by David T. Leary, Ph.D.
Adapted for the Summer 2007 CAC Newsletter
THREE CREATORS OF ARTISTS ALLEY
At the twentieth centurys start, Southern California was dotted
with colonies of one sort or another. Although settlements devoted to
social or spiritual causes have drawn considerable attention, those inspired
by the arts, particularly the graphic arts, were certainly to be found.
So perhaps it is no great surprise that an artists colony flourished
in Alhambra during the 1920s and 1930s; moreover, that its
story lives on, turning up in old-timers reminiscences and newspaper
Still, Alhambra hardly seems a likely place. It was a quiet, middle-class
community, roughly seven miles east of Los Angeles, with a population
which grew from nine thousand in 1920 to thirty-nine thousand in 1940.
It had a temperate climate and a good view of the San Gabriel Mountains
to the north, yet there was nothing uniquely picturesque or highly cultural
Nor was the colony itself especially prepossessing at first glance. Situated
principally along a cul-de-sacChampion Place on the map, Artists
Alley in popular loreit did overlook an arroyo and enjoy the
shade of lofty eucalyptus trees. But there were just three or four studios
altogether, with barely a half-dozen working occupants, if that, on any
All this invites questions: for instance, why Alhambra? And scrutinizing
the colonys three pioneers in terms of what they had in common,
especially the impulse to create, suggests answers. Obviously, the approach
speaks to the matter of creativitynot only to the phenomenon itself,
but also to its necessary adjuncts, domain and field. A widely held belief
is that creators work in one domain or another, and that their accomplishment
is judged by a field which knows the particular domain. Furthermore, the
approach suggests how or why art colonies get a start at all. Despite
their prevalence both in the United States and abroad, the literature
about them, though valuable, tends to be more individually descriptive
than collectively analytic. Then, too, the approach demonstrates that
Southern California really did have a presentable cultural life during
the twentieth centurys opening decades, despite the skeptics. One
only needs to remember the populations size was nowhere near todays
and building an urban infrastructure took priority.
Who were the three artists, howeverthe pioneering creators?
Victor Clyde Forsythe (1885-1962)
was the earliest arrival. He was born in Orange, California, but inasmuch
as his family had been in Tombstone, Arizona at the time of the notorious
gunfight at the OK Corral, he really had roots in the Old West. Young
Forsythe grew up in central Los Angeles and attended Harvard Military
School, where he showed a flair for cartooning. He had instruction at
the Los Angeles School of Art and Design and was briefly an artist on
William Randolph Hearsts Los Angeles Examiner.
In 1904, having already left school, he headed to New York for study at
the Art Students League and the next year got a steady job on Hearsts
New York Evening Journal. Marriage to Cotta Owen followed, as did increasing
celebrity and income. In 1910 the popular cartoonist George Herriman joined
the Journal, a fact which may have precipitated Forsythes departure.
Whatever the case, he landed on his feet, moving to the New York Evening
World, with which he was associated for over two decades.
Forsythe did illustrations for such magazines as Colliers and Redbook.
During World War I, he painted patriotic posters: And They Thought
We Couldnt Fight, for the Fifth Liberty Loan Drive, won considerable
attention. Yet comic strips were his strong point. Joe Jinks,
started in 1918, may have been the best known, but Way Out West,
begun in 1933, was perhaps closer to his heart because of its geographic
In 1920, dropping illustration but retaining the comics, Forsythe returned
permanently to California and began easel painting in earnest. By 1922
he was living in Alhambra, first on S. Wilson Ave. (now Atlantic Blvd.),
then, two years later, on N. Almansor St. The Almansor St. property was
close to what became Artists Alley. Nevertheless, about
1935 he moved some two miles northeast, into adjacent San Marino, living
first on St. Albans Rd., then on Ramiro Rd. And for the summertime,
he kept a studio at Big Bear Lake, in the San Bernardino Mountains not
too far east of Los Angeles.
Giving up commercial art entirely in 1938, he continued at the easel.
