Who Was Sam Hyde Harris?
By Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick
The year 1945 marked a turning point in Harris' life, for it was then that he met Marion Dodge (1904-1998), a U.C.L.A. librarian, in one of his evening art classes. They were married on 28 August 1945. He always said that she was the "love of his life," and she reciprocated with an equal affection and admiration.
The other change in Harris' life came when he moved from West Los Angeles to Alhambra. By 1946 he and Marion were living at 222 Hidalgo Street in Alhambra, a residence where they would remain until his death and Marion's move to an assisted living retirement residence. During the 1920s through the 1940s Alhambra had become its own artist colony. Jack Wilkinson Smith (1873-1949), Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939), Eli Harvey (1860-1957), and Clyde Forsythe (1885-1962) purchased studios along Champion Place, and this soon became known as "Artists' Alley." Los Angeles Times writer William Mc Phillips described it in a 1975 article, titled "Artists' Alley: A Tranquil Place," stating, "Bisecting the center of Alhambra and San Gabriel just north of where Main St. becomes Las Tunas Drive is a quiet, tree-lined little lane. Not too fanciful, ready, for when these now-sturdy trees were but half-grown, Champion Place was know as 'Artists' Alley,' a block and a half and ending in the magnificent vista of the San Gabriel Mountains. Barely 15 feet wide, it once housed painters and sculptors as famous as any who later inhabited such places as Carmel-by-the-Sea and Laguna Beach. Most of them were western painters, who followed the setting sun across the vast Mojave looking for a snug haven in which to record their impressions. Perhaps the most famous of the lot -- and the one most responsible for transforming Champion Place into the Little Bohemia of the 1930s -- was Frank Tenney Johnson." It grew as a gathering place for artists and movie figures that included such luminaries as Charles Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Tom Mix, Will Rogers and Norman Rockwell. Rockwell became a regular visitor to Alhambra, staying with Forsythe or Harvey and sharing their studios. In 1950 after the deaths of Jack Wilkinson Smith and his wife Emma, Harris purchased Smith's studio at 16 Champion Place. When he died, an era came ta an end, for he was the last artist on "Artists' Alley."
Harris spent his life seeing and capturing the early scenic sites of California, including the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley, the Arroyo Seco, Los Angeles Harbor, Sunset Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach,Morro Bay, Monterey, the back country of San Diego county, and the expansive desert country of California, Arizona, and Utah. An apt description of his work used in the brochure of his retrospective exhibition states that "His canvases have the smell of mesquite in them, the clean air of high Western desert and mountains, the breath of the rugged California coast, the loneliness of a long-deserted railroad station, the battered beauty of a farmhouse, the low skyline of the Los Angeles of a half-century ago the simple, beautiful face of the 'unadorned West.'"
Much of what he chose to depict exists today only on his canvases, having been replaced by civilization and urbanization. For example, his landscapes of Chavez Ravine, made over a half-century ago, include the surrounding areas where the Dodger Stadium now stands. One can only speculate as to his affinity to depict the San Pedro fishing boat scenes. He was politically conservative and had very strong feelings against the New Deal and WPA projects, so why he chose the working boats of the harbor one can only suppose that the misty, atmospheric subtle tones of the harbor led him to find the beauty in the local community that inhabited the harbor district. Again, these paintings were created during the first part of the last century, when San Pedro had a thriving fishing and cannery business that have since been shut down by industrialization and a global economy.
After 1955 his retirement years found him doing those things that continued to give him the most pleasure teaching, painting and sketching en plein air in the desert, exhibiting in local exhibitions, telling stories, and chewing on a dead cigar. He especially loved looking at the view of the San Gabriel Mountains from his Champion Place studio. Marion stated in a talk "Sam Hyde Harris: A Short Biography," that she gave in 1973, "Now, on one of those rare clear days, he will look up at the beautiful mountains towering over San Marino, Arcadia, Sierra Madre and Monrovia and say with great pride and affection, 'They're my mountains!' And, I think, they really are!"
About the Catalogue
The catalogue "Sam Hyde Harris 1889-1977: A Retrospective" was published in connection with an exhibition held at the Pasadena Museum of History, on view January 24 - April 29, 2007. The catalogue contains 240 pages in hardcover, published by Schiffer Publishing (December 2006). ISBN-10: 0764325914, ISBN-13: 978-0764325915. (right: photo of front cover of catalogue, courtesy of Amazon.com)
About the Author:
Marian Yoshiki Kovinick is an independent writer, researcher, and lecturer who co-authored An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, which received the 1998 Western Heritage Award for Outstanding Art Book. She has been a contributor, essayist, and co-author of books on California and Western art and artists, including Grove's Encyclopedia of American Art to 1914; Publications in Southern California Art, Vol. 6, Living in Color: The Art of Hideo Date; Guy Rose: American Impressionist; and Sam Hyde Harris, 1889-1977: A Retrospective.
Resource Library editor's note:
The above essay was reprinted on January 15, 2008 in Resource Library with permission of Maurine St. Gaudens. The essay was excerpted from the illustrated catalogue titled "Sam Hyde Harris 1889-1977: A Retrospective." Images accompanying the text in the exhibition catalogue were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or if you are interested in obtaining a copy of the catalogue, please contact Maurine St. Gaudens Studios at either this phone number or web address:
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As of 2007 The estate of Sam Hyde Harris is being marketed by Maurine St. Gaudens, administrator of the estate. For images, see www.samhydeharrisestatepaintings.com. Tel is 626-792-0865 and email is email@example.com
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