The San Diego History Center has received grants totaling $55,000 from the Legler Benbough Foundation and the Parker Foundation to fund the restoration and conservation of 17 Depression-era paintings.
The works, many produced under the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and obtained in August from the San Diego Unified School District, show the wear and tear of hanging unattended in public spaces and storage rooms for decades. They include canvasses by Charles Reiffel, Maurice Braun, Charles Fries, Margot Rocle and Elliot Torrey and many show scenes characteristic to San Diego, whether Fries’ “Mount Cuyamaca” or Braun’s “Point Loma.”
Eleven of the paintings are on display in their current condition in an exhibit at the History Center, “Landscapes Rediscovered.” Two additional Reiffel canvasses, “Mountains and Desert” and “Waterfront Activity,” have already been restored and will form part of a joint exhibition with the San Diego Museum of Art, “Charles Reiffel: An American Post-Impressionist,” opening at both venues Nov. 10.
“(The grants) enable us to restore the paintings to their original pristine condition and colorful splendor,” said the History Center’s acting executive director, Charlotte Cagan. “We will now be able to display and make accessible to the public a marvelous collection of largely unseen exquisite artwork for San Diegans to enjoy for generations to come.”
The 17 works are the most “historically and artistically significant” of the school district’s collection of approximately 100 WPA-era paintings now in storage and expected to eventually end up at the History Center, which has a long-term goal of being the primary showcase for historic regional art.
The History Center also has received a separate grant of approximately $10,000 from an unnamed private donor to reframe many of the paintings, whose ornate, historically significant frames were apparently removed and replaced as part of a woodshop class project at La Jolla High.
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