The dry spaces of the Southwest had been his great subject, and when he
died in 1962, he was regarded as one of the notable Desert Painters.
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939) was the second arrival. He was born near
Council Bluffs, Iowa, literally in sight of Westerning wayfarers. The
family moved to the area of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Johnson attended
school, though with scant interest. Then, just in his mid-teens, he began
frequenting Milwaukees Layton Art Gallery and soon left school and
home for a career in art.
Combining native talent, local instruction, and jobs in commercial art,
he slowly made his way. He was in New York for a time in 1895, studying
at the Art Students League. The next year, he married Vinnie Reeve Francis.
He and Vinnie moved to New York in 1902, where he attended the New York
School of Art and won increasingly profitable illustration assignments.
Perhaps prompted by his Council Bluffs memories, Johnson took greater
and greater interest in the West. He made his first trip there in 1904,
significantly to Colorado and the Navajo Country. More and more he became
a Western illustrator. It was about this time, also, that
his celebrated nocturnes emerged.
There were trips as far as California in 1912, 1918, and 1921. Then, in
1922, without giving up their New York base, the couple leased a residence
in Alhambra, on S. Fourth St., keeping it until 1926, when they moved
into their own home on Champion Pl. A third geographic dimension was added
in 1932, when they established themselves at Rimrock Ranch, just west
of Cody, Wyoming. For the next several years, they spent summers there,
while keeping places in New York and California.
Tragedy struck, however. Johnson contracted meningitis, and he died at
the very start of 1939. Along with Frederic Remington and Charles Marion
Russell, he had been one of an artistic triumvirate celebrating the Old
West. Now, all three men were gone.
Jack Wilkinson Smith (1873-1949) was the third on the scene. He was born
in New Jersey, but the family moved to Michigan about 1886 and Smith,
by this time an aspiring artist, dropped out of school, worked his way
to Chicago, got into commercial art, and also attended the Chicago Art
Institute. Still in commercial art, he found his way to Lexington, Kentucky,
where a one-man show of his work drew cartoonist Winsor McCays attention.
Through McCay, Smith got a place on the Cincinnati Enquirer. He studied
at the Cincinnati Academy of Art, and in 1898, during the Spanish-American
War, reportedly was in Cuba doing combat sketches. Later that year, he
married Emma B. Troup, whom he had met in Lexington.
Smith began painting the West before he actually saw the West and, indeed,
managed to sell some pieces. Encouraged, he and his wife moved to Los
Angeles about 1906 where, except for a time in Oregon, they spent well
over a decade. Then, in 1926 they settled in Alhambra, buying the property
immediately south of Frank Tenney Johnsons new home. It was there,
on Artists Alley, that they dwelt till Jacks death.
Even so, the couple traveled tirelessly through the Far West, visiting
scenic locales which became easel painting subjects. The travel was not
always carefree, as Smith once pointed out to his sister. On a sketching
jaunt below Mt. Whitney, about eight miles from Lone Pine, the battery
of the Smiths car failed. It was a good hike to anywhere, but fortunately
a local mechanic, out to show a visiting girlfriend the nearby snow, happened
along. Jack and Emma ended up coasting back to town.
There were rewards, nonetheless. At his death in early 1949, Smith was
widely praised as one of Californias leading landscape painters.
It would take a few additional years before he was identified as a California
So much for biographic basics. Now, what about the kind of work the three
turned out? In terms of creativity, the domain they occupied?
All three got started in commercial
artcartooning, illustrating, advertisingwhereby they satisfied
the expectations of editors or writers, say, but not necessarily their
own nor those of the academy. Research does show that working to fit the
expectations of others, the heart of what they were doing, stifles creativity.
In any case they all began serious painting, with moves to
the West Coast, to Alhambra, distinctly part of this. Each undertook a
transition, albeit not an abrupt nor irreversible one.
