The Golden Years (1926-1939)

Fine Arts Gallery Facade 1926

     The Fine Arts Gallery officially opened on the evening of February 26, 1926. President of the Fine Arts Society, Willet Dorland gave a diner party for members to celebrate their new museum. The doors opened to the public on February 28, 1926 and shortly thereafter on March 27, 1926 the Art Guild moved in. Charles Cristadoro was the Guild President.
     Throughout the societies history members of the Artists Guild were prominent participants in all activities. They served on all committees, notable as Chairs of the Art Acquisition & Loans Committee. They also served on the Executive, Asiatic Arts, Contemporary Art, Education, Hospitality, Nominating, and Social Committees.
     Although the Guild moved into the building and was formally amalgamated within the Fine Arts Society they still maintained their separate identity and functioned as separate organizations. They had separate officers, bylaws, and elections.
     The Guild initially held two exhibitions, spring and fall, yearly. A California South Exhibition open to all artists in Southern California and an annual Guild Show. The first California South show in 1926 was an outstanding success, with 286 entries selected. Several subsequent California South shows were equally successful.

     An article was written in the San Diego Magazine for September 1927 by Aime Titus, secretary of the acquisition and exhibition committee of the Fine Arts Society. He wrote:

"Artists of San Diego County"

Photo by De Vore

     "Practically all the local art colony are enrolled as members of the Art Guild division of the San Diego Fine Arts Society, - its roster showing 135 members at the present time. However it is surprising-not that we have so many artists working here, - but that there are not many times that number located in this county-one of the most paintable sections of the United States. There is such a diversified range of subjects from mountains down to seashore, all within a few hours travel, and with ideal painting conditions prevailing through the entire year. Now that our new Fine Arts Gallery has focused the attention of the art world upon San Diego, more and more artists of the country are coming to search out the beauties of this section.      Amongst those who have painted in and about San Diego in recent times are numbered Robert Henri, Childe Hassam, Nicoli Fechin, Colin Campbell Cooper, Randall Davey, Andrew Dasberg, Charles Vezin, and the late Guy Rose.

Photo by De Vore

     Amongst our own artists, the paintings of Charles Fries, the beloved dean of our local colony, reveal the essential spirit of our landscapes, as the true Californians have long known them. Next in seniority as a local painter in Maurice Braun, whose canvasses of San Diego's hills and valleys have been well known for many years in the art galleries of Fifth Avenue as they are in Western collections. A younger San Diego painter is Alfred Mitchell, who is doing work that promises to bring him and to our city and increasing measure of fame. Otto Schneider, of Buffalo, cast his lot with San Diego colony several years ago, and in that period he has produced many lovely patterns woven from San Diego scenes. Leslie Lee, who sends out many exhibits from his studio in San Diego's backcountry, has devoted himself to transcribing records of the life of our native Indians. Charles Reiffel, formerly one of New England's best-known artists, has recently opened a local studio. His landscapes have won awards in most of the important exhibitions in the United States, and his records of San Diego scenery grace the walls of the foremost galleries of the country. Elliot Torrey, also of the New England group, is the latest distinguished visitor to open a permanent studio in San Diego. He is a painter with a very individual style that has won him recognition in the Chicago as well as in the New England exhibitions. In addition to these painters who are constantly producing and exhibiting, there are several sculptors whose work enhances current local and foreign exhibitions: James Porter, Charles Cristadoro, Donal Hord, and Ruth Ball.

Photo by De Vore

     Limited space will not permit a recital of all who are sincerely working in various fields of art, adding to San Diego's growing importance as an art center. San Diego has more to offer the artist in subjects for his inspiration and in favorable working conditions than perhaps any section of the country: and in addition it offers a company of congenial associates who, having studied in various art centers throughout the world, have preferred to locate in San Diego to work out their ideas."

     The first "Varnishing Day," December 9, 1928 at 3 p.m., was held before the formal opening of the Guild's Second Annual Exhibition. It was stated:
     "This will give you an opportunity to meet each other, to see the exhibition before the Formal Opening, and to have a frank discussion WITHOUT RESTRAINT! There will be no special program; the afternoon is entirely yours."
     The exhibit contained 223 works of art, many of which were offered for sale. No commission was taken. The 1928 membership of the San Diego Art Guild was almost two-thirds female.
     In an article for California Southland Magazine, Reginald H. Poland wrote:

     "Ordinarily, art has developed best when it has received patronage and appreciation. But creative action is the first necessity of great art. And unless so-called art interprets the better ideas and ideals of its maker, of its time and people, it cannot be art….
     We believe that art will continue to go farthest where the artists are creative in this manner, and where others have an appreciation of or at least the desire to appreciate true art, whether from the studios of their contemporaries or in the monuments of the past. San Diego is beginning to create; she has long shown great appreciation for the finer things, and is positively progressing in this. Even before the Fine Arts Gallery opened…. the Art Society had a membership of 600; since then, within two years, we have reached the phenomenal figure of 1375, which is proportionally greater than that of any other American city. In cities of greater population and with bigger art museums, like Providence, R. I., Indianapolis, Ind., and Cincinnati, Ohio, the actual total membership is not as great…. San Diego's attitude to art is splendidly illustrated too, by the attendance, which normally averages over 600 daily… And it must be remembered that San Diego's population is but 150,000 in round figures…"

"Contemporary Artists of San Diego" 1929

     In 1929 eight dedicated and serious artists from the Art Guild, met in Leslie Lee's studio and formed the Associated Artists of San Diego. They were President James Tank Porter, Secretary-Treasurer Alfred R. Mitchell, Charles A. Fries, Leslie W. Lee, Charles Reiffel (who was President of the Guild and Chairman of the Fine Arts Society Acquisition Committee, at that time), Otto H. Schneider, and Elliot Torrey. The name Associated Artists was already being used by a commercial group, so at their first meeting, they changed their name to the Contemporary Artists of San Diego. Four other artists were invited to join. They were, Aloys Bohnen, Leon D. Bonnet, Donal Hord, and Everett Gee Jackson. They all joined, except Aloys Bohnen, who graciously declined. The group was now comprised of nine painters and two sculptors.

