The Arts in Santa Barbara

by Janet B. Dominik


During the 1920s the art community in Santa Barbara had a very active Community Arts Association which served through four branches: Drama, Music, Plans and Planting (for architectural development and guidelines), and the School of the Arts.[1] The four branches had developed as separate entities between the years of 1920 and 1922. On April 24, 1922, a charter for the nonprofit corporation "Community Arts Association of Santa Barbara" was obtained, the purpose of the association being "to afford individuals the opportunity for self-expression, training and education in music, drama, and the allied arts, and to aid in the cultural improvement of the people and in the beautification of the City of Santa Barbara."[2]

One of the most active members in the association was artist Fernand Lungren (1857-1932) through whose impetus the School of the Arts was founded in June 1920. Lungren had settled in Santa Barbara in 1906. The idyllic and beautiful area was already an attraction for artists, many of whom moved there, especially during the months after the San Francisco earthquake. In 1914 Lungren remarked that "as a field for artistic endeavor, it would be impossible to find a spot more favored than Santa Barbara."[3] By 1920 the resident artists included John Gamble (186.3-1957), Carl Oscar Borg (1879-1947), Albert Herter (1871-1950), DeWitt Parshall (1864-1956), Douglass Parshall (b. 1899), and Thomas Moran (1837-1926).[4]

The school purchased the Old Dominguez adobe on the corner of Santa Barbara and Carrillo Streets, and, after some refurbishing, opened in November, 1920. Classes were offered not only in the visual arts, but in music, drama, dance, and foreign language as well. Lungren taught illustration, Herter, the life class, and Borg, landscape. Funding was secured through donations and a modest tuition. In addition to instruction, the school held regular exhibitions in its gallery.

In November 1922 the Community Arts Association received from the Carnegie Corporation a grant of $25,000 a year for five years, the money to be distributed among the four branches. The grant was secured through the efforts of Dr. Henry Smith Pritchett, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and, at that time, a resident of Santa Barbara. After the 1925 earthquake which severely damaged the school, the Carnegie Corporation gave the association an additional $25,000 for the construction of a new school and, at the same time, extended the original grant through October 1, 1930.[5]

In 1923 Adele (Mrs. Albert) Herter (1869-1946) advised Lungren to persuade Frank Morley Fletcher (1866-1949), then head of the Edinburgh Royal College of Art, to teach a summer session at the school. Fletcher accepted the invitation and, at the end of the session, agreed to become the director of the school for the next three years. (Fletcher retained the position until 1930.) As the new director, Fletcher made recommendations which strengthened the sculpture and design departments, added a class in block printing, and also began teaching the life classes himself.

Parallel to the development of the Community Arts Association and the School of Art, was the development of the Santa Barbara Art Club, which was founded on June 9, 1924 by sixteen artists, among them Lungren, Gamble, Fletcher, Herter, Borg, DeWitt Parshall, Douglass Parshall, Edward Borein (1872-1945), and Colin Campbell Cooper (1856-1937).[6] Eighty-seven year old Thomas Moran was made an honorary member. The club was essentially an artists' cooperative with exhibitions of members held in the old Casa de la Guerra. Within less than a year the club, which became part of the Art League of Santa Barbara, had about fifty members. Besides showing the work of local artists, the league accepted traveling shows. In June 1927, at the invitation of the Biltmore Salon in Los Angeles, an exhibition by members of the league was held there.[7]

Although Santa Barbara continued to have an active artist colony for many years, unfortunately, in the 1930s, the Depression took its toll. With the expiration of the Carnegie Grant and donations declining, the Community Arts Association reluctantly closed the School of Arts. It was a sad commentary for a school which had, in such a short time, established a reputation of first rank among the art schools of the United States, with a faculty that included outstanding, award-winning artists. One of the last activities of the school was a commemorative exhibition in 1933 for its founder, Fernand Lungren, who had died the previous year.



I. Unidentified newspaper clipping from the files of the Santa Barbara Public Library. Written notation indicating date of 12 January 1947.

2. Hamilton McFadden, "Community Arts Association, Santa Barbara, California," The American Magazine of Art 15 (June 1924): 303. The Community Arts Association is also discussed at length in John A. Berger, Fernand Lungren: A Biography (Santa Barbara, California: The Schauer Press, 1936), pp. 221-243.

3. Stella Haverland Rouse, "Fernand Lungren, local artist, one of many who painted turn-of-century Western scenery." Unidentified newspaper clipping from the files of the Santa Barbara Public Library The author quoted from a 1914 interview by a Santa Barbara Daily News reporter.