Clyde Forsythe had roamed the Southland deserts in his youth, and they
still lured him, as did the prospect of making them his subject. I
wanted to paint seriously, he said in the context of his move, so
I just started in, and Ive been at it ever since. He was doing
what he wanted to do, which he sensed is what everyone does best. He stayed
with the comics until 1938, nonetheless, so as to eat regularly.
Although Frank Tenney Johnson was probably beginning to distance himself
from commercial work by 1912, the meaningful separation did not come till
1922. This was the year he and his wife first settled in Alhambra, in
effect satisfying his boyhood longing to join the westward march
of civilization. Still, he turned out commercial art as late as
It was much the same with Jack Wilkinson Smith. Whatever I see that
interests me I want to paint, he said. On the West Coast he found
the freedom to do just that. In addition he was satisfying a craving both
for wilderness and for work outdoors. He kept his hand in commercial lithography,
however, so as not to compromise the easel painting.
All three took the West as subject, and this made sense: the West had
fascinated Americans from Americas start. Philosophers, for instance,
conceived it as civilizations inevitable destination. Statesmen
viewed its occupation as evidence of national fulfillment. Social thinkers
looked on its endless acres as a safety valve. And all the while, ordinary
folk just settled there.
Meantime, the West inspired cultural endeavor. Artists George Catlin and
Alfred Jacob Miller, for example, saw and documented it. Mark Twain turned
his Nevada and California experiences into writing that won the worlds
heart. By contrast, and much to Twains disgust, James Fenimore Coopers
frontier fiction drew international acclaim pretty much on the strength
of vivid imagining. And here is a point.
The Westor rather the Frontier Westsomehow assumed a life
of its own in Americas mind. That life was mythic in many ways,
tending to neglect the variety of folk who really occupied the frontier
or the hard conditions they often faced. But Forsythe and Johnson and
Smith grew up with the phenomenon, drew from it, and helped sustain it.
If Forsythes prospectors and burros have a mournful quality, they
have a comic one as well. There is some violence in Johnsons pieces,
but it is exception as against rule and, where present, perpetuates myth
more than reality. (Indeed, he seems to have known that the Old West,
the one of his boyhood fascination, had seen its day. ) And Smiths
landscapes are really pristine, though in truth, as late as his time,
the West was still far less touched than it is now.
Finally, all three were representative in style rather than abstract.
From the Renaissance, artists and been expected to render the world as
the world was seen: anything else violated the canon. By the late nineteenth
century, however, at least in some European circles, seeing came to be
regarded as less physically precise and universally consistent as had
long been presumed.
Meanwhile, though, the United States was experiencing a Golden Age of
Illustration. Roughly from the Civil War to World War I, there was a boom
in publishing. Ever more Americans found instruction and pleasure in books,
magazines, and newspaperscopiously illustrated. American illustration
has many parents, but Howard Pyle (1853-1911) is often given primacy of
place. Representative in style, insistent on accuracy of detail, he trained
numerous students, many of whom went on to train others. Altogether, he
influenced an era.
Even if they had not started in Pyles world, Forsythe and Johnson
and Smith might still have been representative in style. They were Westerners
now, and they were satisfying insatiable national curiosity about the
West: they were fulfilling a certain instructional or informational capacity.
They could be selective about what they depicted, but whatever it was
had to be recognizable. Otherwise, their credibility would have suffered.
So once they had really left commercial art behind and found a new footing,
they remained pretty constant: none of the group radically reinvented
himself. However, saying their approaches at the outset were their approaches
at the end is not to detract. There are, after all, degrees of creativity,
and each man had had a transition, if not a breakthrough,
to his credit.
Moreover, when they embarked for Californiacertainly when they reached
AlhambraForsythe and Smith were in their thirties, Johnson in his
forties. Statistically, their life expectancy at birth had been less than
fifty years, so by the standards of the day, they were no longer young.
On the other hand, the literature argues that the thirties and forties
are the ages of greatest artistic creativity. Furthermore, all three men
were artistically productive beyond those decades. One might well ask,
therefore, what sparked and sustained them? What were the wellsprings
of their creative accomplishment?
