Keeping the Faith: Painting in Santa Catalina 1935-1985

by Roy C. Rose

 



 

"Bud" Upton was the first of these three to arrive on the Catalina scene. Born in Massachusetts, he moved with his family to Pasadena, California as a baby. He went to Catalina for the first time with his parents in 1902, and was never far away after that, often spending his summers there. From his earliest childhood, Upton was interested in art. He liked to draw and at one time wanted to be a cartoonist. In his early twenties he became a sign painter, working for Foster & Kleiser. It was during this time that he met Hanson Puthuff (1875-1972) and Paul Lauritz (1889-1975), both well-established and well-known California plein air painters who would become his lifelong friends. These two, among others, encouraged Upton's creative talent.

In 1932, Upton and his wife, Betty, whom he had met in Catalina in 1923, moved to Avalon, where they were to spend the rest of their lives. As was the fate of many artists during those Great Depression years, Upton was unable to make a living exclusively as an easel painter, so he went into the sign business. He also painted murals, created decorations for tour buses, designed menus, and served as the all-around design and artistic consultant for many projects around Avalon and Catalina. He and his wife opened a gift shop, where Upton's paintings were sold along with every kind of Catalina curio and gift imaginable, all handmade by Upton and his family.

Upton painted in Avalon longer than any other artist to date. Through his paintings, he recorded the buildings and landmarks of his time, as well as the landscape, weather, and everyday life of Catalina. Through his entire career, in spite of the early friendship and influence of Lauritz and Puthuff and other plein air painters, Upton chose to paint in his studio rather than out-of-doors. He used photographs, carefully transferring them to his canvas by laying a graph over both canvas and photo and transcribing one to the other. He also painted from memory. Upton is especially well known for his depiction of Catalina's eucalyptus trees.

Upton bragged that he had never had any formal art training but was largely self-taught. Yet, he was a great teacher and loved to share his talent. He gave instruction from his studio and, at one time, from the back end of the family-owned Catalina Hardware Store.

In 1958 Upton and a group of other Catalina artists formed the Catalina Art Association. Upton served as the organization's first president. In that first year, the group started an annual Catalina Festival of Art, which has been held each September since 1959. Upton was honored during his lifetime with a number of one-man shows, and his paintings appear in many private collections in Avalon and across the country.

 

Upton paintings to be included:
 
NORTHEASTER, AVALON BAY, 1955
oil on canvas
30 inches by 36 inches
 
Painted from a photograph, this painting represents a particularly severe Santa Ana wind. Avalon Bay is wide open to this strong wind, which blows in from the northeast. Tremendous waves crash into the seawall in the middle of Avalon Bay, sending spray up 50 to 60 feet, and sometimes several blocks into town. During this particular storm, the building shown in the middle, which contained a gift shop selling Catalina Pottery, was wrecked beyond repair.
 
 
CHICKEN JOHNNY, C.1965
oil on canvas
20 inches by 24 inches
 
This painting depicts John Brinkley (1844-1936), a local hermit who lived in a shack toward the back of Avalon Canyon. He raised chickens and sold eggs to the local population.
 
 
OLD STAGE ROAD, c. 1937
oil on canvas
26 inches by 35 inches
 
The old stage road from Avalon to the East Summit has been in use from 1897 until the present. The eucalyptus trees were planted to help retain the steep hillsides. The road looks very similar today compared to the way it does in this picture painted circa 1937.
 
 
OLD TREMONT STREET, C.1940
oil on canvas
20 inches by 24 inches
 
This quaint village was built by William Wrigley between 1926 and 1927 to house the workers employed in his massive building projects in Avalon. Parts of the village still exist today, but much of it has been replaced with newer housing. At one time, Upton's studio was located in one of the original Tremont Street buildings.

 

Henry Vander Velde was born in Michigan in 1913. He was exposed to art at an early age, as a number of ancestors on his father's side were painters, and his mother was an accomplished landscape and still life painter. Vander Velde received artistic training at the University of Michigan, the Art Students League in Chicago, and the National Academy of Design in New York City. He married Marjorie Waller, a portrait artist and the granddaughter of two distinguished American artists. Her maternal grandparents were Frederick MacMonnies, a famous sculptor and painter, and Mary Fairchild MacMonnies (Lowe). Marjorie's mother, Betty, also painted.

