Arthur Beaumont died in his home on January 23, 1978.
The generous gift of the Geoffrey Beaumont family includes several important paintings from the 1941 National Geographic Society's "Ships That Guard Our Ocean Ramparts" series.
In 1998, Mrs. Smith, The Irvine Museum's President and Founder, proposed an ambitious exhibition that would bring together a large number of environmental, art, cultural, governmental and private organizations that share an enlightened view toward environmental conservation. This momentous show, titled A Silent Testament: Nature and Humankind in the Balance, was held at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art from mid-March through mid-April 1998. It offered insight into the state of biodiversity on a planet-wide scale and suggested approaches for present and future methods of finding workable solutions. Due to the short lead time for A Silent Testament, we could only publish a small illustrated pamphlet, which nevertheless gained wide distribution, especially in schools, and required a second printing.
The list of supporting entities for A Silent Testament is indeed impressive. It included the Friends of the Nature Reserve of Orange County, the Nature Conservancy, The Irvine Company, the County of Orange, the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, the American Oceans Campaign, the University of California at Irvine, the National Water Research Institute, the National Audubon Society, the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Orange County Water District, the Rancho Mission Viejo Company, the Rancho Mission Viejo Land Conservancy (now known as the Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy) and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, among many others.
The success of A Silent Testament led to a joint project between the Nature Conservancy of California and The Irvine Museum in 2000, entitled Native Grandeur: Preserving California's Vanishing Landscapes. This exhibition, co-produced with Mark Sanderson of the Nature Conservancy, featured a stunning group of paintings illustrating the seven ecological regions of California: the South Coast, the Desert, the Central Coast, the North Coast, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Great Central Valley and the Shasta-Cascades.
These beautiful paintings of California were selected from The Irvine Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, the Crocker Art Museum, the Hearst Art Gallery, the Kern County Museum and several private collections. The companion book featured 87 color plates, an informative text by David Wicinas, and essays by Harvard Professor E. O. Wilson, Joan Irvine Smith, California State Librarian Dr. Kevin Starr, myself and many others.
Native Grandeur was shown at the Oakland Museum of California, the Napa Valley Museum, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History and the San Diego Natural History Museum.
Another small but very influential pamphlet that grew into an important project was published in 1999, and was entitled California's True Gold: Her priceless and irreplaceable cultural and historical monuments and her beautiful and fragile environment so very close to the "earthly paradise." California's True Gold was a brief overview of California history, with special emphasis on Orange County and the Mission San Juan Capistrano. It was produced to accompany the mission's first Pageant of Capistrano.
The historical discussion in California's True Gold spawned a great demand for additional information from schools and numerous interested individuals. We soon learned that in California public schools, California history is taught in the fourth grade only, and not again until college, and then only as an elective. Sensing a need for an accurate, readable and well-illustrated account of the history of California, we opted to produce an exhibition and book to examine this subject.
Also in 1999, The Irvine Museum accepted another major gift in the form of the estate of Frank H. Myers, given to us by the Patricia Clark Myers Trust. Patricia Clark Myers, the artist's daughter-in-law, had been a close friend of mine for more than twenty years. She was a gentle and caring person and dedicated herself to the legacy of Frank H. Myers. We collaborated on many projects, and I visualize her each time I look at a painting by Myers. Pat and I were introduced by Martin E. Petersen, Curator Emeritus of the San Diego Museum. At the time, I was working under Marty as Guest Curator for The Cross and the Sword, the official U.S. Bicentennial Celebration Exhibition at the San Diego Museum in 1976.
Frank Harmon Myers (18991956) was born in Cleves, Ohio, and enrolled at the Cincinnati Art Academy in 1917. He took lessons with Frank Duveneck (18481919) and John E. Weis (18921962). He earned his tuition by designing greeting cards for two Cincinnati printers. Myers continued his studies by taking summer classes, in 1919 and 1920, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1921, he visited France, accompanied by Weis. Together they painted in Brittany and briefly visited Giverny. Back in Cincinnati in 1922, Myers began a 23-year teaching career at the Art Academy. In 1923, he returned to Europe and studied at the School of Fine Arts in Fontainebleau.
In 1925, Myers married Ella Price, a young schoolteacher. They spent their honeymoon in Europe, staying in Paris and taking trips throughout Spain. The following year, they made an extended trip west to Colorado and California. On the return trip, they spent several weeks in Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, where Myers met Joseph Henry Sharp (18591953).
