Found Photographs Reveal Work of Previously Unknown Photographer

Found Photographs Reveal Work of Previously Unknown Photographer

After an estate sale in Santa Paula, California, an old shoe box of curled up photographs taken in Mexico in 1936 was found in the dusty basement. They turned out to be the work of an immensely talented photographer who was not known outside his immediate family. That photographer was Garfield Merner who spent a month deep in Mexico traveling with his family.

Merner's obituary published by The New York Times on February 29, 1972 described him thusly:

Garfield David Merner, industrialist, philanthropist and past president of the Pfeiffer Medical Research Foundation in New York, died on Sunday. He was 89 years old. With his first wife, Benetta, who died in 1958, Mr. Merner founded in 1929 the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park, Calif., an arts and crafts shopping center. During World War II, he was director of the American Red Cross supply service in the Pacific area.

Merner was one of three photographers to tour Mexico in 1936 as part of a larger group from the Padua Hills Playhouse in Claremont, California. They traveled to Mexico to collect inspiration for costumes and choreography for the “Mexican Players,” a popular performance troupe established at Padua Hills. Their photographs are now being exhibited publicly for the first time at the Santa Paula Art Museum through June 11, 2017. This important collection reveals everyday life in Mexico much more deeply than any commercial or news photographs from the time could. Viewing the vintage snapshots brings a greater sense of connection and appreciation to the human story of our close neighbors in Mexico and brings up memories of our own family heritage.

Click on any image to enlarge.

Youth-led Event Combines Art, Science, and Play

An upcoming event at the Santa Paula Art Museum, Jeanette Cole Art Center invites visitors to experience a new way of seeing art in a fun and lively atmosphere where art, science, and play intersect. “The Land of Light” is a youth-led event designed to engage the community through interactive art installations, lighting effects, visual film graphics, and displays of science and technology. All of these elements will come together in a way that inspires play. The event is for one night only on Saturday, April 22, 2017, from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Admission to the event is free for everyone.
The unique Earth Day event will transform the entire Santa Paula Art Museum campus including the Museum’s main exhibition building, the Cole Creativity Center (the Museum’s future art education building), and the outdoor area between the two. Youth guides will lead visitors through different indoor and outdoor spaces representing earth, water, science, art, and technology. Light and video projections will illuminate the other creations on display including 3D sculptures, art cars, robotics, a “pyropainted” carousel, and more. Each space will feature “maker craft stations” where guests will be able to interact and add to the various artworks and displays. Visitors will also enjoy a live DJ and local food truck.
“The Land of Light” is an extension of the Santa Paula Art Museum’s ArtSPARK education program, which serves thousands of local students each year through onsite tours and outreach workshops. The event is the culmination of many months of collaboration between numerous professional artists and dozens of local youth artists. The teams of youth and adult participants are responsible for all of the event planning areas – from marketing and logistics, to the art on display. Participating professional artists include Paul Benavidez, Gene Glass, Silvia Huerta, Nancy Kaplan, Amun Levy, Janet Milhomme, Deniz Nicole, and Faith Purvey. Youth artists include students from the Academy of Technology and Leadership at Saticoy, California Institute of the Arts, De Anza Academy of Technology and the Arts, Fillmore High School, Santa Paula High School, Santa Clara Valley Boys and Girls Club, and Turning Point School.

A section of the "Carousel Candeo" by Deniz Nicole

Download the event flyer and share with your friends!

Download the event flyer and share with your friends!

The Auction is Back and Bigger Than Ever

Museum to Host its Seventh Annual Fine and Decorative Art Auction on March 25, 2017 

On Saturday, March 25, 2017, the Santa Paula Art Museum will host its Seventh Annual Fine and Decorative Art Auction. Dozens of artworks - ranging from stunning oil and watercolor paintings to decorative glass, pottery, and prints - will be available in both a silent auction format and during a thrilling live auction! The silent auction begins at 3:00 p.m., followed by the live auction at 4:30 p.m. Admission to the auction is $15.00 for museum members and $20.00 for the general public. All proceeds from the event benefit the Santa Paula Art Museum, Jeanette Cole Art Center. 

Highlighting the live auction are works by noted early twentieth century California artists like Jessie Arms Botke, Cornelis Botke, and Ralph Holmes. Contemporary art by local favorites including Meredith Brooks Abbott, Raymond Cuevas, Tony Jankowski, George Lockwood, Kevin Macpherson, Gina Niebergall, Susan Petty, and Richard Schloss will complement the more historic offerings. A complete catalog of the items that will be available in the auction is available here.

The annual art auction at the Santa Paula Art Museum is a special opportunity to find quality works of art for one’s private collection. Guests will experience the fun and excitement of a live auction announced by professional auctioneer John Eubanks of California Auctioneers. During the event, three paintings by Jessie Arms Botke and Cornelis Botke will also be raffled off to three lucky winners. Raffle tickets may be purchased online here. Raffle tickets can also be purchased during the auction until 4:00 p.m. Winners do not need to be present to win.