4. L. W. Wilson, "Santa Barbara's Artist Colony." The American Magazine of Art 12 (December 1921): 411-414.

5. The Treasurer's Report for the year October 1, 1928 to September 30, 1929, indicated the School of Arts received $9,500 from the Carnegie Fund and $28, 875 from contributions.

6. Berger, p. 271. See also "The Interesting Work of the Community," California Southland (c. 1925): 14. Copy of article without notation in files of the Santa Barbara Public Library.

7. Berger, pp. 273-274.

Editor's notes:

The above essay was written in 1986 by Janet B. Dominik, an art historian, writer and curator specializing in early California art. It is an essay written for, and included in, the book titled Plein Air Painters of California, The North, edited by Ruth Lilly Westphal and published by Westphal Publishing, Irvine, California, ISBN 0-9610520-1-5. Essay courtesy of Westpahl Publishing, Irvine, California

Following are examples of artworks created by artists referenced in the above essay. Artworks and/or photographs shown may not be specific to this essay and are likely not cited in it. All images were obtained via Wikimedia Commons, which believes the images to be freely available for presentation here.  Another source readers may find helpful is Google Images.


(above: John Marshall Gamble, Wild Heliotrope and Poppies, San Francisco, c. 1893 and 1906, oil on canvas, 20 ? 24 inches, Birmingham Museum of Art, given by Lucile Peters Graham in memory of Dr. and Mrs. U. J. W. Peters.  Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons*)


(above:  Fernand Lungren, The Café, c. 1882-84, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons*)


(above: Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon with Rainbow. 1912. Oil on canvas. de Young Art Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Gill through the Patrons of Art and Music. 1981.89. License: Scuttlebutte, CC BY-SA 4.0 Scuttlebutte, CC BY-SA 4.0. via Wikimedia Commons)


Resource Library features these essays concerning Southern California art:

The American Scene: Regionalist Painters of California 1930-1960: Selections from the Michael Johnson Collection by Susan M. Anderson

Dream and Perspective: American Scene Painting in Southern California by Susan M. Anderson

Modern Spirit: The Group of Eight & Los Angeles Art of the 1920s by Susan M. Anderson

A Seed of Modernism: The Art Students League of Los Angeles, 1906-53 by Julia Armstrong-Totten, Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, and Will South

The Arts in Santa Barbara by Janet Blake Dominik

Ranchos: The Oak Group Paints the Santa Barbara Countryside by Ellen Easton

Speculative Terrain - Recent Views of the Southern California Landscape from San Diego to Santa Barbara by Gordon L. Fuglie

Sampler Tour of Art Tiles from Catalina Island by John Hazeltine

Mission San Juan Capistrano: An Artistic Legacy by Gerald J. Miller

Loners, Mavericks & Dreamers: Art in Los Angeles Before 1900 by Nancy Moure

Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and the Eucalyptus School in Southern California by Nancy Moure

San Diego Beginnings by Martin E. Petersen

Keeping the Faith: Painting in Santa Catalina 1935-1985 by Roy C. Rose

The Art Student League of Los Angeles: A Brief History by Will South

Artists in Santa Catalina Island Before 1945 by Jean Stern

The Development of Southern California Impressionism by Jean Stern

The Legacy of the Art Students League: Defining This Unique Art Center in Pre-War Los Angeles by Julia Armstrong-Totten

The Development of an Art Community in the Los Angeles Area by Ruth Westphal

A Bit of Paris in Heart Mountain by Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick

A Seed of Modernism: The Art Students League of Los Angeles, 1906-53 by Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick and Julia Armstrong-Totten

The Historic Landscapes of Malibu by Michael Zakian

and these articles:

California Impressionists at Laguna is a 2000 exhibit at the Florence Griswold Museum organized by Florence Griswold Museum curator Jack Becker, the exhibition consists of twenty-six paintings by over a dozen California artists and selected works by members of the Lyme Art Colony, providing opportunity to compare and contrast the styles and subjects of the Lyme and Laguna Impressionists. The exhibition examines how the colonies contributed to the very identity of their regions; in the case of Laguna as a new Eden of perpetual sunshine, and for Lyme as a place rooted in traditional New England values. (left: William Wendt (1865-1946), South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 1918, oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Stiles II)

Circles of Influence: Impressionism to Modernism in Southern California Art 1910-1930 is a 2000 exhibit at the Orange County Museum of Art which thematically explores Southern California's early twentieth-century artistic development -- from the expanding influences of East Coast artists, to the building of local art organizations striving for independent expression, and finally the early stirrings of avant-garde Modernism. Presenting over seventy paintings, drawn from public and private collections, the exhibition will focus attention on the progressive artists of Los Angeles and their response to national and international art movements.