Myers's work included portraits as well as landscapes and urban scenes around Cincinnati, painted in an Impressionistic realism. His early works show Weis's influence, with a strong sense of realism handled in a bold and expressive brushstroke. At other times, Myers produced brightly colored works, showing his keen interest in French Impressionism. Gradually, he developed a strong sense of abstract design, and in the late 1920s, produced a number of remarkably advanced paintings, such as The Charleston, in an analytical style that bordered on abstraction.
At the height of the Great Depression, in 1932, Myers took a teaching sabbatical and painted in New Mexico. The series of paintings from this trip, though commercially unsuccessful at the time, represent some of the artist's finest work and can be seen in several museums.
In the late 1930s, Myers' interest increasingly turned toward painting the ocean. At the same time, his health began to falter, and, for no apparent reason, he experienced bouts of severe depression. In 1940, he took a one-year leave of absence and moved to Monterey, California. Thereafter, his work was almost exclusively seascapes, with a few portrait commissions.
Myers was a well-respected leader of the Carmel-Monterey art community, serving as president of the Carmel Art Association in 1953. His painting companions included Armin C. Hansen (18861957) and Donald Teague (18971991); together, they defined the Monterey art scene for many years. After several years of recurring health problems, Frank Myers died of a heart attack on March 7, 1956.
Myers works are in the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., the Museum of New Mexico, the University of Cincinnati, and of course, The Irvine Museum.
In 2001, we opened California, This Golden Land of Promise, an exhibition featuring paintings that documented the historical development of our state and of Orange County. Every day, from the time we opened the exhibition until it closed, we received constantly growing crowds of visitors. To accommodate the large number of visitors, we extended the show from our usual four months to five months. California, This Golden Land of Promise was also shown at the Napa Valley Museum, the Bakersfield Museum of Art and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.
The accompanying book, California, This Golden Land of Promise, which Joan Irvine Smith and I wrote, includes a detailed timeline by James Swinden and an introduction by Dr. James I. Doti, president of Chapman University. Directed at a general audience, the book is illustrated with historical paintings of California as well as archival photographs, maps, and quotes from original letters, diaries and source books.
To be certain that our text was indeed accurate, Jim Doti selected a committee of history scholars to review the narrative. This committee was made up of Professors Leland L. Estes, Lynne M. Pierson Doti, Robert A. Slayton and James C. Miller, all of Chapman University, as well as Phil Brigandi, an Orange County historian and scholar.
Published jointly by Chapman University Press and The Irvine Museum, California, This Golden Land of Promise contains 368 pages with 405 color plates, 88 black-and-white images, a timeline, bibliography and index. It is a historical narrative of California from prehistoric times through the Spanish exploration, colonization, the Mission Period, the Rancho Period, the American Conquest and the Gold Rush. It ends with a chapter on James Irvine I, founder of the Irvine Ranch.
The immediate and truly lasting success of California, This Golden Land of Promise has been very gratifying. The book has gained a large readership, not only in public and school libraries, to which the museum distributes for free, but also among students, amateur historians and general readers. In the book's first year of publication, Mrs. Smith, Jim and I appeared at several book signings for various organizations, including the libraries at Chapman University and UCI, the Newport Beach Country Club, the Pacific Club, the California Club in Los Angeles and the Mission San Juan Capistrano, among others.
Also in 2001, our association with author and researcher Nancy Hall came to fruition with the publication of The Life and Art of Paul de Longpré, a beautiful and thoroughly researched book on the French-American flower painter. In addition to the main text by Nancy Hall, the book has introductions by Joan Irvine Smith and James Swinden, and an essay I wrote to place the artist within the budding southern California art community of the first decade of the twentieth century.
Paul de Longpré (18551911) was born near Lyon, France, and came to the United States as a mature artist who specialized in painting flowers. In 1899, he moved to the newly established city of Hollywood and, until his death in 1911, was internationally known for his beautiful watercolors of flowers. He built a large, Moorish-style mansion on a three-acre lot at the corner of Prospect Avenue (now called Hollywood Boulevard) and Cahuenga Avenue. De Longpré also built a large public garden on his property that was reputed to have more than 2,000 rosebushes representing a multitude of varieties. His home and garden became Hollywood's first spectacular tourist attraction, long before the arrival of the movie industry. A retrospective exhibition on the work of de Longpré is scheduled for the near future.
