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Artists of Invention: a Century of California College of the Arts (CCA)

October 13, 2007 - March 16, 2008


California College of the Arts (CCA) culminates its centennial celebration with Artists of Invention: a Century of California College of the Arts, a survey of work by 100 faculty and alumni, many among California's most influential artists. The show opens October 13, 2007 and continues through March 16, 2008, at the Oakland Museum of California. (right: Amy Franceschini, Sun Dial Watches, n.d. Paper, string. Courtesy of the artist)

The exhibition features more than 120 works-paintings, ceramics, photography, video, sculpture, mixed media, installations, textiles, wood, and works on paper-and includes a large contemporary section from the past 20 years.

Artists of Invention: a Century of California College of the Arts was organized by Oakland Museum of California Chief Curator of Art Philip Linhares, exhibition designer Ted Cohen, and consultant Lee Plested, all CCA alumni. The contemporary section was organized by CCA alumni Liz Mulholland, Abner Nolan, Chris Perez, Jessica Silverman, and Bay Area curator Tara McDowell.

"A balance of technical skill and independent vision has always marked the art associated with CCA," Lee Plested said. "The result has been some of the most idiosyncratic and expressive art in America."

The exhibition, arranged by era, includes:

The Society of Six, a band of renegade plein-air painters from the 1920s;
California production ceramists, such as Edith Heath and Jacomena Maybeck, who taught at the college in the 1950s and 1970s, respectively;
Weaver Trude Guermonprez, who chaired the crafts department in the 1960s and 1970s, and textile artists Kay Sekimachi and Lia Cook;
Bay Area Figurative painter and CCA instructor Richard Diebenkorn, whose mode was further developed in the work of alumni Nathan Oliveira and Manuel Neri;
The modern studio ceramics movement, pioneered by Peter Voulkos and continued by Robert Arneson and Viola Frey;
John McCracken, who began his explorations in Minimalism while a CCA student;
West Coast Conceptualism, which broke ground with the work of David Ireland and Dennis Oppenheim;
Photorealism pioneer Robert Bechtle and his peers Richard McLean, Ralph Goings, and Jack Mendenhall, a current faculty member;
Painters Squeak Carnwath and Raymond Saunders; and
A new generation: videographers Kota Ezawa, Désirée Holman, and Sergio de la Torre; photographers Larry Sultan, Todd Hido, and Liz Cohen; painter David Huffman; and mixed-media artists Lynn Marie Kirby and Amy Franceschini, among many others.

California College of the Arts was founded in 1907 by Frederick Meyer, a German cabinetmaker, as the School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts. It was known for decades as CCAC (California College of Arts & Crafts). In 2003 the college was renamed California College of the Arts, in recognition of the breadth of the curriculum. For a summary of centennial events see http://www.cca.edu/about/centennial/events.php. A full-color companion book to the exhibition is available.


(above: Richard Diebenkorn, Figure on a Porch, 1959, Oil on canvas. Oakland Museum of California, anonymous Donor Program of the American Federation of Arts)


(above: Jack Mendenhall, Sofa with Flowers, 1976, Oil on canvas. Oakland Museum of California, Museum Donors Acquisition Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts)


(above: Selden Connor Gile, Untitled (Country Scene), n.d., Oil on canvas. Oakland Museum of California, gift of Louis Siegriest)


Essay from the exhibition companion book, also reprinted as a take-with piece in the gallery.

