SPOTLIGHT: Carmel & Monterey

The history of Monterey's thriving scenic colony goes back to the 19th century.

“Highway 1,” 1965, Henry Gilpin, Gelatin silver print
Collection of Monterey Museum of Art MPMA Acquisition Fund Purchase in honor of Richard Garrod. Photos: courtesy Monterey Museum of Art

At definitive moments in time, artists discover and populate particular city neighborhoods or small towns that welcome them and enhance their creative life. A migration takes place, an avant-garde phenomenon that has recurred time and again throughout cultural history. So it happened within the scenic boundaries of California’s Monterey Bay in the waning decades of the 19th century. The region’s crumbling mission and picturesque adobes-remnants of its recent past as both a Spanish and Mexican territory-and its fantastical cypress trees, gave it an appealingly romantic air. The industrialization overtaking the East had not yet reached Monterey, and the pace of life was leisurely. In that environment a group of artistic individuals gathered, fueling a regional renaissance that reverberates today.

The artist credited with originating Monterey’s art colony, the French-born Jules Tavernier, came west in the mid-1870s on an illustration assignment for Harper’s Weekly magazine that landed him in San Francisco. Shortly thereafter he visited Monterey and settled in for about a three-year stay. The combination of his flamboyant personality, the exotic but relaxed environment, and unlimited subjects for landscape painting lured his San Francisco cohorts to visit. As more of them arrived, a bohemian community of artists took shape around him.

In 1880, Southern Pacific opened its railway line into Monterey just as the railroad-backed elegant Hotel Del Monte was ready for guests. One early guest, the well-known San Francisco-area artist, William Keith, had also traveled in the Sierras with his friend John Muir. For Keith, who was a follower of the Swedenborgian spiritual movement, nature was an essential aspect of the divine. Inspired by Monterey’s vistas he came often, and brought the prominent East Coast artist and fellow Swedenborgian, George Inness, to paint the dramatic landscape with him.

Artists soon began to settle down in Monterey. Among the first was San Francisco-born Charles Rollo Peters, who after European sojourns and many visits decided to stay. In 1901 he built a home and studio on the mesa where he painted his inimitable adobe nocturnes. Another artist Gottardo Piazzoni, spent time in Europe and taught art in San Francisco, but regularly returned to his family’s ranch in Carmel Valley. The influential teacher and Director of San Francisco’s prestigious California School of Design, Arthur Mathews, became a part-time resident when he and his wife, artist Lucia Mathews, established a second home in Carmel. The area inspired some of the Matthews’ most iconic work-images of cypress and pines along the shore and of the hills and oaks of Carmel Valley. He often chose Monterey settings as backdrops for his figurative paintings.

As word spread, more artists came to stay. Francis McComas, Sydney Yard, Raymond Dabb Yelland, Mary DeNeale Morgan, and Evelyn McCormick all made homes in Monterey, at least for a time, and contributed their ardent depictions to a burgeoning landscape tradition. In 1907, a new gallery was established at the Hotel Del Monte. Marking a decisive moment for the community, it provided access to an ideally situated platform where artists could show and sell their work. The gallery gained wide recognition, and large numbers of visitors came specifically to see and purchase the art featured there.

“Summer Morning, St. Ives (aka St. Ives Harbor #2),” 1923
E. Charlton Fortune, Oil on canvas
Collection Monterey Museum of Art, gift of Betsy N. Rhodes

An impressive landmark, the Hotel Del Monte was itself a subject for artists. Carleton Watkins, celebrated for his photographs of Yosemite Valley, also stopped along the central coast. His stereo-views of the Hotel and the surrounding vistas preserve rare fin-de-siècle scenes of the area. Another photographer, Arnold Genthe, a resident of the newly developing Carmel-by-the Sea, experimented with autochromes, taking the first color images of the region. Genthe’s well-known photographs of San Francisco’s Chinatown, and the city’s earthquake and fire are of immense historic value, and reside in the Library of Congress.

As Monterey’s popularity flourished, the growing artist colony formed an Arts and Crafts Club, and in 1914 it invited the celebrated East Coast artist, William Merritt Chase, to teach. An advocate of plein air painting, Chase held classes out of doors, emphasizing a light-filled impressionist style. One of his students, part-time Monterey resident E. Charlton Fortune, was already an accomplished Impressionist. She had traveled in Europe, absorbing the brilliance and color of the new style. Part of Monterey’s next generation, her compatriots included two fellow National Academy members, Armin Hansen and William Ritschel. Ritschel, a widely traveled German artist, settled in the Carmel Highlands and painted masterful views of the coastal landscape.

Armin Hansen, like Fortune, adopted the deluxe color of the modernist palette. The San Francisco-born artist settled in Monterey following art school in Germany and a stint as a seaman. He was a dominant figure, one of the founders of the Carmel Art Association, a teacher, and an eminent etcher and painter. Hansen famously depicted the area’s fishermen and their life in and around the sea. One of his students, August Gay, was a member of California’s noted Society of Six. This group of somewhat disparate artists embraced non-traditional color and lavish paint application, and helped to edge California art into the 20th century.