In March 2002, The Irvine Museum moved from its twelfth-floor suite to the ground-floor suite of Tower 17. Our original twelfth-floor suite was restricted in space, so we had to make our offices part of the public exhibition space. Our new site, suite 100, availed us of not only more display space, but also the opportunity to design our floor space to best fit our needs for proper viewing areas as well as private offices.
After seven years of planning and organizing exhibitions that traveled throughout California and to other parts of the country, we decided that we were ready to send a show to Europe. In 1999, Jim Swinden took the lead in producing Masters of Light, an exhibition of the best examples of California Impressionism, gathered from our collections and from those of fourteen private lenders. As we knew that we were going to be judged by a discerning and cultivated audience, we resolved that we would send only the very finest art.
From the outset, this exhibition required extraordinary effort, as there were countless adjustments that came with packing, crating, documenting and shipping an exhibition across international borders. To cite just two examples, all of the crates had to be constructed from pre-approved European wood, not from American lumber, which could harbor insects or organisms that might prove destructive to European trees; the crates also had to be watertight so that they would float in case the cargo plane went down in the ocean.
There was one unique philosophical problem that had to be resolved with the Paris venue. We were told that we could not label this show as an exhibition of "Impressionist" paintings, as according to the French art public, only paintings painted in France in the 1860s and 1870s could properly be termed "Impressionist." To that end, we agreed to call the exhibition a show of "plein air" paintings, from the French phrase en plein-air, signifying that they were painted outdoors.
In order to see the show successfully through its European venues, Jim Swinden dealt with every one of these challenges and eventually mastered this specialized skill, thanks in great part to the assistance of Ms. Mo Shannon, who acted as our special registrar. After three years of planning and attention to hundreds of details, we were ready to send the exhibition to Paris, Krakow and Madrid and then home to Irvine.
As we do for all of our traveling exhibitions, Jim Swinden and I went to Paris for the opening, as well as for interviews and press conferences. The Mona Bismarck Foundation is a well-established venue that hosts a variety of American exhibitions. Mona Bismarck was an American woman from Kentucky who, after four marriages, married the grandson of Otto von Bismarck and became the Countess Bismarck. At her death, she left her palatial home on the Seine, on Avenue de New York just across from the Eiffel Tower, to her foundation to foster Franco-American goodwill through cultural exchanges. Over the years, these American exhibitions have been well attended and have gained widespread respect and support from French museum-goers.
On his arrival at the museum, Jim was greeted by Monica Dunham, curator of the Mona Bismarck, who told him that the show was going to be a big hit. Jim asked Monica how she could be so certain, given that most of the paintings were still leaning against the wall, waiting to be hung. She related that the French professional art installers who were busy hanging the paintings had recently installed the Matisse to Picasso show at the nearby Grand Palais, and they had stated that they liked our paintings much more than the ones they had recently installed.
A few days later, using my native French language, I talked to a group of ladies who were viewing the exhibition. They said they were docents at the Musée d'Orsay, and that at their next meeting, they would suggest a docent group visit to the Mona Bismarck. They told me they had never seen such vivid and brilliant paintings at the Musée d'Orsay.
On press day, Jim and I were pleasantly startled to see more than one hundred journals, magazines and periodicals represented at the press conference. To accommodate the large number of journalists, Jim held a series of one-on-one interviews, and I led three separate press tours of the exhibition. Being a native French speaker, I made an instant hit when, after being introduced as the director of an American museum, I addressed the press conference in fluent French.
On September 25, 2002, Masters of Light opened to a large audience at the Mona Bismarck Foundation, hosted by U.S. Ambassador Howard H. Leach and his wife. From the start of the exhibition run, the Mona Bismarck attracted large numbers of sophisticated French visitors who were willing to stand in line on the Avenue de New York to await the opportunity to see our plein air paintings. In fact, the French public was very gracious and showed no preconceived bias against American Impressionist paintings.
In February 2003, Masters of Light opened at the International Cultural Centre in Krakow, Poland, in the middle of the Polish winter. We were greeted at the Krakow airport by Professor Jacek Purchla, the director of the center. Huddled in extra-warm clothing, Jim and I attended the opening reception and press interviews. In television interviews, as neither Jim nor I could speak Polish, we donned earphones to listen to the translation prior to giving our response in English, which would then be translated back into Polish.
