The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1986, Volume 32, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Painting Ladies ~ The Artists ~ The Images

b. Chicago, Illinois July 17, 1902 **
(currently residing in San Diego)

Belle’s parents, Rumanian immigrants Abram and Mary Agnes (Baranceanu) Goldschlager, separated when she was very young. Belle and her sister were raised by their maternal grandparents on a farm in North Dakota. The family was not reunited until 1920. Attending school in Minneapolis, Belle was graduated from the Minneapolis School of Art in 1924. Continuing there as a post-graduate student, she studied under Anthony Angarola, who became the major influence on her developing style. In order to continue study with Angarola, she followed him to the Art Institute of Chicago where she enrolled in 1925. Among her other instructors there were Richard Lahey, Morris Davidson and Cameron Booth.

Scenic View of the Village, in the La Jolla Post Office Belle’s father did not approve of Angarola, or his daughter’s growing attachment to the artist, so Belle was sent to live with an uncle in Los Angeles in 1927. She remained in California for two years painting and exhibiting, and also producing three lithographs. Returning to Chicago in 1929, Belle decided that, in spite of her father, she was going to marry Angarola. The couple made arrangements to meet for lunch, but Angarola never showed up. He was later found dead in his apartment, presumably due to injuries he had received earlier in an automobile accident in Paris.

Belle was devastated by Angarola’s death. She stayed in Chicago for three years, teaching at the Midwest Art Students’ League with Todros Geller, and several other schools. Her Wabash Avenue Bridge won the Clyde M. Carr landscape prize at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1931, and she had several solo exhibitions in the Chicago area. By 1932, the Depression was taking its toll and the arts were suffering. Thinking it would be easier to be poor in California, Belle and her family decided to move west. It was about this time that Belle and her sister, Teresa, adopted their mother’s maiden name, Baranceanu. Belle first moved to Los Angeles attempting to obtain a teaching position at the Chouinard School of Art, but failing this, she joined her family in San Diego in 1933.

Hilda Preibisius, by Belle Baranceanu Almost immediately, Belle became involved with the various government art programs enacted in the 1930s to keep artists employed decorating public buildings during the Depression years. Belle’s style was decorative, making creative use of linear, spatial and tonal arrangements and simplified forms, and was perfectly suited to large mural work. Producing several murals for the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935-36, she was awarded a silver medal for her contributions to the fair. She also produced murals for the La Jolla Post Office, Roosevelt Junior and La Jolla Senior High schools. Along with the murals, she returned to printmaking, producing a series of linoleum block prints originally intended as cover designs for W.P.A. curriculum books. The blocks became the property of the government, so Belle had to re-cut them to make her own editions. She added several blocks to the series including Drill Baboon, a complicated print in five colors, which won first prize in graphics at the San Diego Art Guild in 1940.

Continuing to do mural and portrait work for private clients, Belle also designed four posters to assist with the war effort. In 1944, she painted six murals depicting war scenes for windows at Marston’s Department Store, assisted by Dan Dickey, in conjunction with the Fifth

War Loan. After the War, Belle once again turned to teaching. She taught five years at the San Diego School of Arts and Crafts in La Jolla, and twenty-three years at Francis Parker School in Mission Hills, both beginning in 1946. Belle was elected president of the San Diego Art Guild in 1950, and in the late 1950s she taught children’s classes at California Western University. In later years, she began to experiment with abstraction, producing a series of paintings based on lights reflecting off the waters of the San Diego Bay at night.

In the 1970s, many California schools were declared inadequate for seismic safety. Both La Jolla High and Roosevelt Junior High schools were demolished in 1975. As La Jolla came down, so did Belle’s Seven Arts mural, which she considered to be her greatest work. The two historical murals at Roosevelt were painted on canvas, however, and these were rolled and put into storage in the city schools warehouse. They were transferred to the collection of the San Diego Historical Society in 1983, for eventual installation in the Museum of San Diego History in Balboa Park.

(Ref. AAA 1938, 1941; Moure; SDET 12-17-38 B1:1-4; SDHC Baranceanu Archives; U.C.S.D. Belle Baranceanu – A Retrospective, 1985; ** Belle’s birthdate is usually listed as 1905. She later claimed that her actual birthdate was 1902. An attempt to verify this by obtaining birth records instead turned up the birth certificate of her younger sister, Teresa, listed as unnamed second daughter born February 20, 1904, indicating that Belle must have been born before May of 1903)