By Reggie Ellis
It has been more than a century since H.G. Wells wrote "The Time Machine," a story about a scientist who builds a contraption to travel forward and back through the fourth dimension -- time. No one has developed such a machine but the Courthouse Gallery of the Arts acts as its own time ship with 33 paintings providing portals that peer into California's past.
The latest show at the Courthouse Gallery of the Arts, "California Perspectives," offers everything you could want in an art exhibit -- history, pristine landscapes, popular destinations (before they were popular), well known names and a variety of styles. The only thing missing at the artists' reception on April 4 was the 28 artists. Their paintings were brought together by art collector Bob Stone who has an affinity for turn-of-the-century California landscapes.
"I really enjoy the difference in lighting because it rapidly changes each year. The pollution dulls a lot of California's luster."
The former maker of fine-braid rawhide horse gear is an artist in his own right. Living a rural lifestyle in Three Rivers, Stone appreciates the former wide open spaces that were paved in the last 60 years. Many of the artists focused on coastal scenes before condos capped California's cliffs. One of Stone's favorite pieces is a coastal scene with wind blown trees.
"The coastal scenes are beautiful and you can see a real enthusiasm in all of the artists work," he said.
The painting was done by William Louis Otte (1871-1957). Otte was a successful stockbroker in New York City and, in his leisure studied at the New York School of Art. In 1913 he gave up Wall Street to devote his life to his art. He moved to Santa Barbara where he created this collector's masterpiece. The most valuable piece of art work in the collection was also painted by one of the earliest artists Charles Fries (1854-1940). Fries' painting titled "Cajon Mountain from Alpine," is an excellent example of the natural beauty of eastern San Diego before residential development. Fries moved to San Diego in 1887 and created much of his work there. Between 1896 and 1940 Fries created 1,700 paintings throughout California.
The earliest dated painting in the collection was done by San Francisco artist Giuseppe Leone Cadenasso (1858-1918) who painted in the subdued tonalist style that was popular at the turn of the century. The oldest artist was Florence Upson Young (1872-1974). An accomplished California landscape and still life painter, Young was a pioneering female artist. She was a member of the Woman Painters of the West, Theosophical Society of Southern California and the Society of Sanity in Art. Her work is displayed in Orange County, Los Angeles and Iowa museums. She was an active painter into her 70s and 80s.
Gallery Art Director Anna Nelson said many of the artists painted similar landscapes because they often studied, worked closely or even lived together. She said many of them influenced each other's painting. Otte often painted with Nels Hagerup (1864-1922). Hagerup was born in Norway and studied art in Germany and Denmark. He sailed to the West Coast as a merchant seaman in 1882 settling in Portland, Ore. He moved to San Francisco in 1892 where he would do the majority of his work at his home and studio in walking distance from the ocean. As in this painting, Hagerup was the master of capturing the foggy San Francisco harbor.
One of the most unique paintings was created by Oakland's Carl Sammons (1888-1968). Born in Nebraska, Sammons studied art in Sioux City, Iowa before moving to California sometime between 1913 and 1917. Stone's collection has a rare nocturnal painting by Sammons, whose work is often overlooked among California artists because of his lack of participation in art clubs and social circles.
Stone has amassed his collection in the last 20 years primarily through estate and auction sales, buying anything that captures the early landscape of many of California's most urbanized locations such as San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"Most of these were just hanging in his house in Three Rivers," Nelson said. "These are all outstanding and wonderful paintings."
The show run now through June 27 at the Courthouse Gallery of the Arts, located at 125 S. B St. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.
Stone said his paintings offer a lesson in history and can teach us something as we travel into the future.
"In a way the paintings can help us gain perspective on preserving the landscapes that are still here today," he said.