Richard H. Peterson, Book Reviews Editor
California Artists 1935 to 1956. By Dewitt Clinton McCall, III. Bellflower, California: DeRu’s Fine Art Books, 1981. Artist Listing. Illustra-tions. 212 pages. $50.00.
Reviewed by Marlin E. Petersen, Curator of Paintings, San Diego Museum of Art.
A California artistic heritage is a historical fact rooted in the age of Spanish colonization. Artists arrived in the retinue of the military and the missionary. Some came motivated by a spirit of adventure. Both John James Audubon and Stanley Mix found little to inspire them in the southern part of the state. Around San Francisco, however, there was a great flourish of artistic activity from mid-century on. Soon art schools sprang up. By 1915 California artists and draftsmen were leaving their mark on the national art scene and by 1950 works by a new figurative group of artists were to vie for preeminence with that produced in eastern cultural centers. A complete history of art in California remains to be written. Any book to appear treating this subject is eagerly awaited by the professional who wishes to enlarge upon his knowledge in this area.
McCall’s book unfortunately is disappointing. One may ask, how do you review a telephone directory? A directory does provide some information, i.e., an address, a number where the party might be contacted. Information offered in a directory is admittedly limited. In this book, information is even more minimal. One finds only a listing of names. At least it is evidence of the existence of an artist working in California between 1935 and 1956.
Unfortunately, in the few listed facts, one is apt to find some misleading, and even erroneous information. Donal Hord, for example, is listed as a Santa Barbara artist. The sculptor was a San Diego artist, the area which is the site of most of his important work. Again, Warren Beach is listed as a painter. While he studied to be a painter, and, in fact, still paints, he is best recognized as a museum administrator. His tenure at the San Diego Museum of Art dated from 1954 to 1969. While Charles Partridge Adams may have worked in California, he is identified with the Colorado Rockies, the principal theme of his ouvre.
The lack of index, bibliography, and even dates of the artists makes this a rather poor reference book. The illustrations are of some interest but certainly give little indication of the artists’ forte. Maynard Dixon, for example, a major muralist, is represented by a decorative silhouette-like drawing. Olaf Wieghorst, who perhaps reached the zenith of his art in the 1950s, is represented by a reproduction of one of his illustrated letters. Edward Borein, a talented watercolorist, is represented with a rather pedantic ink drawing.
It is unfortunate that a book which promises so much has so little to offer to our knowledge of California art history. One had best turn to the dictionaries and standard biographical encyclopedias where most of this information is already recorded.