September 21 – January 6, 2019
Claremont Museum of Art
200 W. 1st St, Claremont
Animals, both real and fantastic, occupied an important place in artistic expression in mid- twentieth-century Claremont, appearing in the work of ceramists, painters, enamelists, and sculptors. The exhibition, Primal Nature: Animalia by Women in Post-War Claremont focuses on this phenomenon, particularly in the work of women artists who played a vital role in the development of the arts in Claremont during the post-war period.
The exhibition, curated by Susan M. Anderson, will be on view September 21, 2018 through January 6, 2019 at the Claremont Museum of Art, located in the historic Claremont Depot at 200 W. First Street. The museum is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4:00 PM, and on Art Walk, the first Saturday of every month from 6:00 to 9:00 PM.
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Mid-century modern art, architecture, and design in Claremont were influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement that developed in 19th-century Great Britain and flourished in the United States through the 1920s. Although the movement was multi-centered in America, the fullest expression of its ideals was to be found in Southern California. Here, with a focus on traditional craftsmanship and a lifestyle that promoted immersion in nature, artists drew sustenance from local flora and fauna, and vernacular design.
In Claremont, the ethos of the Arts and Crafts Movement lingered during the Depression era and experienced an extraordinary resurgence in the post-war period. This was due in large part to the influence of Millard Sheets and to the artists, designers, craftspeople, and architects he drew to the growing Claremont art colony beginning in 1932.
In the post-war period, Sheets’s exhibition programs at the Los Angeles County Fair included almost yearly arts and crafts shows, including the regionally important “The Arts of Daily Living” and “The Arts of Western Living.” These helped foster Claremont’s creative community, as did the Millard Sheets Studio on Foothill Boulevard where dozens of artists, craftspeople, and architects worked on landmarks, in Claremont and beyond, such as the Home Savings and Loan buildings with their signature mosaics.
Themes drawn from nature, especially animal forms, were common. Since classical antiquity, artists have assigned meaning to animals real and imagined. At the same time. animals—wild, domesticated and fantastic—often functioned for artists as creative muses or effective design solutions. Primal Nature explores the significance of this shared theme in the arts in Claremont, as well as the context for its emergence.
Susan M. Anderson is an independent curator and art historian with a focus on the art of California. She is a former chief curator of Laguna Art Museum. Assisting the guest curator in her research, Scripps College undergraduate Linnea Rosenberg participated in the organization of this exhibition as this year’s Millard Sheets Art Intern.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Jean Goodwin Ames’s (1903-1986) preferred medium was enamel, but she was also a painter. Ames, who taught at Scripps College and Claremont Graduate School from 1940 to 1962, described her oeuvre as being filled with “enchanted birds and beasts.” Her commitment to enamel contributed to the recognition of the medium as an art form in the years following World War II.
Archaic animal forms recalling Egyptian, Greek, and Romanesque styles were popular among sculptors. The ceramic animal sculpture of Betty Davenport Ford (b.1924) exhibits this historicizing approach. Ford aims to balance the capture of the animal’s essential spirit with sound design. She graduated from Scripps College in 1946 and remained a vital part of the community through her work with the Millard Sheets Studio.
Barbara Beretich’s (1926-2018) ceramic sculptures of cats, which she often finished in bronze, also recall archaic sculpture while being highly polished and stylized. From 1962 to 1965, Beretich attended Claremont Graduate School, receiving an MFA. From 1973 to 1978, she operated Gallery 8 on Harvard Avenue, and, from 1978, Galleria Beretich, located in her home. Both offered important exhibition venues for local and regional artists.
Susan Hertel (1930-1993) mused in a poem that she was “not a person of the people tribe,” suggesting a closer kinship to the animals she often portrayed in her paintings of everyday life. Hertel received her BA from Scripps College in 1952. Working in the Millard Sheets Studio, she subsequently became chief designer and executor of murals throughout Southern California, Texas, and Arkansas, for Home Savings and Loan.
Norma Tanega (b. 1939) is a folk and pop singer-composer as well as a painter. In 1966, she signed with New Voice Records and became internationally known for her composition “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog.” Tanega graduated from Scripps College in 1960 and from Claremont Graduate School in 1962. In the 1980s, she was a member of Scripps’s professor Brian Ransom’s Ceramic Ensemble, a group that played Ransom’s handmade earthenware instruments, performing at universities, folk festivals, and art museums
The early enamels of Ellamarie Wooley (1913-1976) were largely functional, intended for use in the home: plates, ashtrays, and boxes, some with abstract and decorative animal designs. She resided in Claremont from 1946 to 1947, during the critical years of the formation of the postwar art community here, and remained a central contributor to the arts here through her friendship with Sam Maloof.