Inner Visions: Women Artists of California featured works by women working in California in three major periods: the Tonalist style of the late 1800s; the Impressionist period of the early 1900s, and the Regionalist style of the 1930s and 1940s. The central attraction in Inner Visions was the 7 feet by 26 feet mural by Jessie Arms Botke, a gift to The Irvine Museum from The Oaks at Ojai, for which the mural was painted in 1953.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, California had more women artists than other regions of the country. In the East, the entrenched art establishment had existed for more than a century and it consisted solely of men artists. It was deemed inappropriate to have women earning a living and pursuing a career in the arts. By contrast, there was no entrenched art establishment in Los Angeles as both men and women artists began arriving at the same time. Artists who lived in Southern California in the early 1900s were part of a close circle of friends and included men and women.
Artists featured in Inner Visions included Jessie Arms Botke, Meta Cressey, Anna Hills, Donna N. Schuster, Marion Kavanagh Wachtel, among others.
The main attraction for Inner Visions was a mural from the venerable Oaks Hotel in Ojai, a generous gift to The Irvine Museum in 1992 from the Oaks at Ojai. The mural was painted in 1953 by Jessie Arms Botke, with assistance from her husband Cornelis Botke. It is a large work, measuring nearly 7 feet high by 26 feet long and it represents a scene in the Everglades, with a large variety of bird life and flora set on a gold-leaf background.
The mural graced the ballroom wall of the old Oaks Hotel for nearly forty years when, in the course of renovating the hotel, the decision was made to tear down the wall in order to enlarge the room. Mindful that this was an important work of California art, the hotel offered the mural as a gift to The Irvine Museum with the condition that the museum assume the costs of removal and restoration of the work. Fortunately, the mural was painted on two large pieces of canvas, and not directly on the wall. The mural was carefully removed and restored to its full glory.
At the time The Irvine Museum received the mural, the museum was in a large suite on the 12th floor of its current building. As such, it was impossible to bring the mural into the museum because it would not fit into the elevators. So, for more than eighteen years the mural was displayed at Joan Irvine Smith Hall, at the University of California, Irvine. A few years ago, the museum relocated to the ground floor of its current building, thus making the elevator restrictions moot.
The museum was finally able to display this majestic and magical mural. Since the museum does not have a single wall that measures 26 feet, the mural was displayed in its two parts for Inner Visions, one measuring 14 feet long and other 12 feet long. They were shown on opposite walls so the viewer will, in effect, be in the middle of the scene.
SELECT FEATURED ARTISTS
JESSIE ARMS BOTKE (1883-1971) was a Chicago artist who specialized in painting works that featured exotic birds surrounded by wondrous plants and blossoms. Little interested in landscape, Botke worked in the brilliant and colorful style of Art Deco. She worked in oil and often added gold and silver leaf in the background.
META CRESSEY (1882-1964) was one of the earliest modernist artists in Los Angeles. She came to Los Angeles in 1917, with her husband Bert Cressey (1883-1944), also a painter. The pair were among a small group of modernist artists who founded the Los Angeles Modern Art Society. The group also included Helena Dunlap (1876-1955), Edgar Keller (1868-1932), Henrietta Shore (1880-1963), and Karl Yens (1868-1945). The society held non-juried shows, featuring modern works by local and foreign artists.
ANNA HILLS (1882-1930) received her education at Olivet College in Michigan, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Cooper Union Art School in New York City. She moved to Los Angeles around 1912, and relocated to Laguna Beach in 1913. Originally a figure painter, Hills turned to the landscape after her move to California. She became a founding member of the Laguna Beach Art Association in 1918. A tireless leader of that group, she served as president from 1922 to 1925. A highly respected teacher, Hills promoted the visual arts through lectures and the organization of special exhibits, which circulated among Orange County public schools.
DONNA N. SCHUSTER (1883-1953) was born in Milwaukee. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago where she graduated with honors. She then studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School and with William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) in 1912. In 1913, she moved to Los Angeles. She spent her summers at a second studio-home in Laguna Beach. In 1928 she began to study with Stanton MacDonald-Wright (1890-1973), and thereafter her work reflected the influence of Cubism and Expressionism.
MARION KAVANAGH WACHTEL (1870-1954) studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and in New York with William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). For several years she taught at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1903, she won a commission from the Santa Fe Railroad to paint murals in their San Francisco ticket office. There, she met and studied with William Keith (1838-1911). Keith recommended that she go to Los Angeles to see artist Elmer Wachtel. Elmer and Marion fell in love and were married the following year in Chicago. In 1921, the couple moved to the Arroyo Seco area of Pasadena. As inseparable painting companions, they traveled throughout Southern California and the Southwest. Perhaps so as not to compete with her husband, Wachtel worked primarily in watercolor throughout their marriage. She received high praise for her works, which are delicate, lyrical interpretations of the landscape, in a manner that shows her masterful control of tone and color. After her husband’s death in 1929, Wachtel temporarily lost interest in painting. She resumed working around 1931, painting landscapes around her home on the Arroyo Seco, the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, most of which were done in oil paint.