The Plein Air Scene

by Sarah Beserra


The Plein Air Summit: A Special Report


Last November, members of California' s plein air painting clubs met in the studio of veteran Oak Group painter Ray Strong to discuss the possibility of putting together a millennium celebration of California's living plein air painters. A traveling exhibition of representative paintings from the various California art clubs was envisioned with stops at major art museums. Entitled 2001: A California Painting Odyssey, the traveling exhibition would be accompanied by a catalogue and educational outreach at the local club level. However, organizers were not able to get museum commitments or the financing necessary to make it happen as scheduled. Nevertheless, the groundwork was laid for a future collaboration between the clubs.

As we approach the millennium, each club is celebrating in its own way by reaching out to their communities through shows, fund raisers, paint outs and educational programs. Although each group has its own unique history, mission and membership, all owe a debt of gratitude to the Early California Impressionists. Painters first, all members have a stake in preserving the natural environment that their predecessors painted.

In response to the numerous requests we have had for contact information, we provide the following directory of California' s plein air painting clubs.


The California Art Club

Established in 1909 in Pasadena, the CAC is dedicated to enriching the American culture through the promotion of the fine arts in the fields of painting, drawing, and sculpture with a special emphasis placed on the academic traditions and craftsmanship bequeathed by its founders." Past members include many early California Impressionist painters of note such as Frank Tenney Johnson, Edgar Payne and Franz A. Bischoff. CAC sponsors numerous shows, events and lectures throughout the year including the prestigious Annual Gold Medal Exhibition in Southern California now in its 90th year. It publishes the California Art Club Newsletter and Supplement and presents prominent guest speakers at its monthly luncheon meetings. (left: Gregory Hull, Malibu Fields, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches)

CAC recently founded the California Art Academy and Museum. The Club published The Treasures of the Sierra Nevada catalogue in conjunction with a traveling exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles this year. They are concluding a major show at the Frederick Weisman Museum of Art in Malibu through August 8. Current members include: Peter Adams, Lynn Gertenbach and Daniel Goozee.

The San Diego Chapter of the CAC under the leadership of Aaron St. John was formed last year to meet a growing need in that region.

Membership: 35 Signature members; 1,700 total membership. President: Peter Adams.

Contact: POB 92555, Pasadena, CA 91109. (626) 583-9009.


Plein Air Painters of America

A fellowship of professional artists, PAPA is dedicated "to promoting the timeless beauty of our visual world through the historical tradition of plein air painting. We educate the art-viewing public by sharing their enthusiasm, ideas and knowledge while promoting quality representational art through exhibitions and workshops. The objective of our membership of artists is to capture a glimpse of nature through close observation, while creating a piece of history that will flourish for generations to come." Membership includes painters from all over the nation with a large California contingent. Along with the Society for the Advancement of Plein Air Painting, under the leadership of Roy Rose, PAPA sponsors the annual paint out, show, sale and competition on Catalina Island in the fall, and a summer workshop for its members. Members paint Historic Highway 1 in California this year with show locations to be announced. Members include: John Budicin, Jean LeGassick and Louis DeMore. (left: John Budicin, Mission Walk, 10 x 8 inches)

Membership: 25 signature members. President: Kevin Macpherson

Contact: Karen Howell (303) 699-9386


Laguna Beach Plein Air Painters Association

A group of professional plein air landscape and scene painters that paint together once a month, the LPAPA also exhibits together to raise funds and awareness for worthy causes. The Board meets monthly at the Laguna Art Museum. A recent exhibition was at the Orange County Museum of Art. Members are indebted to the legacy of the Laguna Beach Art Association established in 1917 whose 150 members included such notables as Frank Cuprien, Joseph Kleitsch, Edgar Payne and Hanson Duvall Puthuff. (left: John Cosby, Quiet Haven, oil on linen, 36 x 40 inches)

The Laguna Art Museum exhibited the paintings of LPAPA members alongside the early California Art Colony founders William Wendt, Anna Althea Hills and Granville Redmond earlier this year. The group, along with the Laguna Museum of Art hosted the very successful First Annual Plein Air Painting Competition in July. Current members include: John Cosby, Cynthia Britain and Ken Auster.

Membership: 150. Shared Leadership

Contact: (949) 376-3635.


