National Steinbeck Center

Salinas, CA



This Side of Eden - Images of Steinbeck's California


In addition to permanent interactive exhibits celebrating John Steinbeck's life and works, the new National Steinbeck Center museum offers ever-changing art and cultural exhibits. The inaugural art exhibit includes major paintings that reflect California in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, some which have not been seen for decades. The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California celebrates its grand opening on June 27, 1998.

"This Side of Eden - Images of Steinbeck's California" covers a tumultuous period in California's and the country's history, two world wars and the Great Depression. It was also a time that inspired John Steinbeck to produce his greatest writing. Many of the 65 works of art in this exhibition reflect Steinbeck's literature, including two illustrations by Peggy Worthington Beast from the 1947 Viking deluxe edition of "Tortilla Flat."

There is an oil portrait of the writer himself, by Judith Deim, and a drawing by Ellwood Graham of Steinbeck, both done as he prepared to write "Sea of Cortez." Another Deim painting titled "Beach Picnic" depicts Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, who became Doc in Steinbeck's "Cannery Row," and friends on a Monterey area beach in the mid-1930s. This painting exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1941.

Three very important watercolors by Millard Owen Sheets showing the lives of 1930s migrant fieldworkers are also a part of the exhibition. Sheets was commissioned to do the pieces for a 1939 Fortune Magazine article. The paintings were discovered in the artist's studio in 1988. Important Depression pieces by artists such as Maynard Dixon ("No Place to Go"), Lee Everett Blair ("Okie Camp") and other artists will be exhibited.

Paintings will also depict two areas from which Steinbeck drew a major body of his work: the Salinas Valley and the Monterey region, settings for "East of Eden," "The Red Pony," "Cannery Row" and other works. Watercolors, oils and prints by artists such as Leon Kirkland Amyx, Sam Colburn, Armin Carl Hansen and more will be on view.

A watercolor called "The Jeeps" by Colburn belonged to John Steinbeck's first wife, Carol. Colburn gave it to Carol Steinbeck after she earned a mechanic's certificate to repair Army Jeeps during World War II. Carol Steinbeck's stepdaughter Sharon Bacon said the painting reminded Carol of "good times with good pals.

While a number of art works come from museums and universities, others were discavered in private collections. Some of the paintings haven't been seen publicly for decades, such as Jane Beriandina's "Prune Pickets," which was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1933.

The exhibition will run through September 13, 1998 at the new National Steinbeck Center, located at One Main Street, Salinas, California. The exhibition, which will include a color, illustrated catalogue for sale, is being curated by the Center's executive director, Patricia Leach, and Steve Hauk, local journalist and gallery owner. Installation of the show is by Rob Wilson.


August 17, 1998-- Today I had the pleasure of visiting the National Steinbeck Center and meeting the executive director, Patricia Leach. For those unfamiliar with the streets of Salinas, the approach from Highway 101 is well marked. The city provided close-by free parking on the adjacent streets. The special exhibit room containing This Side of Eden comfortably presented the art and the exhibition was well-curated. I especially enjoyed viewing the fourCalifornia Scene paintings by Maynard Dixon, and those of other well-known contemporaries of Steinbeck, that are not as commonly displayed as their more widely-presented paintings eschewing Depression-related social issues. Visitors will enjoy works by Sam Colburn, Armin Hansen, Emil Kosa, Jr., Granville Redmond, Millard Sheets, Ray Strong, and may other regional artists. The exhibit rooms devoted to John Steinbeck utlilize state-of-the art presentation tools and forcefully recreate the social, economic and physical environment shaping the thoughts of the Nobel prize-winning author. A trip off the main highway to experience the Center is well worth the effort. Ed.

From top to bottom: Art Landy, Field Workers (unitiled), c. 1935; Gottardo Fidele Piazzoni, Summer, c. 1932; Henrietta Shore, The Artichoke Pickers, 1936-37, oil, 29 x 74 inches, lent by California Department of Parks and Recreation, Sacramento; Jane Berlandina, Prune Pickers (detail), 1933, oil, 32 x 24 inches; Judith Deim, Beach Picnic (untitled), c. 1936, oil, 24 x 30 inches; Smith O'Brien, The Cannery, 1931, oil, 20 x 24 inches, courtesy Sue and Clayton Bruntz; George Corbit, Digging Clams, n.d., oil, 37 x 42 inches, courtesy Helen Hilton Raiser; Burton Shepard Boundey, The White House (Untitled), n.d., oil, 20 x 24 inches, courtesy The Soifer Collection; Alexander Warshawsky, Farmer Portrait (Untitled), n.d., oil, 30 x 36 inches, courtesy Naim Farhat. Photo of National Steinbeck Center by John Hazeltine.

Endorphin Productions is a video news magazine based on the Monterey Peninsula in California. In a video, artist David Ligare speaks about his exhibit, "Viewpoint: The Pastures of Heaven," held at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California. In this 2-part video Ligare explains how his works are inspired by Steinbeck's books. [part 1: 3 minutes, 26 seconds; part 2: 3 minutes, 22 seconds]

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