This exhibition celebrates one hundred years of education in art and design by generations of accomplished artists and teachers from the California College of the Arts. The school was founded in 1907 by Frederick Meyer, a German-born craftsman who had taught drawing and wood carving at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute until its destruction in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Within a year after moving to Berkeley, Meyer and his wife Laetitia opened the School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts with forty-three students and $45.00 in the bank. The curriculum offered courses in both the "fine arts" (painting, drawing, and sculpture) and the "applied arts" (practical training for designers and craftsmen).
The school prospered, moving frequently to accommodate increasing enrollment. Stimulated by student interest in the "fine art" offerings, enrollment multiplied fivefold and prominent artists were recruited to teach, among them the celebrated painter Xavier Martinez. An influx of World War I veterans exceeded the school's capacity, causing Meyer to seek a larger, permanent home for the school. In 1922 he purchased the four-acre James Treadwell estate at the junction of College Avenue and Broadway in Oakland, and began a three-year transformation of the large Victorian home, stables, and outbuildings into an art school. Aided by students and faculty, the transformation was completed in 1925, but not without some difficulties: the carriage house, a substantial two-story structure, capsized in the process of being relocated. It was righted, and continues today to serve as the main drawing studio on the Oakland campus.
By 1936, now prospering at the Oakland campus, the school's name evolved to the California College of Arts and Crafts. Soldiers returning from World War II enrolled to study under the G.I. Bill, and by mid-century the school was providing instruction to more than three hundred students. The students lived in cottages, apartments, and storefronts in Oakland's Rockridge and Temescal districts. Part-time jobs in the neighborhood were plentiful and the students became an active part of the local community. The school's annual Christmas Holiday Bazaar, held in Guild Hall, was a prime source for handcrafted gifts created by the students.
The 1960s saw the beginning of a dynamic new phase of growth, starting with construction of student dormitories, followed by the construction of Founder's Hall, housing the library and classrooms, and Martinez Hall, providing painting and printmaking studios. The Treadwell Ceramics Center opened in 1973, followed by the Shaklee Studios for glass, metal arts, and sculpture programs. The most recent Oakland campus improvements include the Oliver Art Center and Tecoah Bruce Gallery in 1989, and in 1993, the Barclay Simpson Sculpture Studio, an award-winning design by CCA faculty architect Jim Jennings.
The need for major expansion of the school became apparent with the addition of an architectural program. Temporary facilities were found in San Francisco, followed by the purchase of a former Greyhound bus maintenance terminal, which was soon transformed by the school's architects into a spectacular multipurpose facility. Dedicated trustees and patrons funded state-of-the-art amenities, including the Timken Lecture Hall, Wornick Wood and Furniture Studios, Blattner Design Studios, Oliver Architecture Studios, and the Koret Center for Digital Media. These, along with the Carroll Weisel Hall, Logan Galleries, and the Wattis Institute, and innovative venue for contemporary art, serve over sixteen hundred students and an active art community that expands far beyond the Bay Area.
From its beginning the school has had international roots: founder Frederick Meyer served apprenticeships with designers, furniture builders, and blacksmiths before his formal studies at the Berlin Royal Academy. This well-grounded, integral outlook characterized his teaching and became a major part of the school's philosophy. Many early instructors studied in France, Italy or Germany, learning traditional old-world skills that they applied to their work and imparted to their students. By the late 1930s, strong influences of 1930s Germany's Bauhaus came to the school through Trude Guermonprez, a weaver and designer, who also taught at the innovative Black Mountain College. While many early influences were European in origin, artist/teachers sought inspiration from innumerable sources and shared them with their students. Obscure works from Japan, China, India, Africa, and the Middle East, tribal objects from the South Pacific, early Christian illuminated manuscripts, and the work of "folk" or self-trained artists all served as source material for the curious, visually astute art students.
From the beginning the school emphasized the importance of craft, expressed by good craftsmanship. Basic courses, titled "Methods and Materials," included instruction in the proper preparation of a canvas, grinding and mixing pigments from raw materials, and the use of specialized tools. Today this attitude still prevails, with instruction in new technologies as well as traditional media. Graphic designers at mid-century used X-acto knives, presstype, and rubber cement to prepare work for publication; today this work is done on computers, with technology advancing daily. In 2003 the school received another name change -- to California College of the Arts, in recognition of the disappearing distinctions between "art" and "craft" and acceptance of the idea that expressive works can be created in any media or form.
This exhibition presents the work of one hundred artists-some faculty, some students, and some both-representing the thousands of accomplished painters, sculptors, printmakers, graphic designers, fashion and industrial designers, weavers, architects, photographers and filmmakers, video and performance artists who found their way to this very special school. Their impact on world culture is, by now, inestimable, and their continuing activity make our lives ever better.
The exhibition is the result of a collaborative effort between the staff of the Oakland Museum of California and that of the California College of the Arts. Lee Plested, who earned his Masters Degree in the CCA Curatorial Practice Program in 2005, helped develop the basic list of artists and invited a committee of peers to select CCA artist representing the most recent two decades and the innovative expressions that have evolved. Two alumni -- Ted Cohen '52 and I '63 -- carried out the exhibition installation design and curatorial matters, respectively. Our lives were greatly affected and enriched by our studies at CCA and we are honored to present the accomplishments of our alma mater's century of innovative artistic expressions.
Philip E. Linhares
Chief Curator of Art

Editor's note:

The above essay was reprinted in Resource Library on November 1, 2007 with the permission of the Oakland Museum of California and the author.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Elizabeth Whipple, Communications Manager, Oakland Museum of CA, for her help concerning permission for reprinting the above text.


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