In Krakow, Jim and I had the occasion to walk around the Market Square where the International Cultural Centre is located, and stroll through the beautiful old part of central Krakow. Recalling the fuss over the use of the term "Impressionist" at the Paris venue, we were both surprised and delighted when we counted at least three huge banners that stretched across various large intersections, boldly announcing the "Impressionist Exhibition" from The Irvine Museum.
Through the kindness of Professor Purchla and his staff, Jim and I were greeted like visiting diplomats. We were amazed at the long lines of patient visitors that snaked out the door and into the snow on a daily basis. To meet the unexpected and extraordinary demand, the Centre had to open one extra day per week and two extra hours per day. The final tally of visitors came to 33,000, far exceeding the Centre's previous record of about 8,000 for a three-month exhibition.
As part of the arrangements between The Irvine Museum and the International Cultural Centre, it was mutually agreed to hold an environmental and cultural symposium in Krakow as part of the show. In late April, in the Polish springtime when it was not nearly so cold, Jim and I attended the conference with our invited guest and colleague, David Beckman of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who presented a paper there.
The third European venue was the Centro Cultural del Conde Duque, a beautiful municipal museum set in an old palace in Madrid. The venue was arranged by our friend and fellow Orange County resident U.S. Ambassador George Argyros. On June 18, 2003, Jim and I represented The Irvine Museum at the opening reception, which was hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Argyros. In addition, we were accompanied by Jim's wife, Madeline Swinden, and their son Jase. Masters of Light continued through the summer and drew large crowds of Spanish and foreign visitors.
The most ambitious and successful of our exhibitions up to that date, is of course documented in a book. Masters of Light features a congratulatory letter by Governor Gray Davis, scholarly essays by Dr. William H. Gerdts and myself, and introductions by Joan Irvine Smith and James Swinden. All fifty-eight paintings that comprised the show are illustrated in full-page color, as are the more than forty other images that illustrate the essays.
In 2003, we published a book entitled Plant Portraits: The Life and Art of Albert R. Valentien, a joint project with the San Diego Natural History Museum. A special exhibition of eighty of Valentien's watercolor studies of California flora was displayed at the San Diego Natural History Museum and will continue as a traveling exhibition over the next three to four years.
Albert R. Valentien (18621925) is widely known as the first chief decorator at Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati. After a twenty-year career, he and his wife, Anna, came to San Diego in 1903, and in 1907, accepted a commission from philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps to paint a series of California flower paintings. The Scripps project occupied ten years of their lives, with Anna collecting examples and Albert dutifully painting them. In the end, Albert Valentien painted nearly 1,100 works, which were donated by the Scripps estate to the San Diego Natural History Museum in 1933. And there they remained, locked in a vault for almost seventy years, nearly totally out of view.
Having lived in San Diego for many years, and having worked at the San Diego Art Museum, I knew of this treasure and had seen, from time to time, a few of these works by Albert Valentien on limited display. In 2001, Mrs. Smith, Jim Swinden and I were given a special opportunity to view all of these remarkable paintings. The visual and emotional impact was resounding, and Mrs. Smith quickly offered to have The Irvine Museum publish a book and assist in the task of producing a traveling exhibition.
In addition to the Valentien book, The Irvine Museum is close to completing a five-year project on the art and life of Joseph Kleitsch (18821931), one of the most important Impressionist painters of southern California. As part of the project, we will be publishing a fastidiously researched text by Dr. Patricia Trenton, a well-known art historian in the field of American painting. A major retrospective exhibition of Kleitsch's paintings, with Dr. Trenton as Guest Curator, will be organized and sent on tour.
Another important exhibition and book project that is also on our schedule is an examination of the life and art of Arthur E. Beaumont. The elegant and informative text was written by Geoffrey C. Beaumont, son of the artist and a noted authority on his father's work.
Just this year, the museum has commissioned Phil Kovinick, an eminent author and researcher on American art, to write the text for the forthcoming book and exhibition on John Frost (18901937). Frost, often called the "lost Impressionist" of California, was the son of Arthur B. Frost, an American painter and illustrator. John Frost was a promising painter who was struck down by tuberculosis at age 46. While small in number, Frost's extant paintings are of superb style and quality. His work is often compared to that of Guy Rose, who was both his friend and his mentor.
