Editor's note: The Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Williamson Gallery directly through either this phone number or web address:


Millard Sheets: The Scripps Years, 1932-1955

September 1 - October 14 2007


The Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College is pleased to present the exhibition Millard Sheets: The Scripps Years on view from September 1 to October 14 2007.

The exhibition features paintings and works on paper by artist Millard Sheets (1907-1989), who in the 1930s emerged as a leader of the "California Style" of watercolor painting and in the next two decades expanded his artistic processes to oil, acrylic and mosaic design. (right: Millard Sheets, Driftwood, 1937, 20th c, 19 1/8 x 29 1/4 inches (48.58 cm x 74.3 cm). Scripps College, Gift of General and Mrs. Edward Clinton Young. Painting. Watercolor on Paper)

The Scripps exhibition is co-curated by gallery director Mary MacNaughton and collection manager Kirk Delman, in collaboration with art historian Janet Blake, who is an expert on Sheets's art. The exhibition focuses on Sheets's dual role as an artist and educator during the years he taught at Scripps, from 1932-1955. During that time, in addition to teaching, Sheets traveled extensively around the world. The works in the exhibition reflect his experiences in the 1930s in Hawaii and Mexico, and in the 1940s in the Far East, where he was a war correspondent for Life magazine.

At Scripps Sheets built a strong studio art faculty, including Jean Ames in design, Phil Dike in watercolor painting, Henry Lee McFee in oil painting, Richard Petterson in ceramics, Albert Stewart in sculpture and Marion Stewart in weaving. Sheets also attracted many students to Scripps and the Graduate School. Together with the faculty artists in the 1940s and 1950s, he made Claremont into a vital artistic community.

The Scripps exhibition parallels another exhibition that celebrates the hundredth anniversary of Millard Sheets's birth, Tapestry of Life: The World of Millard Sheets, which will be seen at the Los Angeles County Fair from September 7 to September 30. The exhibition is directed by Tony Sheets, the artist's son, and selected by Janet Blake.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Janet Blake lectured on Millard Sheets' art on September 18, in the Hampton Room of the Malott Commons, at 12 noon. This event is co-sponsored by the Malott Commons Office and the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery.