James Tank Porter

     They held their first exhibition from July 20 - August 18, 1929, and their first exhibition in the Fine Arts Gallery in 1930. Its opening was the major social event of its day. They exhibited yearly at the museum, until 1934.
     All of these artists had extensive exhibition records, numerous awards and honors, and were dedicated professionals of the highest caliber. They were well represented in major American public and private collections and all had national recognition. The group's goals were the promotion of local art and artists on a national level as well as the development of a wider appreciation of art at home. They did this by exhibiting not only within San Diego but outside of the county as well. They placed their art in many places in the business section of the city and sent representative exhibitions on national tours. They briefly operated a sales room on Seventh Street in downtown San Diego, from December 1931 - April 1932, but it floundered due to the Depression. Sales were slim and internal problems involving personal philosophies were contributing factors to this groups demise. Nevertheless the Contemporary Artists was the first serious attempt to put San Diego into the mainstream of American art history.

     The Fine Arts Gallery had a one-man show for Maurice Braun from February 15 - March 15, 1928 in which 37 paintings and drawings were exhibited. In October 1929 a one-man show was held for Charles Arthur Fries, with 37 paintings, and in November 1929 Charles Reiffel had a one-man show with 22 paintings exhibited.
     In the newspaper on October 12, 1930, Reginald Poland again, as he was to do regularly throughout his 25 years as the Director of the Fine Arts Gallery, wrote about the Guild. He commented on its steady growth from 20 to 200 and how under the new Guild chairman, Aime Titus, will be "a lively organization with activities valuable for the artists themselves and for the community as an 'art-minded' center." He also wrote about the Guild's fifth annual show at the gallery in which:

     "Every member of the Guild will be allowed to exhibit at least one example. If a person happens to be a sculptor, printmaker, or miniaturist, as well as a painter and draughtsman in several media, he may be represented in this show by as many as three examples from each one of these fields. Handicraftsmen may be listed in the catalog with more than three examples, for they will come upon the jury in a special way.
     This year, again, the gallery returns to its original policy of taking no commissions on sales made from the Guild show. Therefore the artist is able to offer lower prices and to retain the entire amount for such of the work as may be bought….
     There are a number of other activities with which Guild members have been occupied. In the last few months they have often gone out sketching, a picnic supper, part of it cooked over the open fire, followed by a talk….
     Another work in which the Guild is now engaged is one of the most interesting of all, partly because it is altruistic and done for others rather than from any selfish motive. We refer to the collection now at the gallery of the La Jolla public library. Approximately 52 artists have sent sculpture, handicraft, drawings, prints and painting of many media to form an exposition in order to raise money to assist Walter J. Fenn, a La Jolla artist of standing."

Reginald Poland by Anna Coleman Ladd

     Reginald Poland throughout his entire career was an active member of the Guild Board of Directors and wholeheartedly supported the efforts of the local art community. He persuaded numerous benefactors to purchase local art for donation to the museum and actively helped the Guild whenever he could. He was made a permanent honorary member of the Guild on August 23, 1926.

     In an oral interview given to the San Diego Historical Society, Guild artist Mina Pulsifer stated:
     "Reginald Poland? He was a difficult person… Well, he was a strange man. I think Reg was a very inhibited person. He… I think if he hadn't been the director of the Gallery, he would have had a lot of fun in life. I think he would have had a very good time in life, but he always thought - he thought he had to be so sedate that when he would come to the Art Guild parties and felt free to be himself he always had a wonderful time."
     On January 1, 1932, for the San Diego Union, Reginald Poland wrote:

     "The Guild is composed of the artists of the Fine Arts Society. The annual of their artwork is just about ending now. For the first time this year a number of prizes were given and by different kinds of juries. The choices were quite varied."

Fine Specimens of Art shown at Exhibitions.

     "We have been able to squeeze into our appropriations another annual exhibition by the artist members of the Fine Arts Society of San Diego. It comprises some 225 paintings, sculptures, graphic arts and handicraft. One of the most interesting aspects of the show are the four kinds of prizes that were given.
     The jury of selection for the entire show gave nine awards, four of them money prizes; the entire Guild membership voted on the Appleton S. Bridges Memorial Award. A laymen's jury of over 40 non-artist persons gave two more awards. The public as a whole was invited to make its own choice. The comparison of tastes in art and the increased popular interest in this collection were what made such awards worthwhile."
     Guild members Ivan Messenger, Katharine Morrison Kahle, Maurice Braun, Donal Hord, Aime Titus, Reginald Poland, Marg Loring, and Sherman Trease, wrote columns for the newspapers. Articles on art and artists filled the newspapers of the 1930's.

Note: Links go to photos on The San Diego History Center werbsite.

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