Another artist who came to stay was photographer Edward Weston. In 1929 he settled in the Carmel Highlands and began making his pioneering photographs: long, slow, close-up exposures of peppers, cabbages and nautilus shells. He was inspired by a close friend, his Carmel neighbor the artist Henrietta Shore, who astonished Weston with her expressive paintings of flowers, rocks, and most notably, shells. Her distinctive approach so struck Weston that he borrowed her shells to photograph, thereby changing the course of art history. Originally from Toronto, Shore studied in London and in New York with Robert Henri. Examples of her late work, four WPA-commissioned murals, can be seen in the downtown branch of the Santa Cruz, California, post office.

The precision and brilliance of Edward Weston’s new photographs brought together his colleagues, Ansel Adams (a future Carmel resident), Imogen Cunningham, Willard Van Dyke, and others, to form the groundbreaking Group f/64. This small, short-lived collaboration had a defining impact that would transform photography from an imitative, dreamy medium into a bold, dynamic expression, and lure a generation of photographers to the central coast.

In 1967, Ansel Adams helped found the Friends of Photography in Carmel to promote photography as an art before it was widely recognized as such. Although it no longer exists, Carmel’s Center for Photographic Art follows its example, as does the world-class Weston Gallery. For nearly 90 years, the Carmel Art Association gallery has continued to be a dynamic showcase for Monterey Bay area art. A variety of independent galleries run by local artists like Gallery North, and select venues like the Winfield Gallery, all in Carmel, keep the faith.

The Monterey Museum of Art, founded in 1959, is a repository for much of the area’s artistic legacy and remains an essential community resource. Ongoing exhibitions highlight its historic collection of early California landscapes and extensive photography holdings. The Museum also supports the art community with “Monterey Now”- a solo exhibition awarded to area artists on a regular basis (full disclosure: the writer currently serves as a curatorial advisor with the Winfield Gallery, and has previously worked as assistant curator at the Monterey Museum of Art). The artistic migration continued in the postwar years, with the mid-century arrival of creative iconoclasts like stone sculptor Gordon Newell; writer, blacksmith, engraver, and inventor Alexander Weygers; multi-media sculptor and printmaker Emile Norman; philosopher-photographer Wynn Bullock; cut-paper artist Eve Tartar Brown; and famed animal sculptor Loet Vanderveen.

The Monterey region’s century-long reputation as a haven and inspiration for artists is deeply grounded in its history. Supported by the beauty of its carefully preserved scenic coastline, this heritage remains a viable presence and continues to inform the area’s cultural life today.

by Helaine Glick

"River," 2014, David Ligare, Oil on canvas, 60" x 90"
“River,” 2014, David Ligare, Oil on canvas, 60″ x 90″

Artist David Ligare straddles two worlds: one in the hills just above Monterey where he lives and paints, the other in Classical Greece, whose philosophy and ideals inform his beliefs, his actions, and his art. Ligare’s paintings, whether narrative, landscape, or eloquent still life, are built upon the ancient world’s classical ideals of harmony, balance, and proportion. Much of Ligare’s work is grounded in the landscape of Monterey, and he is a equally a master at rendering the effect and quality of light on skin, on land, reflected on water, or in the air. He inevitably chooses the waning light of dusk, both for its luminosity and for its metaphysical implications of transition-day to night, life to death. Ligare’s work is collected in numerous institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. In 2011, he was honored with the Monterey Arts Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award. A traveling retrospective exhibition of his work opens at Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum in June 2015.

"Jester," 2013, Albert Paley
“Jester,” 2013, Albert Paley, Formed and fabricated painted steel
18’9″ x 9′ x 7′. 57th Street and Park Avenue, New York, New YorkM
photo: courtesy Hawthorne Gallery, Big Sur

Although his primary studio is located in Rochester, New York, Albert Paley is a part-time Carmel area resident whose work can be found at the Hawthorne Gallery in Big Sur. The celebrated sculptor began his career more than 50 years ago as a goldsmith, but his art nouveau-inspired Portal Gates of brass and iron, commissioned in 1974 for the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery, garnered him instant accolades. Since this first large-scale project, he has gone on to create numerous superbly crafted and designed objects in a variety of metals, including lamps and tables, site-specific installations, and monumental sculptures. In 2013 the artist installed 13 sculptures on Park Avenue in New York City, for a project filmed in concert with PBS. Paley’s work can be found in major public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He is the first metal sculptor to receive the coveted Institute Honors award, the highest award given to a non-architect, bestowed by the American Institute of Architects.

"Tulip," 2000, Mari Kloeppel
“Tulip,” 2000, Mari Kloeppel, Oil on linen, 16” x 16”
Photo: courtesy Winfield Gallery

Mari Kloeppel paints with the dedicated passion of an artist on a mission. She lives in northern Monterey County surrounded by wetlands, which she works to preserve, and by a variety of animal companions who are the subjects of her art. After exploring various approaches, from Abstract Expressionism at San Josè State University, to critical and scholarly graduate studies in Germany, Kloeppel chose to follow her own path and enlarge on an intricate style she developed in her youth. Her subjects are exclusively animals-she cultivates a personal relationship with each one. These paintings are portraits, rendered in the reverent manner and style of a Northern Renaissance artist depicting a saint. Using oils and tiny brushes Kloeppel constructs the image layer by layer, in minute detail over many months, capturing her subject’s singular individuality in the process. In 2012, the Monterey Arts Council honored Kloeppel as Professional Artist for the year. Her work is available through the Winfield Gallery in Carmel.

