Sunday, September 14, 2008

Artists in California: 1786-1940

The two volume, 1249 page reference work, Artists in California: 1786-1940 by Edan Milton Hughes, is a biographical dictionary containing the names of close to 20,000 California artists. It covers the time period from 1786 when Gaspard Duché de Vancy, a member of a French expedition, painted Carmel Mission to the time of the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-1940. It includes painters, printmakers, woodcarvers, lithographers, illustrators, sculptors, craftsmen, etchers, and artists in pastels and clay.

The arrangement of the dictionary is alphabetical and the format follows the standard pattern: the artist’s full name, dates and place of birth and death (if known), then a biographical sketch which may include the artist’s schooling and when he came to California. This is followed by the medium in which he or she worked, as well as a list of memberships, exhibitions, awards and the locations where his or her works are held. A ¶ symbol announces the bibliographic sources.

The author, a collector of California art, admits to some difficulty over who to include. Since the time of the earliest colonial explorations the mystique of California has attracted artists. Some of them have only stayed a short time, but their works are suffused with the spirit and the beauty and adventure of the untouched new land. He warns not to be deceived by the length and detail of some biographies. Sadly, very little is known of some of California’s finest early artist, painters like Grace Carpenter Hudson, Will Sparks, Edward Rufus Hill and others. They frequently left an impressive body of work, but no written records, diaries or letters. Fragments of information on them had to be pieced together from many sources. No records exist either of the lives of many minor California artists, artists attached to early expeditions, ‘49ers who turned to art when gold eluded them, or refugees from a Europe caught up in revolutions. Then there are artists whose significance to California art is minor, but their achievements elsewhere have been documented and their biographies, consequently, are well filled out.

The author has included two short papers that should be read by anyone interested in California art. The first is an essay entitled “A Brief History of Early California Art,” and it is just that--a lively, entertaining, intimate summary of how the arts became established in California. The second is called “Chronology,” and it describes in chronological order, beginning with 1850, the important events that shaped the California art world.

This reference book, now in its third edition, is an essential resource for the collectors, scholars, and lovers of California art.

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