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Damngorgeous: Millard Sheets and His Southern California Legacy

September 13, 2008 - January 4, 2009


Oceanside Museum of Art presents the influential work of Millard Sheets in Damngorgeous: Millard Sheets and His Southern California Legacy. This exhibition is a comprehensive look at his impressive career from the 1920's to the '80s with over forty works of art, including watercolors, oils, etchings, lithographs and drawings. (right: Millard Sheets, The Cotton Pickers, oil on canvas, 35 ? x 39 ? inches)

Sheets began painting during the era of American Scene painting, a style of art important to Americans because it focused on the United States and was a reaction against European art. In the early 1930s Sheets helped define a movement known as Southern California Regionalism that depicted rural scenes near his home in Claremont, California. He portrayed the simplicity of life embedded in rural America with a feeling of optimism. Sheets made important advances with his inventive watercolors that rivaled oils in their luminosity and rich color quality. He was an inveterate traveler and never forgot his sketchbook during trips to over 50 countries, making sure to capture the beauty of countries like India, Mexico, Yugoslavia and Mali.

Not only did Sheets play a major role in bringing the art of California to the national arena, he was a prominent teacher at Chouinard Art Institute, Scripps College, Claremont Graduate School and Otis Art Institute. He made a lasting impact with the expansive exhibition program he directed at the Los Angeles County Fair that introduced millions of Californians to the finest American, European, and Asian arts and crafts. Sheets' artwork can be found in over 46 museums including the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others.


Curator's Statement

Born and raised on a Pomona ranch, Millard Owen Sheets (1907-1989) resided in California throughout his long distinguished career. A precocious art student, Sheets started painting at the age of five, won his first painting award at the Los Angeles County Fair when he was eleven and was teaching watercolor painting at Chouinard Art Institute by the age of twenty.

Sheets quickly became an important California Regional artist of the American Scene. The American Scene movement developed after WWI when many United States artists rejected trends of European Modernism and Abstraction, instead favoring a realistic type of painting extolling the virtues of everyday American life. Some artists, such as Norman Rockwell, painted scenes capturing small town optimism, while others, like Thomas Hart Benton, were more critical of industrialization and its effects on the working class. Uniquely, Millard Sheets falls in between. While focusing on local landscapes, he also acknowledged the disadvantaged, bringing us an honest and direct view of the world.

In his drive to capture the beauty of California and the foreign locales he visited, Sheets preferred watercolor, a medium difficult to master but wonderfully portable. As an innovator and leader of the California Watercolor Style, Millard influenced generations of students and fellow artists with his strong compositions and dramatic use of color.

In addition to painting, Sheets was also an accomplished illustrator, printmaker and designer of buildings, mosaics, tapestries and murals. He was a prominent teacher and administrator at Chouinard Art Institute, Scripps College, Claremont Graduate School and the Otis Art Institute, teaching generations of artists. He was also the director of exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Fair from 1931-1959.

This exhibition was inspired by the memoir of Millard Sheets' daughter, Carolyn Sheets Owen-Towle, to whom we are grateful. Both the exhibition and the illustrated memoir (published by Oceanside Museum of Art) highlight six decades of work that include Millard Sheets' life in California, the horrors of World War II and his endless fascination with foreign cultures. For Millard Sheets, "Damngorgeous" was a term of high praise for good art. We hope you also find the art in this exhibition to be damngorgeous.

Teri Sowell, Ph.D.
Director of Exhibitions and Collections


Exhibition Catalogue

OMA announces the publication of "Damngorgeous," a loving memoir by Carolyn Sheets Owen-Towle that complements the exhibition and affords readers personal insight into her father's life. "Damngorgeous" received major funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and is available in the OMA Museum Store.


(above: Millard Sheets, Ancient Pool Hawaii, 1951, watercolor on paper, 21 x 29 inches)

RL editor's note: readers may also enjoy:

an online audio tour:

A 31-track podcast tour -- accompanied by graphics -- for the exhibition A Tapestry of Life: The World of Millard Sheets held September 7 through 30, 2007 at Millard Sheets Center for the Arts is provided through the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts website. The individual tracks are from one to four minutes in length and contain extensive commentary by Tony Sheets, son of Millard Sheets and curator/art historian Janet Blake.

an online video:

Millard Sheets Center for the Arts presents a video (02:12) announcing the exhibition A Tapestry of Life: The World of Millard Sheets held September 7 through 30, 2007 at Millard Sheets Center for the Arts. The video shows examples of the artist's paintings.

and these books:

Millard Sheets: Hills and Horses was a 2015-15 exhibit at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. Claremont Museum of Art says:"Inspired by a lifelong love of horses and the landscape surrounding his Padua Hills home, artist Millard Sheets depicted a familiar way of life. The exhibition Millard Sheets: Hills and Horses, curated by his son Tony Sheets, will include paintings, drawings and lithographs from the years that he lived in Padua Hills in the 1940s-60s and beyond." Accessed 10/16.

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