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Art Along the Arroyo

Mar 22, 2009

If you’re still relying on your old edition of Hometown Pasadena, here’s just one example of why you need to upgrade to the 2009.2010 edition: A new piece by Susan Futterman exploring the roots of the artistic community that developed along the Arroyo Seco in the late nineteenth century. Look for an exhibit on Frances Gearhart’s work, with an accompanying book by Futterman, in the coming year.

arroyoart Art Along the Arroyo Susan Futterman pasadena art Frances Gearhart Arroyo art culture  photo

This Joyous World, by Frances Gearhart

Artists came to Pasadena in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because of the light and the mountains and the light on the mountains. They were drawn to the area along the Arroyo Seco, with its natural creeks, light filtered through the trees and the amazing purple San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. This was the Land of Sunshine, where poppy and lupine fields abounded, eucalyptus swayed, and brooks meandered through wooded glens. Year-round, artists could set up their easels and paint by the natural light of the sun until it settled beyond the Verdugos. Southern California was home to Impressionism’s Indian summer, the last place it flourished, and the artists who settled here developed a kind of California Impressionism, focusing on defined landscapes, capturing light on the canvas using pure colors, and choosing to paint distinctly California subjects.

These artists established a community. Together they trekked to the High Sierras, the beaches and the desert to paint. They formed clubs, such as the California Art Club, or met on a Sunday morning at Benjamin Brown’s Pasadena home studio just to talk about art. Some came because of failing health, such as William Lees Judson, the founder of the Judson Studios, who lived to paint for many years. Many of these artists taught at the schools that were being established to serve the growing arts scene: Otis, Chouinard, Los Angeles Art Students League and the Stickley Memorial School of Art in Pasadena.

Among the Pasadena artists, Guy Rose was one of the few who was born locally —on Sunny Slope, the family ranch. (Rosemead was the name of a second Rose family ranch.) The most illustrious of the California Impressionists, Rose studied and lived in Paris and Giverny but eventually returned to paint, exhibit and teach at the Stickley Art School. Alson Clark and Jean Mannheim located their home studios on the banks of the Arroyo Seco, where they could start and end each day with the splendor of nature out their doorstep. Both these studios exist today.

Women artists were prominent in the Pasadena art scene. Frances Gearhart became the leading color-block printer of the American West. She depicted stunning landscapes of majestic mountains and vistas with billowy clouds blowing in the skies. Her home and gallery, at the corner of California and Fair Oaks, became a regional meeting place for other printmakers. Ellen Farr favored oils of pepper tree branches and was a favorite of Colonel Green of the Green Hotel, where she had a gallery. One of her pepper-tree paintings hangs in the lobby of the Castle Green today. Marion Watchel was unparalleled in her ability to create a dreamy mood and tell a story with the fluid sweep of her watercolors.

It was the impressions of light on the California landscape that captivated all these artists and held them here.

— Susan Futterman




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