Forsythes father was
a merchant, but he recognized his sons talent and quite possibly
paid for instruction both at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design
and at the New York Art Students League. Johnsons grandmother and
father were amateur artists, and the fathers sketches had an inspirational
effect on the son. Smiths father contributed to the decorating of
the New York State Capitol at Albany.
Finding confirmation, then, is research indicating that a childs
family may both spark and nurture creativity. Although a youngster can
drive off entirely on his own, it appears obvious that a pre-existing
family interest can both fuel the engine and turn the ignition switch.
All three of the artists were high school drop-outs, but they did attend
established art schools where they had celebrated teachers. Frank V. DuMond
was one of Forsythes instructors at New Yorks Art Students
League. John H. Twachtman, William Merritt Chase, and Robert Henri were
Johnson mentors, all in New York, the first at the New York School of
Art, the others at the Art Students League. Frank Duveneck taught Smith
at the Cincinnati Academy of Art, and Winsor McKay proved helpful in Lexington,
Dropping out of high school should not signal over much: during the years
of interest, less than 10 percent of the U.S. population got high school
diplomas. To boot, the research shows that formal, traditional classrooms
do not appear to enhance creativity. Notable examples of the phenomenon
are Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Igor Stravinsky.
Of greater consequence was the art school attendance. It undoubtedly increased
their technical competence in the domaincompetence which surely
proved vital to their creative accomplishment. And it provided mentoringdoubtless
another vital component of their accomplishment.
All three of the artists married, and all three did so in their twenties.
In this respect they were rather typical: most of the population married
in those days, and the Census of 1900 indicated the median age of marriage
was about 26 for men. What makes them atypical, though, is the fact that
none had children: that same census indicates the national average household
size was 4.76 people; two-person households constituted just 15 percent
of the total.
All three seem to have had happy marriages. The Forsythes and the Smiths
celebrated golden wedding anniversaries; the Johnsons surely would have,
too, had Frank not died unexpectedly. Smith, nevertheless, did miss familya
fact he made clear to his sister. While you have had many things
happen in the past years to cause you grief and trouble, he wrote,
you have one priceless boon. You are surrounded by your family which
is a great comfort in times of stress. That is something that will be
denied Emma and myself.
The literature about the influence
of adult family life on creativity is not extensive. One study, however,
argues a negative relation between numbers of children and creative performance,
suggesting the fewer the domestic distractions, the more abundant the
art. The suggestion might well apply here. Better established in the literature
is the importance of emotional support when creators are making breakthroughs.
Forsythe, Johnson, and Smith were making important transitions, if not
breakthroughs, when they came west: they were all putting their careers
at some risk. To believe they would have done so absent their wives
backing is quite difficult.
Another thing. When the Forsythes settled in Alhambra, Cotta Forsythes
parents were there already. And though Forsythe had a hand in the Johnsons
move, the fact is that Vinnie Johnsons parents, sister, and brother-in-law
all came about the same time as Frank and Vinnie did. The Smiths
arrival, by contrast, seems simply to have been at Johnsons aegis.
Even so, the role of the two wives families looks truly influential.
Each of the three artistsForsythe, Johnson, Smithprompted
the arrival of other artists. Forsythe and Norman Rockwell had shared
Frederic Remingtons former studio in New Rochelle, NewYork. When
Rockwells first marriage ended in divorce in 1930, Forsythe introduced
him to Mary Barstow, whom Rockwell married later in 1930. More to the
point, the Barstows lived on Champion Pl., and over the next few years
the Rockwells visited there. Johnson had known Eli Harvey, a sculptor
of animals, in New York. Johnson sparked Harveys interest in Champion
Pl., and Harvey built a home and studio there. He was elderly by this
point, and how much new sculpture he undertook is problematic. Never mind,
his was one of the studios Rockwell used. Smith had a part in all this,
too, in a poignant way. After he died in 1949, Sam Hyde Harris, another
commercial artist turning to the easel, bought the property. Harris, however,
only used it for work: he lived on N. Hidalgo Ave., a few blocks west.
Meanwhile, the three pioneers were interacting socially. In 1925, for
example, before the colony was entirely in place, the Johnsons reached
Los Angeles harbor after a voyage from New York. On hand to meet them
were the Forsythes and Smiths. Then, too, Vinnie Johnson had begun giving
studio parties about 1913; she maintained the custom in Alhambra,
where the Forsythes and Smiths were among the guests.
More significantly, the pioneers worked side by side in the field. Smith
and Forsythe were reported to be sketching jointly in the Palm Springs
area in 1927. The Johnsons and Forsythes seem to have taken more than
one trip together. But what is really interesting is a photo in the Johnson
Collection, showing all three encamped with their wives in the Sierras.
As has been said, the artists were making transitions, if not breakthroughs.
Familial support would have been important, but so would the encouragement
of actively working, unthreatening colleagues. Johnson put it well when
he said that each work of art is an experiment, and the knowledge
gained by each individual in his effort at expression, is ofttimes of
greater value to ones fellow artists than that gleaned from books.
The three surely must have been exchanging opinions and sharing views
in collegial fashion at this point.
Finally, they reached beyond themselves and their friends, offering their
efforts to the public, submitting to the evaluation of professional critics
and collectors and peers. They sought to impress the field. With what
Neither the domain in which
Forsythe, Johnson, and Smith did their work nor the field they sought
to impress when they showed that work were of a piece. At least two disputes
affected both. One concerned nationalism.
During the first years of Americas independence, some thinkers argued
that Americas culture was not sufficiently assertive, that it took
too many cues from Europe. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman were among
this group. Early on, at least when it came to graphic art, the nationalists
may have been overly anxious. As the century closed, however, European
art did become widely popular. Nevertheless, vigorous counterpoints emerged,
exemplified by Robert Henri and then by Thomas Hart Benton.
Graphic art in and of the West and California had had a documentary strain
from its start, with regional inspiration lingering well into the twentieth
century. In any case Johnson, Smith, and Forsythe left scant doubt about
where they stood. Johnson unabashedly held his specialty to be paintings
of Western Life. And one of his mentors, notably, had been Robert
Henri. Smith asked, Why go elsewhere? Where are mountains nobler
than the Sierras? Where are seas bluer than off the California coast?
Where are forests to compare with our own? Indeed, he said, Whatever
I have seen elsewhere I have found in California, and more glorious. It
is all here. And Forsythe declared, The Golden State is so
different in climate and geography from other portions of the country
that she exercises an influence over her painters which they cannot escape.
Just as clearly the three artists took a stand in a second dispute affecting
both domain and field. This was significantly about tradition.
Toward the nineteenth centurys end, thinkers on both sides of the
Atlantic began questioning virtually all the old rules. Involved was not
just graphic art, but also literature, music, architectureeven the
social and physical sciences. What provoked the phenomenon, indeed just
what it was, essentially, has yet to be agreed. But modernism yielded
various new forms of expression, which some people found exciting and
others considered nonsensical. In graphic art it often entailed less representation
and more emphasis on the artists psyche.
Modernism turned up in the West and California during the early 1900s.
Several of the Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico artists were incorporating
one or another of its modes at least by 1920. A Modern Art Society was
organized in Los Angeles in 1916, but individual modernists had appeared
there even earlier. Needless to say, they found both friends and foes.
Among the skeptics were Forsythe, Johnson, and Smith. The fault,
as I see it, Forsythe said, is not in any of the modern movements,
which are life-giving, but in the army of insincere apes who litter the
walls with imitative, abusive nightmares, as a short cut to easy money.
