The Glory Years (1951-1966)

     The most glorious chapter in San Diego's local art scene was the period from 1951 through 1966. It was during this time that the prestige of the Art Guild hit its peak and many of the artists members went on to become major internationally recognized artists. It was also an era of great controversy. But was highlighted by a lot of Guild activity and enormous public and museum support.
     Throughout the societies history members of the Artists Guild were prominent participants in all the activities of the Fine Arts Society. They served on all committees, notably as Chairs of the Art Acquisition & Loans Committee. They also served on the Asiatic Arts, Latin American Arts, (Everett Gee Jackson was the founding chairman) Contemporary Art, Education, Hospitality, Nominating, Women's, and Social Committees.
     The Director was obligated to attend Guild Board meetings and directors, Warren Beach and Reginald Poland were both active Guild members.
     Artists from the Guild were always represented on the Board of Trustees of the Museum from day one; and not just the Guild President or representative, but also several other Guild artist members served simultaneously on the board as well, including Alice Klauber, Charles Reiffel, Everett Gee Jackson, and Aime Titus. This tradition continued through the 1950's into the early 1980's. At the November meetings of the Fine Arts Society's Board of Directors an amendment to the bylaws was approved giving the President on the Guild an official seat on the Board "who shall hold office ex-officio."

     During the 1950's the Guild traditionally held 4 shows a year at the Fine Arts Gallery. They held separate watercolor/graphic arts and oil painting/sculpture/ceramic exhibitions. They also held a non-juried show. The Guild's All Membership Show in February 1951 was open again to all members, who could have at least one piece in the show. The prizes were awarded on the basis of votes cast by the Guild members themselves. The Guild's All Media Show had a traditional juried format. This was their annual spring show.
     Throughout the 1950's the Guild's exhibitions were widely critiqued, with fair and equitable viewpoints, from both Naomi Baker in the Evening Tribune and Armin Kietzmann in the San Diego Union. They both commented on the different jurying procedures and the shows were usually very well received. Guild member George Sorenson also wrote articles for the San Diego Union during the 1950's. George also served on the Acquisitions Committee for the Fine Arts Society.

     In a letter with illustration dated March 26, 1951, Edmund T. Price, President of the Fine Arts Society, wrote to the Societies membership about Donal Hord's latest masterpiece.  

  

     "This reproduction of Donal Hord's jade statue 'Thunder' gives but a faint idea of the spirit and life of this gem. The word gem is used advisedly as he carved it from the largest known block of jade ever discovered. However, I hope your curiosity is aroused to come to the Gallery and see it among his other works as we are being deluged with requests that this beautiful thing is not lost to the Fine Arts Gallery and to the people of San Diego. Already others want to buy it but a fund has been started among a few members of the Fine Arts Society for its purchase. It is thought of the Board of Directors that all members of the Society should have the opportunity of contributing to this fund. The special purchase price to the Gallery without commissions is $18,000, and even without this letter to you and the other members, slightly more than 10% has been subscribed.
     Please come to the Gallery to enjoy this work of art, and send in your contribution for the pleasure you will have received.
     Even if you cannot reach the Gallery due to distance or other reasons, your check in any amount will be welcome, to preserve for the people of San Diego this unique specimen of art from the spirit and hands of one of our own citizens...."

     The controversy between the traditional artists and the moderns continued into the 1950's. A very descriptive article came out in the local media. James Britton wrote it on May 25, 1951:
Another Election Sensation
     "SINCE the San Diego Art Guild if the most important artists' group in the county, its internal workings have quite a bit to do with the cultural figure San Diego cuts in the world. The membership of about 275 is roughly split--and that's the right phrase-- between the so-called Conservatives and the so-called Moderns.
     For the present essay, 'Conservatives' are those who paint by well-worn formulas intended to produce pictures, which resemble some pleasing object or other. 'Moderns' set themselves a harder task: to paint pictures, which are themselves, pleasing objects--pleasing, that is to people with educated eyes. 'Twas ever thus, even in the good old days.'
     Friction between the factions has caused the dry wits among the Conservatives to do a slow burn. Nervously sidestepping all thorny questions about picture quality, they make their charges: the Conservatives are being turned down wholesale by 'biased' juries at art shows; the Moderns are copping all the prizes.
     Some particularly dry wit recently got a corking idea how to reverse the trend: elect a Conservative president of the Guild. He sent out postal cards, anonymous except for the misleading signature of 'The Committee for a Better Art Guild,' urging members to vote for Alfred Mitchell, a man highly respected by the fair-minded in both factions, though his expert paintings are distinctly conservative. The Moderns girded for battle.
     CAME ELECTION night and not a single vote for Alfred Mitchell. Reason: Mitchell had sent the Guild a letter: 'Postal cards proposing me for president are being sent to the Guild members now… I do not know the source from which they come, but I was not consulted in the matter… I am not a candidate and would not be able to serve if elected.'
     After the letter was read, the Guild board's own nominee, George Sorenson, coasted into the presidency without a dissenting vote--along with a slate of forward looking boardsmen: Madeline Sharer, Margaret Price, John Osgood, and Barney Reid.
     SORENSON is one of a growing order of artists who shuttle between the ivory tower and the classroom--between painting to satisfy the inner man and teaching to satisfy the tradesmen. His prime ability is organizing and carrying out a given project, whether in his State University courses or in his complicated but unified paintings. Also as need requires, he can slip into the habit of the salesman, complete with white collar, winning smile and warming handclasp. He may just be the magician to conjure up enough prize money to make Guild shows a national attraction. C. of C. talent scouts please take notice.
     A favorite complaint among artists for some years has been that the Guild has no official seat at the board of its parent body, the Fine Arts Society. If that were remedied, the Society might be stirred to rustle up funds for putting San Diego more in touch with the current art world. Does the Society want that?"
     (The Fine Arts Society Board of Trustees had previously voted for a seat on its board for an official Guild representative. It was a full three-year seat with all the privileges and obligations of a trustee.)

     A calendar printed by the Guild for 1952 featured Black and White images by several artists. Artists participating in this first of what had originally been planned as an annual issue were Clark Allen, Belle Baranceanu, James Clark, Dan Dickey, Lowell Houser, Everett Gee Jackson, John Osgood, Sammy Pasto, J. Earle Schrack, Marcile Slater, and Jean Swiggett.

Marcile Statler, George Sorenson & Margaret Robbins looking at the Guild Calendar art. - 1952

     The Guild participated in a huge Art Mart in October 1951 in Balboa Park, 1000's of people viewed demonstrations and over 1000 paintings by over 100 artists. Visitors were able to purchase the Guild calendar. It was held as part of a citywide festival. On March 2, 1952 over 3,000 people attended the Guild Opening of its All-Media Exhibition.

     The controversy about modern art continued and was express in this article published in the San Diego Union on July 18, 1952:

Art Exhibit Stirs Sharp Criticism

EDITOR, THE UNION:     "At a recent gathering of representative citizens of San Diego, a discussion of the latest exhibit of the San Diego Art Guild in the Fine Arts Gallery was carried on. Every person present expressed keen resentment against the kind and quality of art presented and the fact that the guild is dominating the exhibit rooms.
     With very few exceptions (including a portrait of a 'Woman in Green' and a few prints) they are poorly done, show no beauty of design or color and no originality. We observed a decided tendency to copy Diego Rivera at his worst and the grotesque absurdities of Picasso.
     What has become of the truly great artists San Diego always had been noted for? Can it be that they are not permitted to exhibit in the Fine Arts Gallery?"

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