Ranchos: The Oak Group Paints the Santa Barbara Countryside


Introduction to the book "Ranchos", by Ellen Easton

The Oak Group

This book began in June 1992 as Glenna Hartmann and I were driving up the coast between Santa Barbara and Gaviota across land that was once part of the vast Nuestra Senora del Refugio land grant. After weeks of wet gloom, the fog had finally lifted--it was a beautiful day with the islands clear on the horizon. J. J. Hollister had invited us to do some painting on his historic Arroyo Hondo Ranch, which was also part of the Refugio holdings.

We were talking about the history of Arroyo Hondo and the other Mexican land grant ranches of Santa Barbara County - what a wonderful and mostly unknown resource they were - when it suddenly occurred to me, why not paint them all? I had recently opened an art gallery which featured landscape painters, and had come to know a wide circle of artists. Not being an artist myself, this was an ideal setup--I enjoyed organizing shows and projects and going out on location with the artists when they painted.

As we discussed it, the details of the "Ranch Project" emerged with an ease and completeness which only seems to happen when an idea fits just right. This project would provide a focus, a collection of paintings, perhaps even a book--and an opportunity to get out into the country on days like this. Again and again throughout a long memorable day we returned to the subject of painting all the county's great historic ranches.

On a personal level I had been looking for a way to express my deep feelings about the land. Growing up in Santa Barbara, my family spent weekends and summers on my grandfather's ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, riding horses and hiking. Both my grandfather's and my father's life had been tied to the Sisquoc Ranch (originally a Mexican land grand rancho), and I had grown up listening to the exciting stories and adventures of ranch history.

My father, who loves and knows this land intimately, often took my sisters and me into the backcountry. These early horseback and camping excursions were a wonderful schooling in nature: names of mountains, rivers, watersheds; which trail led where. We shared the thrills of seeing condors soaring overhead, exploring caves filled with Indian drawings, fishing for trout for our dinner, and sleeping out under the stars. My love of the land and sense of place that I experienced as a child has grown today into the gallery and this book.

The Ranch Project soon evolved from concept to commitment to action. Historian Jim Norris and I discussed what would best capture each ranch - a painting of an adobe, a barn, or the landscape itself. I contacted ranch owners and often made a preliminary visit to the ranch in order to scout out painting sites.

After seeing the ranch it was often clear which artist might be inspired to paint there. Marcia Burtt was sure to paint a stand of eucalyptus trees; Meredith Abbott loved to capture the light on the front door of an adobe; the wide open spaces of the coastal ranches attracted Michael Drury. All the artists enjoyed the challenges of a new location and generously gave of their time, creating one beautiful painting after another. It was exciting to see the collection of work


From top to bottom: Meredith Abbott, Summer Evening, 18 x 20 inches, oil on linen, colllection of Joseph R. Henderson; John Comer, Spanish Ranch, Cuyama Valley, 20 x 34 inches, oil, collection of Drs. Terrence McBride and Linda Sobelman; Glenna Hartmann, Ranch House, 13 1/4 x 15 inches, pastel; collection of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hyland; Bjorn Rye, Todos Santos, 12 x 22 inches, oil on panel, collection of the artist; Whitney Brooks Abbott, Mission Santa Ines, 10 x 8 inches, oil on panel, collection of the artist.

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rev. 11/26/10

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