Franz Bischoff,
Franz Bischoff, "A Cool Fog Drifting," 1924, oil on canvas

An exhibition often cited as comprising “one of the greatest collections of early 20th century California art” is on view at the California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks (CMATO).

From the organizers:

“GIFTED: Collecting the Art of California at Gardena High School, 1919-1956” is organized by the GHS Art Collection, Inc., in association with the Gardena High School Student Body, and curated by Susan M. Anderson. On view through January 9, 2022, the exhibition features a selection of nearly 50 paintings from the GHS Art collection, including Impressionist works by notable artists such as William Wendt, Edgar Payne, Jean Mannheim, Franz Bischoff and Agnes Pelton. Later works by Maynard Dixon, Emil Kosa, Jr., Loren Barton and Francis de Erdely reflect the influence of the American Scene movement, popular during the Depression era, as well as the dramatic shifts in style characteristic of art of the post-war period.

The exhibition chronicles the history of a lesson in art appreciation for a Southern California high school that would mature into what is widely acknowledged as one of the most outstanding collections of early California Impressionism in the nation.

“’Gifted’ is an inspirational exhibition that will educate CMATO’s visitors about the documentary ability of art as well as the creative journey of evolving artistic styles throughout time. What was considered contemporary art in the early 20th century is now a historical style that is rarely practiced, but revered as a style that is enjoyed by many. Inspiration lies in the paintings’ ability to portray humankind’s history of struggle, triumph and stoic resilience through challenging times — themes that are so pertinent and relevant to our present lives,” said Lynn Farrand, Senior Curator, CMATO.

Clarence Hinkle, "Quiet Pose," 1918, oil on canvas
Clarence Hinkle, “Quiet Pose,” 1918, oil on canvas

Beginning in 1919, the senior class of Gardena High School – at the recommendation of their principal – gifted the school with an original landscape painting by Ralph Davison Miller, beginning what was to become a unique, annual tradition.

For nearly 40 years, until 1956, each senior class selected, purchased and donated works of art to the school, ultimately amassing an exceptional permanent collection of more than 70 paintings in the Impressionist, figurative and landscape genres. Each painting was carefully selected and purchased from an artist of note, often reflecting historical content from that year. The high level of sophistication demonstrated by the students’ choices was the result of the aesthetic discourse and collaboration nurtured by the school. Over the years, artists, federal art projects and other individuals and organizations also made gifts of art to the collection.

Agnes Pelton, "Desert Royalty," 1940, oil on canvas
Agnes Pelton, “Desert Royalty,” 1940, oil on canvas

“Gardena High School helped to start an interest in art appreciation and art collecting among high schools regionally and nationally. The high quality of its collection speaks to the enthusiasm and embrace of the program, not just by the students and educators, but by the entire Southern California art community,” said Anderson.

Today, the GHS Art Collection remains an enduring example of the power of art to rally a community and to shape people’s lives. GIFTED: Collecting the Art of California at Gardena High School, 1919-1956 traces the history of Southern California art in the early 20th century, when plein-air (“in the open air”) painting and the Arts and Crafts movement were flourishing. It chronicles the school’s ambitious efforts within the wider cultural scene of Los Angeles at that time, as well as reflects worldwide events.

“During the years in which the collection was being formed, GHS students suffered through WWI, the 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Depression, and then WWII, when a third of the student body was sent to internment camps. These momentous events are all reflected in the works the students collected,” said Anderson.

Jean Mannheim, "On the Road to San Gabriel," 1922, oil on canvas
Jean Mannheim, “On the Road to San Gabriel,” 1922, oil on canvas

For decades, the collection and the effort to preserve its legacy made the high school the center of the community. When Gardena High School moved to a new campus in 1956, the program ended. The collection was quietly locked away on campus, unavailable for viewing by the student body or the public. However, the collection has continued to tie together diverse generations of students and citizens in the city of Gardena and the South Bay area of Los Angeles.

In 2013, GHS alumni created the nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization GHS Art Collection, Inc. for the protection and preservation of the works of art owned by the Gardena High School Student Body. “The exercise in collecting and organizing an art exhibition exposed the students and the wider community to lessons in art appreciation, as well as in good citizenship, collaboration, and debate. The collection still ties generations of students and community members together in the Gardena Valley,” said Bruce Dalrymple, an alumnus of the high school and board president of the GHS Art Collection, Inc.

William Wendt, "Along the Arroyo Seco," 1912, oil on canvas
William Wendt, “Along the Arroyo Seco,” 1912, oil on canvas

“GIFTED: Collecting the Art of California at Gardena High School” originated with a centennial exhibition at the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University in Orange, California in 2019 before traveling to the Fresno Art Museum and the Oceanside Museum of Art in 2020.

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