In 1995, when we published Guy Rose, American Impressionist, we had planned to follow up this volume with a companion book to be called the Guy Rose Catalogue Raisonné. This monumental book, containing a list and accompanying photographs of every known work by Guy Rose, is being compiled and edited by Roy C. Rose of the Rose Family Collection and Archives. The Guy Rose Catalogue Raisonné will be published by The Irvine Museum sometime in the next five to ten years.
Moreover, we are contemplating initiating two more monographs dealing with the life and art of Sam Hyde Harris (18891977) and Frank H. Myers (1899-1956). We have had many suggestions as to which California Impressionists should be documented, and we will continue our research and publication programs with the intent of fully documenting the prominent artists of this style.
As our museum's programs and activities expanded, and our role as the principal proponents of historical California paintings brought us additional distinction in Orange County, we accepted, in 2004, the opportunity to establish a working association with the Historical Collections Council (HCC) of Orange County. Over lunch one day at Bistango's Restaurant, James Irvine Swinden and I met with members of the HCC Steering Committee, including Brandon Buza, Andrea Waite, Walter Lachman, Allan Lay, Kirk Edgar, Bob Ehrlich, Bob Hall and Ruth Westphal, and agreed to establish a close working relationship.
On May 21, 1985, a group of dedicated art collectors and dealers, interested in supporting the budding public interest in California Impressionism, met at Petersen Galleries, on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Since I was director of Petersen Galleries, I served as unofficial chairperson, and after a brief discussion, we signed a roster indicating our desire to organize. Thus the HCC was formed, originally to support the historical paintings collection at the Laguna Beach Museum of art. The sign-up roster of the founding members (in "pass around" order) lists Mary Hamilton (Fieldstone Collection), James Ries (collector), Tobey Moss (dealer), Jim Zidell (collector), Nancy Moure (art historian), Bob Bethea (of the Arthur G. Rider estate), Jay Ingerle (of the Rudolf Ingerle estate), Ken and Kay Roberts (dealers), Terry Callahan, Herb Hilchey, Don C. Jack (collector), Bill Kurschat (collector), Leo Michelson (collector), Julie Noyes (collector), Ray Redfern (dealer), Ed Korb (dealer), Russel Ludwick (collector), Donald W. Grant (collector), George Stern (dealer), Bob and Barbara Ehrlich (collectors), Robert and Nadine Hall (collectors), Bob McDonald (of the Laguna Beach Museum of Art), Robert Simpson (collector), Martin and Brigitte Medak (collectors), Lucinda and Gates Burrows (of the Benjamin C. Brown estate), Ty Brenner (collector), Janet Blake (art historian), and Julia and Frank Tan (collectors). Ruth Westphal (author) and De McCall (dealer) were also founding members.
Together, The Irvine Museum and the HCC will work to enhance the educational and exhibition programs of our museum, as well as lend moral and financial support to any Orange County institution that is interested in our artistic heritage.
On November 30, 2005, the HCC presented the museum with a gift of a very important work by Roger Armstrong, one of the icons of art in southern California during the 1940s to today. The watercolor painting is titled "Irvine Ranch Bean Packing House," and shows the old, abandoned factory as it appeared in the early 1970s. Roger and his wife Alice were present on that special evening as HCC president Brandon Buza made the official gift to the museum. Upon thanking the HCC for their generous donation, I announced that Roger had the added special distinction of being the only living artist represented in our collection, to which I added that we expected him to be back in ten years to mark the anniversary of the gift.
In addition to all of the exhibitions and books discussed earlier, we maintain a rigorous exhibition and educational program at the museum. Due to the space limitations of our small museum, we only have one show at a time, which we change every four months; for now, there is no "permanent collection" gallery. Thus, three times a year, all of the paintings are taken down and returned to their respective owners, and a new show is brought in, installed, labeled and properly lit.
At the same time, the educational program is adapted and modified three times a year to meet the demands of each new exhibition. A new curriculum is written, and our docents receive training in preparation for tours and field trips. Finally, for each exhibition, press releases and announcement cards are mailed, and plans and arrangements are readied for the press reception and the invitation-only opening reception.
All of these remarkable accomplishments in such a relatively brief period of time could not have been achieved without a professional and dependable staff. My staff at The Irvine Museum consists of five exceptional people, none of which were trained as museum professionals.
