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Scene in Oakland, 1852-2002: Artworks Celebrating the City's 150th Anniversary


In the 1870s, the busy corner of Madison and Eighth Streets near downtown Oakland was a grove of oak trees. Ferdinand Richardt's painting documenting this scene is just one of 66 artworks in the exhibition Scene in Oakland, 1852-2002: Artworks Celebrating the City's 150th Anniversary, on view at the Oakland Museum of California from March 9 through August 25, 2002. The exhibition of paintings, drawings, watercolors and photographs dating from 1852 to 2002 features views of Oakland by 48 prominent California artists. The scenes depicted include a wide variety of the city's landmarks, districts, architecture and activities. (left: William Henry Capp, Winter Scene, 1920-1930, oil on canvas, 18 x 15 inches, Oakland Museum of California Collection)

The exhibition was developed in honor of the 150th anniversary of the incorporation of the city of Oakland by the California legislature on May 4, 1852. Scene in Oakland and its companion exhibition Being There: 45 Oakland Artists are two of a number of events planned by Oakland cultural organizations to celebrate the city's birthday.

Most of the artworks in the exhibition are from the art and history collections of the Oakland Museum of California. Included are works by Albert Bierstadt, William Clapp, Jade Fon, William Hahn, William Keith, Dorothea Lange, Joseph Lee, Xavier Martinez, Mary DeNeal Morgan, Ferdinand Richardt, Louis Siegriest, Peter Stackpole and Bernard von Eichman. Scenes of modern Oakland lent by several contemporary artists include, among others, works by Willard Dixon, Mark Downey, June Felter, Howard Hack, Anthony Holdsworth, Lewis Watts and Jan Lassetter.

The earliest artwork in the exhibition is a pencil and watercolor sketch of lower Broadway by an unknown artist, titled Oakland, May 1854. The sketch resembles a movie set for a frontier town -- a broad, dusty road between two rows of hastily constructed wooden storefront buildings, a grove of native oaks in the distance. (right: Albert Bierstadt, View of Oakland, CA, c. 1870, Oakland Museum of California Collection)

The city's schools and civic buildings are preserved in images such as Richardt's Mrs. Poston's Female Academy -- which, from 1873 to 1880, occupied the present site of the Oakland Museum of California -- and Marius Dahlgren's Alameda County Courthouse, East Oakland, in its original location at the corner of East 14th Street and 20th Avenue.

Lake Merritt, America's first wildfowl sanctuary and now a recreational park for city residents, was a popular subject for painters and photographers. The lake appears in a number of works in the exhibition, from panoramic views of the city, such as Leon Trousset's View of Oakland Across Lake Merritt, circa 1875, to Mary DeNeal Morgan's painting of Lake Merritt from the 1930s showing several "skyscrapers" on the city's skyline that remain there today.

Urban subjects were especially popular in the 1920s and '30s. In 1928, Society of Six painter Bernard von Eichman produced a number of watercolors featuring busy downtown streets, three of which are included in the exhibition. Photographers Willard Van Dyke, Dorothea Lange and, more recently, Lewis Watts found inspiration in Oakland's people in their daily lives, or in some of the city's derelict buildings and neglected neighborhoods. (left: Selden Connor Gile, Joaquin Miller's Home, 1915, oil on canvas, 11 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches, Oakland Museum of California Collection)

A few contemporary paintings focus attention on business enterprise. Jan Lassetter's oil The Trojan Horses gives a soft, romantic view of the Port of Oakland's giant cranes on the city's southwest skyline. Other works document the aftermaths of Oakland's calamitous 1989 earthquake and 1991 firestorm.

The exhibition was organized by Harvey L. Jones, senior curator of art at the Oakland Museum of California, and is accompanied by a brochure with reproductions of several artworks representative of the exhibition.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Oakland Museum of California in Resource Library Magazine.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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