Distinguished Artist Series


Sam Hyde Harris


by Ruth Westphal


During the 1920's he studied privately under Hanson Puthuff, and the two became close friends and painting colleagues on many trips into the California and Arizona countryside. During the 1920's and 30's, he met and painted with several other of California's eminent artists among whom were Edgar Payne, and Jean Mannheim.

It was in this period that Harris spent weekends and vacations painting the hillsides and woodlands of Pasadena, Montrose and San Gabriel. The Arroyo Seco, the Verdugo Woodlands and Santa Anita were favorite sites. His painting of this period also reflects a temporary move to Sunset Beach. A number of canvases depict that residential area, as well as the commercial activity of San Pedro Harbor.

He enjoyed the society of fellow painters and through the years joined and exhibited with a number of artists' organizations: the California Art Club, the San Gabriel Artists' Guild, the San Gabriel Fine Arts Association, the Whittler Art Association, and the Laguna Beach Art Association. During the 1940's he was strongly aligned with a group of artists who disparaged aspects of the modern art movement. They formed an organization called the Sanity in Art Society which later was renamed Artists of the Southwest.

The 1940's marked some major changes in Harris's life. At the age of fifty-five, he divorced his wife of some 27 years and on August 28, 1945, married Marion Dodge, a U.C.L.A. librarian whom he met in an evening art class. In 1950, he purchased Jack Wilkinson Smith's old studio in Alhambra and moved his commercial art business into its final home.

Establishing residence in Alhambra and settling into that old studio on Champion Place put Harris in the heart of what had been called the "Little Bohemia," "Greenwich Village" or "Montmartre" of the Southwest. The little lane of Champion Place, once called Artists' Alley, still lies in a dense grove of eucalyptus and pines on the west bank of the wash separating Alhambra and San Gabriel. Only a block and a half long, it ends in a magnificent view of the San Gabriel Mountains.

From the 1930's and into the 1940's the area attra~ted painters and sculptors, prominent among whom were Frank Tenney Johnson, Jack Wilkinson Smith and Eli Harvey. Its most famous member, Norman Rockwell, came to paint in the summers and to enjoy the society of resident artists. Harris retained his studio there for the rest of his life and was the last artist of stature to paint on the "Alley."

It was also in the 1940's that he became acquainted with James Swinnerton, who had been painting desert landscapes since the 1920s. The jovial raconteur introduced Harris to the desert and his style of landscape painting. An influential friendship, an absorption with the desert and a new direction in Harris's work emerged--a distinctive style of desert landscapes which comprised the majority of his final easel painting production.

Throughout his life, easel painting was a strictly personal passion and pleasure--different from his commercial art which was designed to satisfy the client. He decried the notion of "painting to please the public." Nevertheless, and rather ironically, his paintings were popular and sold well and, more meaningful for Harris, won abundant recognition from his peers. He was the recipient of more than one hundred awards and purchase prizes bestowed by colleges, community organizations and leading art associations, including the California Art Club, Laguna Beach Art Association, Los Angeles Art League, Painters and Sculptors Club, Artists of the Southwest, Valley Art Association and the San Gabriel Festival of Arts.

In his later years, after retirement in 1955, he spent less time painting and more time teaching, consulting and critiquing the work of students and professionals. In the 1970's, a renewed and growing interest in his paintings and those of other early California painters led to the organization of numerous exhibitions. Important among these were the "Design 1910" exhibit at the Pasadena Center, and the "Southern California Artists 1890-1940" at the Laguna Beach Museum of Art. Also, in 1976 Harris had a one-man show at the San Gabriel Fine Arts Association and, in 1977, a one-man show in Alhambra opened only four days before his death.

Sam Hyde Harris died in Alhambra, on May 30, 1977. Writing at that time, Virginia Kay states, "It is said no one is indispensable. Yet when one like Sam Hyde Harris leaves our scene, the loss seems as big as the canyons he painted."

"What Sam left are ripples that will go on and on, the impact of his towering personality, the inspiration of his talent which touched hundreds of aspiring artists, and the rich legacy of his canvases, all unforgettably speaking of Sam Hyde Harris."

From top to bottom: Hills in Spring, oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches; Sunlit Hillside, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches; Neglected (#2), oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches; Sunday Morning, oil on board, 20 x 24 inches; Unloading, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches.

Next Page...

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 10/28/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.