The Arts in Santa Barbara

by Janet B. Dominik



The following essay was written in 1986 by Janet B. Dominik, an art historian, writer and curator specializing in early California art. It is an essay written for, and included in, the book titled Plein Air Painters of California, The North, edited by Ruth Lilly Westphal and published by Westphal Publishing, Irvine, California, ISBN 0-9610520-1-5


During the 1920s the art community in Santa Barbara had a very active Community Arts Association which served through four branches: Drama, Music, Plans and Planting (for architectural development and guidelines), and the School of the Arts.[1] The four branches had developed as separate entities between the years of 1920 and 1922. On April 24, 1922, a charter for the nonprofit corporation "Community Arts Association of Santa Barbara" was obtained, the purpose of the association being "to afford individuals the opportunity for self-expression, training and education in music, drama, and the allied arts, and to aid in the cultural improvement of the people and in the beautification of the City of Santa Barbara."[2]

One of the most active members in the association was artist Fernand Lungren (1857-1932) through whose impetus the School of the Arts was founded in June 1920. Lungren had settled in Santa Barbara in 1906. The idyllic and beautiful area was already an attraction for artists, many of whom moved there, especially during the months after the San Francisco earthquake. In 1914 Lungren remarked that "as a field for artistic endeavor, it would be impossible to find a spot more favored than Santa Barbara."[3] By 1920 the resident artists included John Gamble (186.3-1957), Carl Oscar Borg (1879-1947), Albert Herter (1871-1950), DeWitt Parshall (1864-1956), Douglass Parshall (b. 1899), and Thomas Moran (1837-1926).[4]

The school purchased the Old Dominguez adobe on the corner of Santa Barbara and Carrillo Streets, and, after some refurbishing, opened in November, 1920. Classes were offered not only in the visual arts, but in music, drama, dance, and foreign language as well. Lungren taught illustration, Herter, the life class, and Borg, landscape. Funding was secured through donations and a modest tuition. In addition to instruction, the school held regular exhibitions in its gallery.

In November 1922 the Community Arts Association received from the Carnegie Corporation a grant of $25,000 a year for five years, the money to be distributed among the four branches. The grant was secured through the efforts of Dr. Henry Smith Pritchett, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and, at that time, a resident of Santa Barbara. After the 1925 earthquake which severely damaged the school, the Carnegie Corporation gave the association an additional $25,000 for the construction of a new school and, at the same time, extended the original grant through October 1, 1930.[5]

In 1923 Adele (Mrs. Albert) Herter (1869-1946) advised Lungren to persuade Frank Morley Fletcher (1866-1949), then head of the Edinburgh Royal College of Art, to teach a summer session at the school. Fletcher accepted the invitation and, at the end of the session, agreed to become the director of the school for the next three years. (Fletcher retained the position until 1930.) As the new director, Fletcher made recommendations which strengthened the sculpture and design departments, added a class in block printing, and also began teaching the life classes himself.

Parallel to the development of the Community Arts Association and the School of Art, was the development of the Santa Barbara Art Club, which was founded on June 9, 1924 by sixteen artists, among them Lungren, Gamble, Fletcher, Herter, Borg, DeWitt Parshall, Douglass Parshall, Edward Borein (1872-1945), and Colin Campbell Cooper (1856-1937).[6] Eighty-seven year old Thomas Moran was made an honorary member. The club was essentially an artists' cooperative with exhibitions of members held in the old Casa de la Guerra. Within less than a year the club, which became part of the Art League of Santa Barbara, had about fifty members. Besides showing the work of local artists, the league accepted traveling shows. In June 1927, at the invitation of the Biltmore Salon in Los Angeles, an exhibition by members of the league was held there.[7]

Although Santa Barbara continued to have an active artist colony for many years, unfortunately, in the 1930s, the Depression took its toll. With the expiration of the Carnegie Grant and donations declining, the Community Arts Association reluctantly closed the School of Arts. It was a sad commentary for a school which had, in such a short time, established a reputation of first rank among the art schools of the United States, with a faculty that included outstanding, award-winning artists. One of the last activities of the school was a commemorative exhibition in 1933 for its founder, Fernand Lungren, who had died the previous year.



I. Unidentified newspaper clipping from the files of the Santa Barbara Public Library. Written notation indicating date of 12 January 1947.

2. Hamilton McFadden, "Community Arts Association, Santa Barbara, California," The American Magazine of Art 15 (June 1924): 303. The Community Arts Association is also discussed at length in John A. Berger, Fernand Lungren: A Biography (Santa Barbara, California: The Schauer Press, 1936), pp. 221-243.

3. Stella Haverland Rouse, "Fernand Lungren, local artist, one of many who painted turn-of-century Western scenery." Unidentified newspaper clipping from the files of the Santa Barbara Public Library The author quoted from a 1914 interview by a Santa Barbara Daily News reporter.

4. L. W. Wilson, "Santa Barbara's Artist Colony." The American Magazine of Art 12 (December 1921): 411-414.

5. The Treasurer's Report for the year October 1, 1928 to September 30, 1929, indicated the School of Arts received $9,500 from the Carnegie Fund and $28, 875 from contributions.

6. Berger, p. 271. See also "The Interesting Work of the Community," California Southland (c. 1925): 14. Copy of article without notation in files of the Santa Barbara Public Library.

7. Berger, pp. 273-274.

Editor's note:

Essay courtesy of Westpahl Publishing, Irvine, California

For biographical information on artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11

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