The financial demands of starting a new family, and then the advent of World War II, put Vander Velde's artistic career on hold. He worked in the defense effort during the war and then briefly at the Ford Motor Company before deciding to make his career in fine art. In 1947, he packed up his young family and moved to Laguna Beach, California. For the next 13 years he established himself as a successful artist, painting a great deal of the time en plein air. As time passed, he painted larger paintings that required a lot of studio time, but his inspiration continued to be painting en plein air, directly from nature. While living in Laguna Beach, he became an active member of the Laguna Art Association and exhibited paintings at the Laguna Art Museum and the Laguna Festival of Arts.

From their home in Laguna Beach, the Vander Velde family looked out to sea; on clear days, and particularly at sunset, they could see Catalina Island in the distance. In 1960, they succumbed to the lure of the island and moved to Avalon. Vander Velde quickly established himself in Catalina and became widely known for his beautiful and detailed paintings of the beach and ocean. He painted opalescent sunsets and moon-washed seascapes. Although most of his painting was done in his studio, he always did his preliminary sketches onsite.

Vander Velde became a very active member of the Catalina art community. He showed his paintings annually in the Catalina Art Festival and served as a director of the Catalina Art Association. He spent most of the rest of his years in Avalon, leaving for a period to live in Hawaii with his grandson Edward, to whom he enjoyed teaching the finer points of traditional painting. He returned to Avalon to spend his last years, and leaves a legacy of fine Catalina paintings. Two of Vander Velde's eight children, Jan and Berthe (Beth), now live in Catalina, where they carry on the family heritage as accomplished artists.

 

Vander Velde paintings to be published:
 
OPALESCENT SUNSET
oil on masonite
24 inches by 48 inches
 
MOONLIGHT SONATA
oil on masonite
18 inches by 36 inches.
 
These two paintings are typical of the many paintings inspired by the windward, west-facing shore of Catalina Island in the vicinity of Little Harbor.
 
Photographs to be published:
 
Henry Vander Velde (right), with a group of students painting a model.
 
Henry Vander Velde posing with one of his Catalina seascapes.
 
Henry Vander Velde, painting in his studio, the old egg house from the Catalina Bird Park.

 

Frank Loudin is one of Catalina's best known and most successful "scene" painters. He and his wife, Jan, moved to Avalon in 1969. Loudin's background was in architectural illustration, meaning that he worked from blueprints to create an artistic rendering of what the building, or project, would look like when it was finished. His clients included the Port of Long Beach, California, which at that time was undergoing a major redevelopment.

Recently, when asked to reminisce about his Catalina art experience, Loudin recalled,

We came to Avalon in 1969, with the idea that we would stay for just one year. I would paint the local scenery...something that I had exactly zero experience in doing, but we were out to live the life of creative gypsies. I still had clients on the mainland that needed architectural renderings, and one gallery in Laguna Beach representing me, so we maintained some fiscal responsibility.
 
We met several local artists who were painting with "Bud" Upton in a cleared space in the back of the Catalina Hardware Store. Through them, I learned of the Catalina Art Association and the upcoming Art Festival. I had planned to have just a few paintings out on the "front" street, but at the last minute, I was invited to submit two paintings to the exclusive Invitational Show, which preceded the street show. Much to my surprise and delight, one painting won best of show, and both paintings sold at the opening reception. That night was such an inspiration to me that we remained in Avalon for the next 21 years, participating in various capacities in the Art Festival and the artistic community.
 
I painted the Pleasure Pier from 18 different angles in all kinds of weather and moods. I can still draw or paint the beautiful Casino without any reference. I painted the Grumman Gooses and Mallards [amphibian seaplanes that provided passenger and freight service for many years]. I painted many yachts and boats, from the Great White Steamer, the SS Catalina, to rusty workboats and commercial fishing boats.

After 21 years, Frank and Jan Loudin left to pursue other opportunities and activities, and are now living in Orcas Island, Washington, where Loudin continues painting and writing.

 

Frank Loudin paintings to be illustrated:
 
SUMMER VISITOR, 1974
20 inches by 30 inches
watercolor on cardboard
 
The SS Catalina, built in 1924, ended its long career in 1975, a year after this painting was created.
 
 
PLEASURE PIER, 1988
20 inches by 30 inches
watercolor on cardboard
 
A view of Avalon's famous Green Pier, with the glass-bottom boat Phoenix waiting to board a load of passengers headed out to view the undersea gardens in Lovers' Cove.

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