The Plein Air Scene

by Sarah Beserra



Mission San Juan Capistrano Competition and Sierra Trip

Mission San Juan Capistrano Competition

by Aleta Carpenter


The Mission San Juan Capistrano is a plein-air artist's paradise, rivaling the scenery of Monet's Gardens at Giverny. Founded in 1776, the seventh in a series of 21 missions established in California, the "Jewel of the Missions" is the most painted structure in the West. A glance in any direction reveals yet another stunning vision of exotic plants, fountains, rustic stone and adobe walls, and brilliant blooms begging to be captured on canvas. It is no surprise that this location draws close to 100 artists each year for the California Art Club's Outdoor Professional Painting Competition.

The Sixth Annual Competition, held August 14 - 20, 2000,, was sponsored by the CAC, the Mission, and Joan Irvine Smith Fine Arts Inc. After painting for a five-day period, competitors selected two of their best paintings to be judged by Steven Doherty, Editor in Chief of American Artist Magazine, Scott Atkinson, Curator of American Arts at the San Diego Museum of Art, and Deborah Solon, Art Historian, who recently curated an exhibit at the Laguna Art Museum on the art colonies of Laguna Beach and Connecticut. Cash awards - $5,000 for First place, $3,000 for Second place and $2,000 for Third, were awarded. As part of her continuing support for the arts, Joan Irvine Smith provided not only the prize money but all on-site meals and refreshments for the artists at work. (left: Dan Goozeé, Ruins of the Old Mission (Ruins), oil)

Orange County artist, Dan Goozeé, won First Place for his heavily atmospheric depiction entitled, Ruins at the Old Church. Second Place went to Carole Cooke for her painting of the cathedral bell tower - Past and Present Third Place was awarded to Kevin Short of the Capistrano Plein Air Painters for his depiction of the partially restored basilica surrounded by scaffolding - Restoration, August, 2000. Honorable Mentions were awarded to: Ernesto Nemesio, Ray Harris, Jason Situ, Jove Wang, and Lindy Duncan.

The final day of the competition found plein-air artists scattered throughout the Mission grounds. An auburn-haired model in red flamenco-style dress, posed on a bench against the Soldier's Quarters, drew a crowd. Nine easels surrounded the model, with ten artists painting her image, including Evgeny Baranov and Lydia Velichko Baranov, a husband-and-wife team from Russia who paint together on the same canvas. As the model's face emerged from the canvas of Dan Goozeé, Paulette Lee, CAC Director of Non-Gallery Exhibitions, said admiringly of Goozeé, "Now that's an artist!"

Another group of plein-air painters, clustered around a bronze horse entitled "Empty Saddles," including Peter Adams, CAC President, who cut a stylish figure in his dashing hat with a gigantic feather sweeping from its band.

Although the event can generate between $150,000 - $200,000 worth of sales, Adams believes the main reason for the competition is, "the camaraderie; it's the social aspect. And, of course, you can always learn something from the other participants."

The atmosphere of the Mission inspired Laguna Beach artist Carole Cooke to undertake "a first" for her; a night painting. She enthusiastically described it: "I stayed until 11 p.m. and did a night sky painting with palm trees and stars!" With the soothing background sounds of the Moorish "Fountain of the Four Evangelists" in the central courtyard, Cooke and other painters focused their daylight efforts on the water lilies blanketing the koi pool at its base, rushing toward completion of their paintings before the midday sun reached its peak.

Other artists enjoyed the Mission's cool arched arcade, which shielded them from the sun but did not obstruct views. Artist Ralph Waterhouse, Santa Barbara, who had set up his easel under an archway early in the day, completed his final painting of the week. Waterhouse had painted, "two or three pieces a day. Professionals have to be able to paint fast in order to support themselves," he said. Painter Millie Greene presented a lovely sight, having selected as her day's location a bower of morning glories whose vivid purple blossoms framed her as she worked, combining beauty with comfort. San Diego artist Bob Ferguson, a first-time participant, said, "It's great being here, being out in nature where you can really get the vivid colors." His painting of the beautifully-landscaped courtyard, with bougainvillea cascading down the wall in the background, mutely attested to the veracity of his statement.

At day's end, the gentle cooing of the Mission's pigeons was interrupted by the young son of a participant running down the walkway, exclaiming, "I drawed it!," thus indicating that the Mission San Juan Capistrano will continue to attract and inspire a future generation of plein-air artists.

A special thanks to Sandy Eagle and Geoff LePlastrier for providing information on the prize winners and the accompanying photograph.


Sierra Trip

Plein air collectors Janie and Tom Scholes organized a mule pack trip recently for two plein air painters, visiting the painting sites of Early California lmpressionist Edgar Payne.

Tracing the steps of Edgar Payne and Robert Clunie, plein air painters of the Sierras who painted together in 1940's, toward the end of Payne's life, Arturo Tello and Karen Gruszka of Santa Barbara's Oak Group packed into the Palisade Glacier Basin region of the Sierras and painted for four days in July. Based at Fourth Lake, where Payne set up camp in the 1920s, the two painted various locations from Fourth, Fifth and Summit Lakes. Both artists said they were overwhelmed by the dramatic beauty and secluded nature of the area and would definitely return. The elevation approximating some 11,000 feet didn't slow the group down for long, as they eagerly scurried up nearby peaks to search for yet another painting location. During one of their hikes away from base camp, they discovered an abandoned campsite with old crockery and scorched cooking pots, carefully camouflaged from site. (left: Arturo Tello, 4th Lake View, oil, 12 x 12 inches)

Painting was impacted for several days as the Kennedy Meadows fire blanketed the area with smoke. This did not discourage either artist from continuing to work. Karen, finding beauty everywhere, was heard to say, "It softens the edges."

On viewing the paintings at the end of the trip and consulting the book, Robert Clunie, Plein Air Painter of the Sierras, written by Richard Coons who owns the Coons Gallery in Bishop, the Scholes were surprised to see that several of the fresh paintings were of the identical locations that Payne had portrayed some 85 years before, and little had changed. The book also revealed photos of Clunie's favorite camp site, which he inhabited for two months every summer for some 30 years while he painted the Sierras. He was a great one for stashing supplies so that they would not be discovered. After seeing these photos, Janie and Tom put two and two together and concluded that the discarded dishes and cooking utensils which Tello and Gruszka had found, were very likely from Clunie's site. Whether they were his or not will never be known, but when the foursome packed out five days later they left only footprints and brought with them a visual record that will be enjoyed by many in the years ahead. (left: Karen Gruszka, Pond Near Summit Lake, oil , 8 x 10 inches)

Tello's paintings from the trip can be seen at the Easton Gallery in Santa Barbara during his one-man show, Encounters With Beauty, Sept. 23 through Oct. 15, 2000. Gruszka's Sierra paintings can be seen at Art Walk Santa Barbara: Painters of Persuasion, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Oct. 27-29, 2000

© Sarah Beserra, 2000

Read more of The Plein Air Scene by Sarah Beserra in Resource Library Magazine

Sarah Beserra is Editor and Publisher of The Plein Air Scene - a monthly newsletter on plein air painting in Northern California. You may contact Sarah at or (707) 645-7361

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/23/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.