Clarence Hinkle: Modern Spirit and the Group of Eight is a 2012 exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum which features over one hundred paintings dating from the early 1900s through the 1950s, and includes many paintings that were in the original exhibitions of the Group of Eight, especially their 1927 show at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art.

The Fieldstone Collection: Impressionism in Southern California, a 1999 exhibit at the the William D. Cannon Art Gallery, includes approximately 40 works, created between the late 1800s and early 1900s, depict the natural landscapes of the region in the "plein air" style of the French Impressionists.

The Final Eden: Early Images of the Santa Barbara Region is a 2002 Wildling Art Museum exhibit of paintings, watercolors and prints depicting the Central Coast of California between 1836 and 1960 and celebrating "its rural pristine and fertile nature," selected by guest curator, Frank Goss. It is his thesis that the paradise that once was California, a land of boundless resources and unlimited opportunities, has shrunk through urbanization and exploitation, and the Central Coast, not yet paved over, is "the Final Eden." (left: John Hall Esq. (1808 - ?), "Santa Barbara-Upper California," 1836, hand-colored lithograph.. Lent by Eric Hvolboi

First Generation: Art in Claremont, 1907-1957 is a 2008 exhibit at the Claremont Museum of Art, which traces the art history of Claremont and the region in the first 50 years after the city's incorporation in 1907.

On a clear day a century ago, one could see the peak of Mt. Baldy from virtually every corner of the Los Angeles basin, from ocean to desert. The original inhabitants of this area, the Tongva/Gabrielino Indians, called the mountain "Yoát," or snow. Its siren song has drawn generations of settlers to its shadow. Since the late 19th century, prominent artists have been among those attracted to the foothills of Mt. Baldy and its neighboring peaks-and the city of Claremont, in particular.The exhibit traces the art history of the region, from the work of such artists as Hannah Tempest Jenkins, Emil Kosa, Jr., and William Manker to that of Millard Sheets and his circle in the 1930s. Sheets's influence as artist and teacher extended as well to bringing artists such as Henry Lee McFee, Phil Dike, and Jean Ames to Scripps College, thereby enhancing the existing art community and assuring its lasting influence.

Greetings from Laguna Beach: Our Town in the Early 1900s is a 2000 Laguna Art Museum exhibit which illustrates Laguna's early history through 20 landscapes painted by some of the town's earliest artist residents as well as historical photos and a room-sized installation of a typical period cottage. The paintings include works by Franz A. Bischoff, Conway Griffith , Clarence Kaiser Hinkle, Joseph Kleitsch Millard Sheets, William Wendt, and Karl Yens.

L.A. RAW: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles 1945-1980, From Rico Lebrun to Paul McCarthy is a 2012 exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The figurative artists, who dominated the postwar Los Angeles art scene until the late 1950s, have largely been written out of today's art history. This exhibition, part of the Getty Foundations initiative "Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980," traces the distinctive aesthetic of figurative expressionism from the end of World War II, bringing together over 120 works by forty-one artists in a variety of media -- painting, sculpture, photography, and performance

The Legacy of the California Art Club in San Diego chronicles the history of art in San Diego, California from the turn of the 20th century through the beginning of the present century.

Painted Light: California Impressionist Paintings from the Gardena High School Los Angeles Unified School District Collection, hosted by CSU Dominguez Hills in 1999, features works by Franz A. Bischoff, Jessie Arms Botke (1883-1971), Maurice Braun (1877-1941), Benjamin Chambers Brown, Alson Skinner Clark, Leland S. Curtis, Maynard Dixon, Victor Clyde Forsythe, John (Jack) Frost, Joe Duncan Gleason, Armin Carl Hansen, Sam Hyde Harris, Clarence Kaiser Hinkle, Frank Tenney Johnson, Emil Jean Kosa, Jr., Jean Mannheim, Peter Nielsen, Edgar Alwin Payne, Hanson Duvall Puthuff, John Hubbard Rich, Carl Clemens Moritz Rungius, Walter Elmer Schofield, Clyde Eugene Scott, Jack Wilkinson Smith, James Guifford Swinnerton, Marion Kavanagh Wachtel, William Wendt (1865-1946) and Orrin Augustine White.

Painted Light: California Impressionist Paintings: The Gardena High School/Los Angeles Unified School District Collection toured to The Irvbine Museum in 1999.

Representing LA, Pictorial Currents in Contemporary Southern California Art, featured at the Frye Museum in 2000, is the first group exhibition to explore the rich and varied representational painting, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture produced by Southern California artists from 1990 to 2000, and fills a gap in West Coast and Southern California art history by surveying and interpreting about 80 works by 70 artists working in representational or realist styles and approaches.

For biographical information on artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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