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The Final Eden: Early Images of the Santa Barbara Region


Oil paintings, watercolors and prints depicting the Central Coast of California between 1836 and 1960 and celebrating "its rural pristine and fertile nature," have been selected by guest curator, Frank Goss, for the next exhibition at the Wildling Art Museum in Los Olivos, opening April 7, 2002.  Goss has titled the exhibition, "The Final Eden: Early Images of the Santa Barbara Region," because it is his thesis that the paradise that once was California, a land of boundless resources and unlimited opportunities, has shrunk through urbanization and exploitation, and the Central Coast, not yet paved over, is "the Final Eden." (left: John Hall Esq. (1808 - ?), "Santa Barbara-Upper California," 1836, hand-colored lithograph.. Lent by Eric Hvolboil)

According to Goss, artists from the dawn of settlements on the Central Coast, have recognized the Edenic nature of this area, and have celebrated its sensuous beauty through drawings and paintings of the landscape as well as in still-lifes and figurative work.

The earliest image in the exhibition is a small lithograph of 1836 by John Hall Esq. entitled "Santa Barbara--Upper California."  It depicts a Chumash Indian in his canoe paddling along the coast with the Santa Barbara Mission, the Presidio, and the Santa Ynez Mountains in the background.  The most recent is an oil painting by Santa Barbara painter Ray Strong, called "Season's Change, Buellton." (right: Henry Chapman Ford (1828 - 1894), "Cascade at Bartlett's Glen (Bishop's Ranch), Goleta Valley," c.1874, oil on canvas. Lent by Eric Hvolboil.)

The twenty-five paintings in the exhibition have all been borrowed from art dealers and private collectors.  Most of those selected by Goss date from the period 1890 to 1930.  Artists from this period of Santa Barbara's history include Henry Chapman Ford ("Cascade in Bartlett's Glen [Bishop Ranch] Goleta Valley"), Ludmilla Welch ("Butterfly Beach, Channel Drive,"), John Gamble ("Watering Hole, Hope Ranch"), Lockwood de Forest ("Sycamores, Hammond's Beach"), Colin Campbell Cooper, ("Santa Ynez Valley") and Carl Oscar Borg ("San Marcos Pass").  Also included in the exhibition are two large oil paintings of the Santa Ynez Valley: from the 1940's :"Los Olivos," by the Russian-born Mischa Askenazy, and "Song of Spring" by the French-born Emil Kosa, Jr..

"The Final Eden: Early Images of the Santa Barbara Region" will continue through June 23, 2002. The public is invited to the opening reception April 7, 2-5 p.m. Goss will speak briefly about the exhibition at 3:30 p.m., and present a slide lecture on May 29, 7:30 p.m. in the Parish Hall of St. Mark' s Episcopal Church.


The following statement was written by guest curator Frank Goss in connection with the exhibition:

In the middle of the 19th century the first American and European settlers came to California.  The newly formed State offered a land rich with game, one of the most productive agricultural soils in the world, boundless supplies of clean water, a landscape which was varied and beautiful, and an unparalleled climate.  Newcomers were not required to have familial pedigrees, existing fortunes, or specific backgrounds.  The men and women of California were only known by what they accomplished here.  In short California became a contemporary Eden -- a bountiful land without limitation. (left: Emil Kosa, Jr. (1903 - 1968), "Song of Spring," 1940's, oil on canvas. Lent by Gary Breitweiser.)
The State had offered one bonanza after another.  Gold, cattle, railroads, citrus, oil, produce -- the list has evolved today to include the film industry, aerospace, and the "dotcom" world.  California is the fifth largest economy in the world.  The metropolises of Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego became the southern boundary and San Francisco the boundary to the north.  The wide open spaces of much of the State evolved from open land to rangeland, to farmland, to residential areas, to villages, then towns, then cities filled with the requisite industry.  As this process unfolded the Eden that was once the whole of California began to diminish. The open hills became oil fields which, when depleted, became sites for industry.  The sense of a boundless Eden changed. But one region of the State has maintained its rural pristine and fertile nature -- the Central Coast.  Clean air, clean water, fertile land, open ranges, a Mediterranean climate, varied landscapes and, of course, the wide Pacific.  We live in the final Eden.
Painters have recognized this from the dawn of settlements in the Central Coast.  In paintings which focus on landscape, but also include still life and figurative work, the Edenic nature of our paradise is celebrated.

rev. 5/2/02

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