The Oak Group

The OAK - "open airing klub" - now known as the Oak Group was founded in 1986 under the leadership of veteran landscape painter and muralist Ray Strong. These plein air landscape painters are political activists who defend endangered lands through their group shows. (left: Meredith Abbott, The Path at the Bluffs, oil, 16 x 20 inches)

The Oak Group encourages the formation of like-minded painting clubs and travels around the State in its quest to save strategic open spaces. Beneficiaries include the Environmental Defense Center, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust and the National Park Service. In partnership with the Nature Conservancy they sponsor the annual Santa Cruz Island event - Painting for Preservation. They donate 50% of all proceeds toward environmental preservation. They are active in Santa Barbara area public schools through their artist outreach program and have developed an educational video. Oak Group artists appear in the volume, Ranchos: California Land Grant Ranchos published by the Eastin Galleries in 1996. Members include: Ray Strong, Meredith Brooks Abbott, Glenna Hartmann and Arturo Tello.

Membership: 25 artist members. President: Larry Iwerks

Contact: Arturo Tello, POB 115 Summerland, CA 93067; (805) 565-1901.


The BayWood Artists

Marin County plein air landscape painters established the BayWood Artists "to preserve the beauty of nature for future generations within the landscape painting genre. In doing so, our intention is to create an awareness in the community and share in the preservation process while at the same time continuing the landscape painting tradition." Like the Oak Group, Bay Wood Artists donate 50% of their profits to benefit various environmental causes. (left: Carolyn Meyer, Point Reyes Palm Tree, oil on panel, 23 x 14 inches)

Members are influenced by a number of early California landscape painters including Percy Gray, William Keith and Edgar Payne. Participants in the annual Marin/Scapes show, now in its 14th year, BayWood Artists organize paint outs, gallery exhibits and fund raisers throughout the year. The Golden Gate National Recreational Area show at the San Francisco Presidio in October will raise funds to restore Oakwood Valley in Marin. Members include: Joe Draegert, Randall Sexton and Zenaida Mott.

Membership: 13 artist members. Shared leadership.

Contact: Carolyn Meyer 104 Bryan Dr., Novato, CA 94945. (415) 898-2089.


The Outsiders

This newly-formed group of Bay Area plein air artists has been painting together informally since the early 1980's when they discovered they shared love for the early California paintings of the Society of Six. Several painted with Six member Louis Siegriest and his son Lundy. The Outsiders share the Fauvist tradition of William Clapp, Seldon Gile, August Gay, Maurice Logan and Bernard von Eichman. Their emphasis on vivid color, loose brushwork and local scenery which has been touched by man set them apart from the other groups. They exhibit as a group for various causes including the Nature Conservancy and the Carquinez Regional Environmental Education Center. Members participate annually in the Scene on the Strait, a two-day paint out, show and sale in the historic town of Martinez to benefit habitat restoration projects. Members include: Nikki Basch Davis, Pam Glover and Jerrold Turner. (left: Nikki Basch Davis, Steep Rise in Crockett, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches)

Membership: 7 artist members. Shared leadership.

Contact: Nikki Basch Davis, (925) 283-4449, 910 Foye Dr., Lafayette, CA 94549 No URL found at 5/15.


The Informalists

The Informalists are the newest group to emerge in California. They acquired their name after their first group exhibition entitled Informal Views in 1996. Rather than paint the standard realistic views of the tourist landmarks which the Monterey Peninsula is known for, the Informalists try to capture the true feeling and atmosphere of the area by showing more unusual views, and by using fluid expressionistic brushwork, with contemporary design and color. Members Jeff Smith, John Raybould and Cyndra Bradford are members of the Carmel Art Association. The group takes their inspiration from Early California Art Colony painters William Ritschel, Paul Dougherty, Arthur Hill Gilbert and Armin Carl Hansen . In the spring of 1999, the group opened Galerie Plein Aire in Carmel. The gallery has become a hub for plein air painting on the Central Coast and next year will promote workshops and events for the Monterey Peninsula. Members include: Rick Harper, Richmond P. Woodson, Mark Farina and Girard Martin. (left: Rick Harper, Coastal Color / Point Reyes, oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches)

Membership: 7

Contact: Cyndra Bradford. (831) 625-5686. No URL found at 5/15.


© Sarah Beserra, 1999

Above article origianlly published 9/21/99.

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Sarah Beserra is Editor and Publisher of The Plein Air Scene - a monthly newsletter on plein air painting in Northern California. You may contact Sarah at or (707) 645-7361

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