The auction is sponsored by Bank of the Sierra, Calavo, Limoneira, Rotary Club of Santa Paula, and Santa Paula Community Bank.


Image: “Untitled” by Jessie Arms Botke, oil on canvas, 22 x 24 inches (available in the live auction)

Artist Featured in Plein Air Magazine

Plein Air Magazine Profiles Artist Sharon Weaver

Artist Sharon Weaver - one of six artists to be featured in the Santa Paula Art Museum's upcoming exhibition Between Heaven and Earth: The PAC6 Paints the Sierras - was recently profiled by Plein Air Magazine. In the article, Weaver gives her perspective on artistic practice and painting out of doors. It's a great read in preparation for the premiere of Between Heaven and Earth on March 4!

Read the full article here.

Image: "Last Light" by Sharon Weaver, oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches, Collection of the artist © Sharon Weaver.

Uncover the Mysteries at the Museum

Santa Paula Art Museum Free Family Day Will Ask Guests to Play the Role of Detective

Uncover the mysteries of the Santa Paula Art Museum at a Free Family Day event on Sunday, February 5, 2017, from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Guests can explore the Art About Agriculture and The 1936 Mexican Snapshot Mystery exhibitions. Plus, be a snapshot detective for the day as you discover clues embedded in the Museum’s “I Spy” and art-making activities, design a detective badge, take a family photo in our photo booth, and create art to reveal hidden clues! Families can also leave their mark in our history book by telling their family story. Admission is free for everyone. 


Image credit: "Glazing Half Dry Pottery" by Kenneth Forbes, 1936, photograph, Collection of John Nichols Gallery © John Nichols Gallery

Obscure Snapshots to Make Debut

Found Photographs Give Rare Glimpse of Daily Life in 1930s Mexico

The Santa Paula Art Museum’s latest offering is an exciting whodunit detective story-turned-exhibition entitled The 1936 Mexican Snapshot Mystery. Over 900 vintage photographs - captured by three different photographers while on a 1936 trip through central Mexico - were recently discovered in an estate in Santa Paula, California. The journey to discover the truth behind these historic snapshots forms the basis for the upcoming exhibit, and museum visitors will be invited to play the role of detective alongside the show’s curators. The exhibition opens with a premiere reception on Saturday, February 4, 2017, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Admission to the reception is $10.00 for museum members and $15.00 for the general public.

The snapshots - most of which have never been seen before - were commissioned in 1936 by Bess Adams Garner, director of the Padua Hills Playhouse in Claremont, California. She and several colleagues traveled to Mexico to collect inspiration for costumes and choreography for the “Mexican Players,” a popular performance troupe established at Padua Hills. Garner credited photographer Kenneth Forbes with capturing most of the images taken during their trip. Forbes was a Claremont citrus rancher and a photo-finish photographer at Santa Anita racetrack. While in Mexico, he also created 16mm documentary film footage of authentic dances, ceremonies, and everyday scenes. Forbes’ original films, on loan from The Pierson Family Archive at Claremont Heritage, will play alongside his still images.

All of the photographs in the exhibition come from the estate of industrialist and philanthropist Garfield Merner. Merner founded the Allied Arts Guild, a cooperative art space near Stanford University, in 1929. He was the second of three photographers to join Bess Garner’s 1936 Mexican tour. Many of Garfield’s photos are described and dated on the reverse, which will allow exhibit visitors to follow Merner’s travel itinerary exactly as he did. One riddle that remains to be solved is the identity of the third photographer included in the collection. It is a question that curators still hope to answer when they open the show to the viewing public.    

More than just a captivating mystery, The 1936 Mexican Snapshot Mystery is also an extraordinary depiction of everyday life in 1930s Mexico. Images of daily life in Mexico from that period are seldom found. Most contemporaneous photographs are professionally posed portraits of wealthy individuals. The snapshots in this exhibition, however, are incredibly candid and show honest portrayals of ordinary people and customs. The artistic black-and-white images will be accompanied by additional maps, illustrations, and decorative objects to help complete the collection’s story. Visitors can experience the mystery through June 11, 2017. 


Image credit: "Acapulco Boys Fishing" by Kenneth Forbes, 1936, photograph, Collection of John Nichols Gallery © John Nichols Gallery

Building for the Future

Santa Paula Art Museum to Expand with Art Education Center

The Santa Paula Art Museum has announced some very big news. The Museum will be expanding its footprint to include an existing building adjacent to the current museum site. Once renovated, the new building will provide much needed space for the Museum’s growing collections and educational programs.

The addition of the new building is the most recent in a long list of kindnesses shown to the Santa Paula Art Museum by the Lee Cole Family. In 2012, Lee Cole and his children made a significant contribution to the Museum in honor of his late wife and their mother, Jeanette Cole. Jeanette was a beloved docent and supporter of the Museum. Since then, the Santa Paula Art Museum has proudly held the additional title of the Jeanette Cole Art Center. “With the Cole family’s gift of a new building, the staff and board of the Santa Paula Art Museum are excited to create an inspirational space that will allow us to serve the community in an even bigger way,” says Museum Executive Director Jennifer Heighton.