The freedom to paint

The Irvine Museum opens new show about how California was open territory for women to succeed as artists.

March 22, 2012|By Imran Vittachi
  • A piece by artist Jessie Arms Botke, circa 1953, was created using oil with gold leaf on canvas and is currently on display at the Irvine Museum.
A piece by artist Jessie Arms Botke, circa 1953, was created… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

The Western frontier — Southern California, in particular — represented a tableau of possibilities and artistic freedom for women who strived to be painters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"Many of the artists who came here got to do things they never could have done on the East Coast," said James Irvine Swinden, president of the Irvine Museum. "The other thing is that a lot of these artists were able to explore their talents much more than men could, and they changed their art style."

The museum at 18881 Von Karman Ave. just opened an exhibition of mostly oil paintings by female artists who came to the Southland from the East Coast or the Midwest, and whose careers took off here during three different artistic periods, which ranged from the late 1800s to early 1900s, and the 1930s and '40s.

"Inner Visions: Women Artists of California" runs through June 7, and although it features works by many female artists, the show highlights five late artists: Anna Hills (1882-1930), a landscape painter who was one of the founders in 1918 of the Laguna Beach Art Assn., and its president from 1922 to 1925; Jessie Arms Botke (1883-1971), whose Art Deco style depicted exotic birds and plants; Meta Cressey (1882-1964), a modernist painter who belonged to a group that founded the Los Angeles Modern Art Society; Donna N. Schuster (1883-1953), a Cubist and Expressionist painter based in L.A., who spent her summers living and working out of a home studio in Laguna Beach; and Marion Kavanagh Wachtel (1870-1954), a muralist, watercolorist and landscape painter.


The show comprises 36 pieces, mostly of paintings from the museum's permanent collection. Sixteen were loaned to the museum by private Orange County collectors.

There are paintings from the Buck Collection in Newport Beach, as well loaners from Newport collectors Mark and Janet Hilbert, Peter and Gail Ochs, and Ranney and Priscilla Draper.

In addition, two paintings came from the Richard W. Silver and Robert Hayden Collection in Laguna Beach, and a bronze piece came from Laguna's DeWitt Clinton McCall Collection, museum officials said.

The most prominent piece in the show — literally — comes from the museum's collections.

"Mural from the Oaks Hotel" — a 7-foot tall, 26-foot wide mural painted at an Ojai hotel by that name by Botke in 1953, with help from her husband Cornelius — depicts a scene of exotic birds and plants.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles