The Carmel Monterey Peninsula Art Colony: A History

By Barbara J. Klein


The Carmel Arts and Crafts Club -- founded in 1906 by Elsie Allen, a recent retiree from the faculty of Wellesley College and staff of Harpers Magazine -- also mounted an artists' exhibition in 1907. The newly completed clubhouse was commodious and served as the community's cultural center: playing host to dramatic performances, poetry readings, lecture series, and later, a summer school for art.[9]

Summer art classes initiated in 1910 brought celebrated artists as instructors to the club including William Merritt Chase, a former director of the London School of Art; Helene Wood Smith, of Pratt Institute in Brookline; Paul K. Mays of the Provincetown Painters; and the New York Art Students' League. Carmel gained national prestige as an important center for art.[10] William Merritt Chase influenced two talented young women, Mary De Neale Morgan and E. Charlton Fortune, to establish unique impressionist styles. Interestingly, both went on to teach, and to win silver medals at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 and national renown.

Morgan permanently settled in Carmel in 1909, actively pursuing her art there Until her death. She taught at the Arts and Crafts Club Summer School, later becoming the director of the School and Club. Morgan had also studied with William Keith, though his influence is not obvious in her work. Ultra modern in its style, her paintings were often executed by applying paint to canvas in broad strokes with a palette knife. In 1928, Morgan was honored by Scribners Magazine as one of the nation's foremost women artists. Cypress Trees and Ocean illustrates work completed in the latter years of her career.[11]

Fortune had two very active, but separate, artistic careers, first, as an impressionist artist and teacher, and then as a designer of liturgical art and the director of artisans. In each pursuit Fortune was extremely productive and gained the highest degrees of recognition for her artistic excellence.

Her work was exhibited at the Royal Academies of London and Edinburgh, and at the Society National des Beaux Arts and Salon des Artistes François in Paris, and the National Academy of Design in New York. She taught art at her Monterey studio from 1916 through 1920. In 1928, she founded the Monterey Guild where she designed liturgical art, taught and supervised other artists and craftspeople to execute her designs.

Fortune received numerous national and international awards for her liturgical art, including gold medals from the American Institute of Architects, and the Society des Artistes Français. Before Sunset reveals Fortune's colorful, light-filled, impressionist style.[12]

The summer of 1910 marked the beginning of Carmel's theater arts program, which engaged the entire community. Writers and poets composed scripts while artists designed costumes and sets; everyone played part in one performance or another. It began one summer when a young actor named Herbert Heron visited George Sterling and became enamored of the idea for an outdoor theater in Carmel's Pine Forest.

With Heron's dream and diligence, and Devendorf's generous offer to donate land and cover construction costs, the Carmel Forest Theater was born. On a July evening in 1910, the first of many Shakespearean dramas was produced and performed by Carmel's artists and writers.

While Shakespearean plays remained in the season programs, the innovative idea of a "Festival of Firsts" was introduced as a part of the agenda, and soon original plays by new playwrights began streaming in from all over the country. A Carmel tradition was born.[13]

Arriving on this scene in Carmel between the years of 1910 and 1915 to establish a summer home and studio, Arthur Mathews must have felt that Puvis de Chavannes' mural, Sacred Wood Beloved of the Arts and Muses, had come to life, for the natural beauty of the place and creative energy of the artists' colony created an atmosphere of enchantment.[14] Mathews, the progenitor of California Decorative Style, had studied in Paris at the Academie Julian winning the Grand Gold medal for his work and had exhibited at the Paris Salon. He became one of the California School of Design's most influential directors, reigning over that institution from 1890 to 1906.[15]

Mathews infused the institute with fresh ideas and new teaching methods, and encouraged his students to develop their own unique styles. Under his inspired tutelage a number of outstanding California artists developed, notably, Frances McComas, Xavier Martinez, Gottardo Piazonni, Anne Bremer, Armin Hansen, and Thomas McGlynn.

Both Mathews and his wife, Lucia, were uniquely talented artists whose artistry incorporated California Arts and Crafts motifs into picture frames, furniture, and accessory designs which they produced at The Furniture Shop in San Francisco.[16] For a number of years, in addition to fine arts programs, the Arts and Crafts Club produced plays on their premises. In 1920, the club disbanded and the building became the Theater of the Golden Bough. This left the artists without a gallery for exhibition or a space to teach. After renting various unsatisfactory quarters, they vowed to form a new organization devoted solely to fine arts programs and to acquire a building of their own.

In 1927, nineteen determined artists formed the Carmel Art Association and began working toward their goal. In spite of the depression economy, creative fund raising programs gave them hope that somehow enough money could be raised. A turning point came in 1931 when the Association's four resident national academicians -- Paul Dougherty, Arthur Gilbert, Armin Hansen, and William Ritschel -- proposed an auction of their works to aid the building fund.

While the money raised was not significant in itself, the event spurred the more affluent members of the community to recognize the value of the local artists, and contribute to their fund raising efforts. In December of 1933, a building was purchased and the artists finally had a home. In 1939, the artists joined hands again to landscape the grounds, plant foliage, and build the stone walls and steps which created the clubhouse and gallery as it is today.


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