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by Molly Enholm

"TideLines #1," 2014, Johnny Apodaca
“TideLines #1,” 2014, Johnny Apodaca, Oil on canvas, 48” x 36”
Photo: Rick Pharoh

The tradition of California plein-air painting perhaps reached its pinnacle in Northern California around Carmel and the surrounding communities. The association was so strong, that it has almost typecast the artistic community to those who subsequently followed or reacted against the movement. For many, the pendulum swings more subtly between the two, and for painter JOHNNY APODACA it served merely as a starting point. Apodaca received his formal art training at the McNay Art Institute in San Antonio, Texas, where he studied the tenets of Abstract Expressionism with his influential teacher, Reginald Rowe. Among the lessons learned, he quotes, was “to not paint like they did 100 years ago.” When Apodaca came to Carmel in 1972, he fell in love with the natural beauty of the region, while seeking to remain true to his teacher’s advice. Thirty-six years later, Apodaca describes his process as a synthesis of the two, bringing plein-air studies into the studio where he “enlarges, tweaks, scrapes, splatters and expressively transforms” the once familiar imagery. His current series of paintings is inspired by the low profile of Monterey’s Mt. Toro as well as the influence of visiting the former residence of renowned California symbolist, Gottardo Piazzoni. With a reverence to the heritage of California art, countered with an immersion in the contemporary climate, including three trips to recent Venice Biennales, he concludes, “my job is to continue and add to that legacy.”

"On Point," 2009, Patricia Qualls
“On Point,” 2009, Patricia Qualls, Oil on linen, 66” x 48”
Photo: courtesy of the artist

A former stockbroker, PATRICIA QUALLS’ life changed significantly after moving to Carmel in 1980, where she continues to work in a large studio just outside of the city. Her early experimentations were influenced by her degree in philosophy and as a means to, in the artist’s words, “get out of my head and other people’s heads, and to take myself less seriously.” After a few years of personal explorations, Qualls was prompted by the gift of a book on the Bay Area Abstractionists to take on the quest of a self-gui
ded education, a sort-of reverse osmosis from West to East of AbEx and reactions to the movement, including such personally influential figures as Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler. The creative process continues to be an intuitive process for the artist, as Qualls likens her studio to a creative laboratory where nothing is planned in advance. “I buy paint by the gallons,” she describes, “I pour it, I scape it, I move it.” As to working outside of a major urban center, the artist wouldn’t have it any other way, “When I’m visiting a city, I never dream of painting in the city… the isolation suits my soul.”

"When Morning Comes - Venice," 2014, Barbara Kreitman
“When Morning Comes – Venice,” 2014, Barbara Kreitman
Oil on canvas, 36” x 36”. Photo: courtesy of the artist

BARBARA KREITMAN came to the West Coast at a much younger age, moving with her family to San Jose at the age of eight, where she later received her degree in Fine Arts at nearby San Jose State University. The painter notes a common theme of a painterly and expressionist approach among her peers in the Carmel/Monterey region. Her own myriad influences include many Northern California and Bay Area artists, from internationally recognized figures such as Richard Diebenkorn to those whose recognition remains closer to home, such as John Saccaro, Selden Giles from the Society of Six, and “the sophisticated color palette of E. Charlton Fortune, and the moodiness of William Ritschell and S. C. Yuan.” The abstraction of Kreitman’s work balances an architectonic layering of forms, hints of figuration, and the key ingredient of color, inspired by the “continuous play of light” she takes in on her daily walks to the ocean. “My paintings show my passion for color, she describes, “the way various colors play off of each other so that the eye perceives energy with motion or, alternatively, more calm and meditative.”

Untitiled (BR-11), 2011, Peter K. Brooks,
Untitled (BR-11), 2011, Peter K. Brooks, Acrylic on canvas, 60” x 60”
Photo: courtesy of the artist

PETER K. BROOKS spent 30 years in New York working as a banker before relocating to the Monterey peninsula in 1995. Though never formally trained as an artist, Brooks credits the urban edge of his work to his former life in New York where he spent many of his off-hours investigating the artists of the New York school and seeking to discover “what those fellows at the Cedar Tavern spent all night talking about.” Speaking with the artist on his second career, on which he has focused for the past 20 years, he notes the continued influence of AbEx, singling out Joan Mitchell as a key inspiration. This is not to say the beauty of the region has not left an impression, as he notes, “it is hard to muster up a lot of angst here, it is spectacular.” Brooks describes his style as an exploration of process. He often produces works in series, which are united by distinct choices of brush and palette knife work, and unique combinations of hues culled from his own premixed batches of color.