Artists in Santa Catalina Island Before 1945

by Jean Stern



Elmer Wachtel (1864-1929)

Elmer Wachtel was born on January 21, 1864 in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1882, he went to Southern California to live with his older brother John, who was married to artist Guy Rose's sister and was managing the Rose family ranch, Sunny Slope. An aspiring violinist, Wachtel became first violin of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Los Angeles in 1888. He held the same position from 1893 to 1894 with A. J. Stamm's Philharmonic Orchestra.

During this time Wachtel also pursued an interest in drawing and painting. He became active in local art circles, which included John Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) and John Bond Francisco (1863-1931). With several other artists, they founded the Los Angeles Art Association in the late 1880s.

In 1895, Wachtel went to New York and enrolled in the Art Students League. Unhappy with the teaching methods there, he left after only two weeks. He remained in New York and received criticism from William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). Working in watercolor, Wachtel exhibited with the New York Water Color Society. After returning to California in 1896, he spent a brief period in San Francisco, where he exhibited with the San Francisco Art Association. He then returned permanently to Los Angeles.

Wachtel worked as a pen-and-ink illustrator for Land of Sunshine and Californian magazines. Around 1900 he went to England and Europe, studying at the Lambeth Art School in London and visiting and painting with his friend Gutzon Borglum, who was living there.

Wachtel returned to Los Angeles and, within a few years, established a reputation as an accomplished landscape artist. William Keith (1838-1911), the California Barbizon master from San Francisco, sent the young artist Marion Kavanaugh to take classes with him in 1903. The two fell in love and were married in Chicago the following year.

Somewhat of an artistic maverick, Elmer Wachtel was at first a Tonalist, showing moody and poetic landscapes in dark tones. As he progressed, he accepted some of the Impressionist aesthetic and brightened his palette. Many of his mature works show a more decorative and lyrical style, very reminiscent of Arthur Mathews (1860-1945), the San Francisco landscape and figure painter who influenced a generation of northern California painters. However, Wachtel rarely included figures in his compositions.

Elmer and Marion Wachtel spent the next 25 years as inseparable painting companions -- he working in oils and she in watercolor. They traveled throughout California, the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, and in Mexico. Wachtel died on August 31, 1929, during a painting trip to Guadalajara.


Marion Kavanagh (née Kavanaugh) Wachtel (1876-1954)

Marion Kavanaugh was born on June 10, 1876 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and in New York with William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). For several years she taught at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1903, she won a commission from the Santa Fe Railroad to paint murals in its San Francisco ticket office. There, she met and studied with William Keith (1838-1911). Keith recommended that she go to Los Angeles to study with artist Elmer Wachtel. Elmer and Marion fell in love and were married the following year in Chicago. Thereafter, she signed her name "Marion Kavanagh Wachtel."

Returning to Los Angeles, the couple built a studio-home in the Mt. Washington area. They remained there until 1921, when they moved to the Arroyo Seco area of Pasadena. As inseparable painting companions, they traveled throughout Southern California and the Southwest. Originally trained as a portrait artist, Wachtel painted portraits of the Hopi on a trip to northern Arizona and New Mexico in 1908.

Perhaps so as not to compete with her husband, Wachtel worked primarily in watercolor throughout their marriage and displayed remarkable dexterity in handling the medium, which can be quite unforgiving, even to the most skilled. She received high praise for her works, which are delicate, lyrical interpretations of the landscape, in a manner that shows her masterful control of tone and color.

After her husband's death in 1929, Wachtel temporarily lost interest in painting. She resumed work around 1931, painting landscapes around her home in the Arroyo Seco, the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, and in the Sierra Nevada Mountains; many of these views are done in oil paint. Marion Wachtel died on May 22, 1954 in Pasadena, California.


William Lees Judson (1842-1928)

William Lees Judson was born on April 1, 1842 in Manchester, England. He moved to the United States with his family in 1852 and lived in Brooklyn, New York. Between 1852 and 1890, Judson often visited and at times lived in London, Ontario, Canada. His early art education came from his father, who was an artist.

Judson served in the military during the Civil War; afterward, he studied briefly with John B. Irving in New York. Judson then went to Paris and studied at the Académie Julian from 1878 to 1881.

Around 1890, Judson moved to Chicago and became active as a portrait painter. Ill health caused him to seek a milder climate, and in 1893, he went to Los Angeles with the expectation that he only had a few months to live. Instead, he lived for another 35 years.

Throughout the mid-1890s, Judson often visited and painted in Santa Catalina Island. In August 1895, he brought a group of students to paint on the island. Up at 3 a.m. to get an early start painting in the mountains, he paused to write a letter home to his wife, Bertha, "[We] will have them up at 4:00 so they can get to the top to catch the morning's first light." As for dining accommodations, Judson wrote, "[We] are eating fish and goat meat."

At first, Judson taught at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design and began to paint landscapes. In 1896 he joined the faculty of the University of Southern California as a professor of drawing and painting. In 1901 he founded and was made the first dean of the USC College of Fine Arts, located on the Arroyo Seco in Garvanza. A fire destroyed the school in December 1910, and it was reported that Judson lost many of his own paintings. The school was immediately rebuilt, and Judson continued in his post for the rest of his life.

Judson was a versatile artist. An adept Impressionist painter, he was also the originator of the Craftsman movement in the Arroyo Seco area of Pasadena. The Judson Studios, which he founded, continues to this day, under the guidance of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The firm produces excellent stained-glass windows in the original Judson home in Pasadena. Judson died on October 26, 1928 in Los Angeles.


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