Wall texts for the exhibition

Millard Sheets: Biography
Born in 1907 and raised on a farm in Pomona, Millard Sheets grew up surrounded by the landscapes that would inspire his work. After winning his first painting award at the Los Angeles County Fair when he was only eleven, Sheets met Theodore Modra, the director of the art department at the fair. Modra became a mentor to Sheets, and introduced the young man to art beyond Pomona. During Sheets's subsequent years as a student at the Chouinard Art Institute, he explored the use of bold brushstrokes and honed his artistic skills. Shortly after his graduation in 1929, he began teaching at the Institute.
In 1932, Sheets was invited to teach at Scripps College, a post that he would occupy for twenty-eight years. Barely twenty-five years old at the time he accepted the position, Millard Sheets started building the foundations of the art department, calling upon other influential Regionalist painters of the California Watercolor Society, such as Phil Dike, to teach at Scripps College as a professor, and Rex Brandt and Phil Paradise, to lend their expertise as visiting artists. Claremont grew into a bustling arts center as these painters, as well as a number of prominent ceramists and architects, moved to the town to take on professorial posts. With his charisma and contagious passion for the arts, Sheets inspired Florence Rand Lang, a trustee of the Fine Arts Foundation of Scripps, to fund the construction of a new arts building that was later known as the Lang Gallery.
Millard Sheets - Foundations in Regionalism
The paintings by Millard Sheets during the 1930s laid the groundwork for the themes and subjects that he continued to explore for the rest of his career. As a Regionalist painter, Sheets often painted landscape scenes that celebrated the beauty of the natural world and simplicity of rural life. Practicing the plein-air style of painting introduced to him by Clarence Hinkel at Chouinard, he frequently worked outside on the farms, coastlines, and mountains that inspired his art.
Mexico and Mexican Art
Millard Sheets's fascination for capturing rural life fueled his desire to venture abroad. He frequently traveled to Mexico, taking its countryside scenes as the subject of many of his paintings. Early works such as Mexican Village, 1929; The Passage, Guaymas, Mexico, 1932; and Mexico Village, 1937 hint at Sheets's appreciation of the rich tradition of Mexican art and culture.
In the late 1920s, Sheets was deeply inspired by the works of Diego Rivera and Jean Charlot, which he had seen in the Pan American Exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum. With Orozco's completion of the Prometheus mural at Pomona College in 1930, Sheets's fascination with Mexican painting continued. In 1946, while he was still teaching at Scripps College, Sheets invited Mexican painter Alfredo Ramos Martinez to paint a monumental fresco mural in the Margaret Fowler Garden. Sadly, Martinez passed away before the mural could be completed.
Enacted in 1935 during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was one of the largest programs of the New Deal. The goal of the WPA was to provide employment for the millions of American citizens who had lost their livelihoods in the Great Depression. Within the WPA, the Federal Art Project program employed thousands of artists to paint murals and build sculptures for non-federal government buildings, as well as employing them in art education and research.
Furthering the Regionalist belief in creating art for the public, Millard Sheets served as the regional director of the Federal Art Project for Southern California. He worked in collaboration with artists hired by the Federal Art Project to design murals for banking institutions in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1937, Millard Sheets managed the WPA construction of the Fine Arts Building at the Los Angeles County Fair (later known as the Millard Sheets Gallery).
The Scripps Years: A Time of Growth
The years at Scripps College marked a period of personal growth for Millard Sheets. In 1936, as the new head of the art department, Sheets recruited an exceptional group of artists for the studio art faculty, including Phil Dike and Henry Lee McFee in painting; Albert Stewart in sculpture; Jean Goodwin Ames in design; William Manker and Richard B. Petterson in ceramics, and Marion Stewart in weaving.
In the 1930s and 40s, Sheets developed a more expressionist style, reflecting an emotional response to his subjects. The dense composition of bold, dramatic colors in paintings such as Three Horses amongst the Trees, 1939 creates a theatrical scene. The use of gestural and unfettered brushstrokes, united with undulating lines, convey a sense of movement and dynamism.
The War
During WWII, Millard Sheets was able to continue his career in the arts by utilizing his skills as an architect and academic. As an architect, he contributed to the war effort, constructing numerous buildings for the air cadets training with the Air Force. As one of the few artist correspondents working for Life magazine and the United States Air Force, he was able to travel abroad during the war. These assignments took him to India and Burma, where he witnessed the hardships of life outside the United States.
His work was not left untouched by his experiences overseas. That influence is apparent in the dark sky and violent waves of Convoy to India, 1945, which reflect the treacherous and unpredictable conditions that surrounded troops during WWII.
The Return Home
The return to Southern California after the war opened Millard Sheets to new opportunities as an architect, curator, and teacher, occupations that he often pursued simultaneously. Through his association with Howard Ahmanson, he was commissioned to design more than forty Home Savings and Loan branches in California. Creating murals on the building exteriors fulfilled Sheets's passion for public art.
Sheets returned to the Los Angeles County Fair to take over as the director of the art department, a position held previously by his teacher, Theodore Modra. Sheets produced many exhibitions, including "Masters of Art, 1790-1950," which brought major works by important nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists to Southern California.
Sheets's role as a teacher continued late into his career. In addition to his years instructing at the Chouinard Art Institute, Scripps College, and the Claremont Graduate School, he served as the director of the Los Angeles County Art Institute (later known as the Otis-Parsons Art Institute) from 1953 to1959.
Along with his wife, Mary, Millard Sheets traveled extensively in the 1950s. His diverse career took him all over Europe, Asia, and America for lectures, meetings with other artists, and architectural work. Hawaii was among his many destinations, a place he visited first in 1934 and again in 1935. In the 1950s, he turned to it as a major subject in his painting. During that decade, he was commissioned to help construct the Rainbow Tower of the Hilton Hotel in Honolulu.


Resource Library editor's note:

A 31 track podcast tour is provided by Millard Sheets Center for the Arts in the the Millard Sheets Gallery website. The Millard Sheets Gallery began as the Fine Arts Program of the L.A. County Fair -- art exhibitions have been an integral part of the Fair since its founding in 1922. Each year, the exhibits produced for the Fair have featured artists from not only Los Angeles, but also California, the nation, and throughout the world, and have presented contemporary as well as historical art in a variety of styles and media. In 1998, the Millard Sheets Gallery was incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the purpose of helping to fill a gap in the cultural opportunities available for Pomona-area residents. Since then, the Gallery's vision is to become a year-round arts venue, offering the people of Southern California an opportunity to experience diverse and progressive art exhibitions combined with lively educational programs, with the goal of encouraging new generations of art enthusiasts.

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