Merika Adams Gopaul, who I had known in San Diego since the early 1970s, is an accomplished artist in her own right. When I first met her, I was a guest curator at the San Diego Museum and she was working as executive assistant to Dan Jacobs, owner of Orr's Gallery, San Diego's oldest and most prestigious art gallery. We kept in touch for several years, and in 1994, she contacted me to ask if I knew of any art-related job openings, as Orr's Gallery was closing. As it happened, we were looking for an Assistant Director at the museum, so I immediately invited her to apply. She was interviewed by Jim Swinden, was hired and has been with the museum ever since.
Christine DeWitt is our Curator of Education. Our first Curator of Education was Janet Murphy, a retired teacher and art collector who had come to us as one of the first volunteers at the museum. In 1999, Janet's husband, Jim, retired from his profession, and soon afterward Janet resigned her position. After a long search for a replacement, Merika and I interviewed Christine, who holds a master's degree in education and is a retired teacher. We could clearly see that Christine, who was born in Paris and speaks fluent French, was just the person we needed. With the agreement of Jim Swinden, who, in addition to his other museum administration duties, initiated and oversees the education and outreach program, Christine was hired. In the ensuing years, she has become an essential part of our dynamic educational program.
That same year, the post of receptionist became vacant, so we secured the services of a temp firm to assist us in finding a new employee. After we spent several weeks trying out various people, the agency sent us Judy Thompson. After Judy's first week on the job, Christine, Merika and I agreed to inform the agency that we wanted her for a few more weeks. With Jim Swinden's approval, Judy was hired as a receptionist, and within a few months, demonstrated that she was capable of greater assignments and responsibilities. Eventually, we created the position of Coordinator of Visitor Services to describe her many contributions to the museum.
When Christine was hired as Curator of Education in 1999, we hired Don Bridges as a part-time employee to assist in the bookstore. Merika, in addition to her duties as Assistant Director and Registrar, was also the Bookstore Manager. In time, owing to our vigorous publication program, the bookstore became progressively more time consuming and complicated to manage, and Don's presence there helped free up Merika for her other responsibilities. In 2001, Don, who had quickly become part of our little museum family, was hired full-time and became the Bookstore Manager at The Irvine Museum. In 2004, we hired Charlett Helm-Pfeiffer as receptionist to replace Judy Thompson, who went to part-time public relations duty.
My fourteen years of association with The Irvine Museum
(as of 2006) have been remarkable, unique in every way, and thoroughly exciting
at all times. I take great satisfaction and pride in knowing that I am a
part of this noble endeavor. Mrs. Smith, the board of directors and the
staff of the museum have established a lasting legacy by documenting the
uniquely beautiful and uplifting art of the California Impressionist period.
Singularly, and contrary to other contemporary art styles, California Impressionism
is a style that enables us to redeem ourselves by reaffirming nature, the
ultimate source of our being and the universal bond of humanity. In doing
so, we can only enrich our art and dignify ourselves.
About the author
Jean Stern is Executive Director of The Irvine Museum
The above essay was written by Jean Stern, Director of The Irvine Museum, for the 489 page illustrated book A California Woman's Story. The essay is reprinted, without illustrations, with permission of the author and The Irvine Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or wish to purchase a copy of the book from which it is excerpted, please contact The Irvine Museum directly through either this phone number or web address: 949-476-2565, http://www.irvinemuseum.org
See these essays by Jean Stern in Resource Library:
Art in California: 1880 to 1930 by Jean Stern
Artists in Santa Catalina Island Before 1945 by Jean Stern
The California Missions in Art: 1890 to 1930 by Jean Stern
The Development of Southern California Impressionism by Jean Stern
Franz A. Bischoff, 1864-1929 essay by Jean Stern
Impressionist Style in Perspective by Jean Stern
Impressionism in California, 1890-1930 by Jean Stern
The Irvine Museum in Perspective by Jean Stern
Landscape of Light: Impressionism in California by Jean Stern
Landscape Painting in California by Jean Stern
Marion Kavanagh Wachtel, 1870-1954 by Jean Stern
Masters of Light by Jean Stern
"The Outsiders" -- Modernism in California, 1920-1940 by Jean Stern
The Paintings of Sam Hyde Harris by Jean Stern (2001)
Robert Henri and the 1915 San Diego Exposition by Jean Stern
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