If you’re interested in the art and artists of Northern California in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, you need to be aware of a magnum opus by a fellow alumnus of U.C. Berkeley , Robert W. Edwards. It’s called Jennie V. Cannon: The Untold History of the Carmel and Berkeley Art Colonies, Vol. 1. (Oakland, Calif.: East Bay Heritage Project, 2012). At my suggestion, the author has posted an online facsimile of the entire text on the Traditional Fine Arts Organization website, http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/10aa/10aa557.htm. It’s about much more than Jennie Cannon, although he’s done a great service in bringing out the story of this prominent artist who faded into undeserved obscurity. In almost 400 pages of fine print, he has compiled detailed biographies of more than 200 artists who worked in Berkeley or Carmel (with more to come in volume 2). In the introduction he writes:
From these histories we can draw some startling conclusions. For example, from the mid to late 1920s, a period when many consider that the Carmel art colony had reached its apogee, eight artists, who are recognized today as outstanding figures, can be confirmed as preeminent based on the frequency of exhibitions outside the Monterey Peninsula and the degree of critical acclaim during their lifetimes: E. Charlton Fortune, Arthur Hill Gilbert, Armin Hansen, Joseph Mora, Mary DeNeale Morgan, John O’Shea, William Ritschel and William Silva. However, the same contemporary sources indicate that ten other Carmel exhibitors were quite exceptional and given equal if not more attention in the press: Roberta Balfour, Margaret Bruton, Ferdinand Burgdorff, Jennie V. Cannon, Gene Kloss, Edith Maguire, Clayton S. Price, J. Blanding Sloan, William C. Watts and Stanley H. Wood.
Likewise, in the first Berkeley art colony Edwin Deakin, William Keith and Xavier Martinez are today viewed as “the celebrities,” but critics and the public between 1906 and 1911 held in the greatest esteem nine other Berkeley artists: Henry J. Breuer, Louise Carpenter, Charles M. Crocker, Carl Dahlgren, Jules Mersfelder, Perham Nahl, Charles P. Neilson, Eda Smitten and Elizabeth Strong.
For my own research on Anne Bremer, this book has provided references to specific articles in sources like the Carmel Pine Cone and Berkeley Courier that I might never have tracked down. So if you want to learn in depth about any artist of Carmel or Berkeley prior to about 1950, be sure to check this resource!
I’m curating an exhibit for the Berkeley Historical Society, to run October 11, 2015–April 2, 2016, called “Art Capital of the West”: Real and Imagined Art Museums and Galleries in Berkeley. It was Jennie V. Cannon, an artist, who visited Berkeley in 1907 and wrote in her daybook, “I could not believe my eyes—there were artist groups and displays everywhere—so many fine artists that this place surpasses San Francisco as the art capital of the West.” As Berkeley town and gown look forward to the opening of the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive this winter, the exhibit will look back over more than 130 years of hopes, dreams, successes and setbacks.
Old Art Gallery, UC Berkeley, with WPA mosaics
Who knew that there was a Berkeley Art Museum back in the 1920s? That UC Berkeley’s third building, after North and South Halls, was built as an art gallery as well as the campus library? You may know about the “Old Art Gallery” at Cal, a brick building behind Sproul Hall that had been a power and steam plant before it became a gallery in 1934 with the help of art professor Eugen Neuhaus and art patron Albert Bender. The exhibit will feature the rocky history of the dream for a major university art museum that dates back to the generosity of Phoebe Apperson Hearst in the 1890s and early 1900s but took a long time to come to fruition.
I’ll also try to cover private and non-profit galleries, including the ACCI Gallery, Ames Gallery, Berkeley Art Center, Judah Magnes Museum, Kala Art Institute Gallery, and any others that come to my attention as having existed up to 25 years ago. Please let me know if you have relevant material to lend, other ideas, or would like to receive an invitation to the show.
William Keith, Sand Dunes and Fog, San Francisco,
circa 1880s, Saint Mary’s College Collection
I spent 16 years working with the collection of paintings by William Keith (1838-1911) at Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, California. I created a William Keith Room to display works from the collection in what was then called the Hearst Art Gallery. With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and sponsorships from several individuals, we were able to publish a catalog of the collection in 1988. I was way too busy running the museum to do the necessary research and writing. One expert on historic California art, John Garzoli, recommended another, Alfred C. Harrison, Jr. When I first met Alfred he was a private collector and researcher. He agreed to write a monograph about William Keith for our publication, concurrent with taking over the North Point Gallery in San Francisco. Joseph Armstrong Baird, who had served as art curator for the California Historical Society in the 1960s and early 70s while also teaching art history at U.C. Davis, had founded the North Point Gallery in 1972. It still exists today, in its third location, with Alfred Harrison as president, and still focuses on historic California art.
The Keith Collection at Saint Mary’s was started by Brother Fidelis Cornelius, who taught at the college and published a 600-page biography of the artist, Keith, Old Master of California, in 1942, followed by a supplementary volume in 1957. The size of the collection, now more than 160 paintings, has made it possible for the Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art to repeatedly develop traveling exhibitions. For one of these, I wrote an article that draws heavily from Keith’s own words. With permission from American Art Review, I am attaching that illustrated article here. If it whets your appetite for more, you may want to acquire the 2011 book, The Comprehensive Keith, in which every painting in the collection is illustrated in color, Alfred’s essay is updated, and two conservators have written essays about the paintings and their frames.
To read more, download my article from American Art Review 6:6 (Dec 1994–Jan 1995): “William Keith: California’s Poet-Painter.”
For several years I have been researching and writing about late-19th-century and early-20th-century California art, architecture, museums and patronage. My major long-term project is a dual biography tentatively titled Kissing Cousins, AMB and AMB: The Artistic Lives of San Francisco’s Albert M. Bender and Anne M. Bremer. Meanwhile, I would like to introduce you to these two remarkable people who had a major impact on the Bay Area cultural landscape.
Photograph of Anne Bremer
by Dorothea Lange, about 1922
(Mills College Art Museum)
Photograph of Albert Bender
by Consuelo Kanaga, 1929
(Mills College Art Museum)
Anne Bremer (1868-1923) was a highly regarded San Francisco-based artist, noteworthy for her interest in modernism and experimentation, especially after she studied in New York and Paris in 1910-1911. She held a number of leadership roles in the Bay Area art community. Her career was cut tragically short by leukemia. Albert Bender (1866-1941) was her cousin and beloved life partner. A successful insurance broker, he became a major patron of artists, museums, libraries, and performing arts organizations. Through Anne’s influence, he was particularly open to modernism, and he helped establish what are now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Mills College Art Museum.
To read more, click on “About Albert Bender” and “About Anne Bremer” at the top of this page.