LiThe Plein Air Scene

by Sarah Beserra



Gardens of Santa Barbara

by Janie Scholes, Newbury Park


The gardens of Ganna Walska's Lotusland in Montecito (near Santa Barbara) are a plein air painter's paradise. There is a different and fascinating landscape around every corner. This was the setting for a spectacular gala reception on October 7, 2000 attended by nearly 500 art lovers. The occasion was a book signing and art sale, celebrating the painters whose work appears in a new book.

Ellen Easton of Easton Gallery in Montecito has done it again - produced a beautiful book full of over 100 color reproductions of garden paintings by 20 prominent plein air artists. ( Her first book was Ranchos - Santa Barbara Land Grant Ranches). Entitled Gardens of Santa Barbara, the book is the culmination of years of work researching, writing and painting the fabulous gardens of Santa Barbara. Sharon Crawford is the author, with a preface by Eric T. Haskell and forward by Ellen Easton.

Easels were set out on an expansive lawn displaying 52 paintings by 14 artists depicting a variety of exotic gardens in and around the Santa Barbara area. The artists included Meredith Brooks Abbott, Whitney Brooks Abbott, Phoebe Brunner, Chris Chapman, Karen Gruszka, Whitney Brooks Hansen Glenna Hartmann, Tom Henderson, John Iwerks, T. Alien Lawson, Susan Petty, Pamela Kendall Schiffer, Richard Schloss and Arturo Tello.

Among the work displayed was Susan Petty's watercolor, Study in Contrasts, a striking painting showcasing local agave plants and other succulents in pale shades of greens, blues and grays. Glenna Hartmann's pastel, Meridian Wisteria, depicted a gnarled wisteria vine, topped with bright purple flowers casting purple shadows on a walkway below. Chris Chapman captured the essence of an old Spanish-style building in a pastel - Mission Palms. Bright white adobe walls and pinkish peach colored roof tiles were crisscrossed by the shadows from nearby palm trees. After viewing the show and listening to a talk by Mr. Haskell, we learned that there are "intrinsic links" between gardening and painting. Painting the landscape is a link to our future - the preservation of our landscape.

Gardens of Santa Barbara can be ordered from the Easton Gallery, 557 Hot Springs Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93103. (805) 969-5781.


Hughcs at Napa Museum

In a rare public appearance, California art historian, author and collector Edan Hughes lectured on early California painting art at the Naps Valley Museum on September 16, 2000. Author of the indispensable reference book - Artists in California 1786-1940 - Hughes showed slides from his extensive collection of over 1,300 early California paintings and offered anecdotes about the artists.

When he came to California from the East in 1955, there was no information available on early California painters, so Hughes started collecting biographical information. His book was the final result. A new, updated volume is currently in the works and is scheduled to be released next year. In the meantime, he is asking for updated biographical information from the public on any of the artists listed in the current volume.

"California didn't always have such a vital art market as we have today," Hughes told the audience of mostly collectors. Early California art began with the Gold Rush. Romantic Realist painters such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran took their magnificent paintings of Yosemite to the East, and they fueled the expansionist fervor. Later, societal changes that occurred after the Victorian era brought along an attitude of "out with the old, in with the new."

By 1890's, Modernism was coming into the mix. Local people turned to trendier European paintings with the new style - light, color and atmosphere - which were influenced by the Barbizon, Tonalists and Impressionists. These painters were not concerned with exact replication. An example was William Keith who abruptly changed his style to smaller paintings with more color and mood in the Barbizon tradition. Thomas Hill and Bierstadt didn't change and by the Chicago exposition of 1893, their work was out of favor. The Armory Show in New York in 1913 started the war between the academics and modernists. And in San Francisco, the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915 brought that war to the West Coast. By the 1930's, Impressionism was replaced by Scene paintings. " After that, one could literally find early representational art in trash cans," Hughes said. It was not until 1969 that the Oakland Museum awakened California's artistic heritage.

Although he personally didn't find any of his art in trash cans, Hughes did relate stories about picking up paintings at flea markets for a pittance. He said that in the course of his biographical research, he has uncovered many stories that would make great historical novels. Anecdotes about early artists included the story about San Franciscan, Xavier Martinez, originally from Mexico, who could be seen around town sporting a beret and baggy velvet paints held up by a purple sash, Painter Ernest Narjot, a successful painter and muralist, was blinded while painting murals for Leland's Stanford's tomb, when paint fell in his eyes. The final years of his life were spent in blindness, deteriorating health and poverty.

When asked which artist was commanding the highest price today, Hughes said Guy Rose, who spent a great deal of time in France. He said he used to wish he had a crystal ball to see which paintings would be good investments but has since decided that all you need are good paintings and enough of them, and the value will increase.

To order his book, purchase paintings or contribute biographical material, contact Hughes at: Hughes Publishing Company, 106 Dolores St., San Francisco, CA 94103. (415) 626-4653.

© 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


Also see:

California Art History

California Artists: 19th-21st Century

California Impressionism

California Regionalism and California School of Painters

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11

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