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
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
"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.
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
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.
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
The controversy about modern
art continued and was express in this article published in the San
Diego Union on July 18, 1952:
Exhibit Stirs Sharp Criticism
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?"