Asked for his thoughts about modernism, Johnson said, In my opinion,
sincerity is the keynote of all great art. Lack of it, and ignorance are
bound to crop out and attract attention but [sic] are not desirable. However
there are many fine things done in this modern style. And Smith
declared, I have no quarrel with the very few able painters who
with a background of sound fundamental training are experimenting with
abstract problems. But I do protest strenuously against the great majority
of that group who with no background and with very little art training
are foisting their half-baked efforts, the results of half-digested ideas,
on the public under the name of art, with the help of some Museums and
public galleries and a few so-called art patrons.
The three artists regional subject matter and traditional styles,
combined, encouraged participation in a successful and rather unique venture.
As early as 1923, Jack Wilkinson Smith had a key role in the start of
the Painters of the West and the Biltmore Salon (or Gallery). The Painters
of the West was a group of 20 artists (Forsythe, Johnson, and Smith among
them) who concentrated on representational depictions of the Western scene.
The Salon, located in the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, was its marketing
arm. Although the two entities changed over time, Smith remained a central
figure, not only as one of the Salons contributing artists, but
also as its principal executive officer. The undertaking enhanced the
Southlands cultural life. Significantly, as well, it gave the artists
a place where their work might be viewed by professional critics, collectors,
When it came to professional critics, there seemed to be approval, yet
reluctance to forget the three artists backgrounds in illustration.
With Clyde Forsythe this was particularly so. Arthur Millier, one of Southern
Californias most important critics, reviewed a Forsythe exhibit
at the Biltmore Salon, for the most part desert scenes. In these,
said Millier, the light and color are both convincingly true and
harmonious. Many of these will wear exceedingly well, for into them the
artist puts his considerable knowledge of the desert. But just the
next year, commenting on another Forsythe show, Millier remarked, The
large portraits or story-telling pieces, would be better as reproduced
illustrations than as framed paintings.
The same was true even of Frank Tenney Johnson, whose canvases had gained
popularity both locally and nationally. Said Fred Hogue, Frank Tenney
Johnson has won with his brush a place in the front rank of contemporary
artists. His best is equal to the best in any company. And Everett
Carroll Maxwell declared, This artist stands alone in his ability
to depict an incident in the life of the old West, or the West of today,
without losing sight of moodthe mystery of haunting night, or the
stinging heat of desert noonday. But then Maxwell went on, It
is this mystery that saves Johnsons pictures from being illustrations
and makes them fundamentally works of art.
Jack Wilkinson Smith experienced like treatment. Writing about an exhibit
at the Biltmore Salon, Arthur Millier said that Smith makes a convincing
demonstration of his essential poetry and his ideals of craftsmanship.
Nevertheless, Millier soon observed, When Smith introduces figures
into his pictures they tend to become illustrations at the expense of
art. Four years later Fred Hogue was not so equivocal. Jack
Wilkinson Smith is the premier painter of California sunlight, he
said. He may violate the classic canons of art, but the canvases
he creates may cause future critics to revise the accepted canons.
Aesthetic values have changed and do change; Hogue was thoughtful and
humble enough to recognize the fact.
Critics aside, some collectors must have liked what the three did. Vinnie
Johnson kept a record of Franks sales, and in 1933, the year the
Great Depression was at its worst, his paintings grossed over $12,000,
of which a substantial percent came from the Biltmore Salon. Not bad when
one considers how the dollar has inflated in the last seven decades. Regrettably,
though, we do not have any such records for Smith or Forsythe, nor do
we have the books of the Biltmore Salonat least immediately. The
best we can do is simply infer their paintings did sell.
In fact, however, while major Southland collectors did not disdain local
art, they favored the East Coast or, more likely, Europe. There were exceptions,
true enough. Henry E. Huntington acquired a score of Pasadena painter
Carl Moons depictions of Native Americans. Aline Barnsdall was interested
in the California Art Club, headquartered in Los Angeles, and bought works
by local artists such as Emil Kosa, Millard Sheets, and Stanton Macdonald-Wright.
But again these were exceptions. So thinking Forsythe, Johnson, or Smith
had really significant patronslocally anywayseems questionable.
Erstwhile illustrators they may have been, but Johnson, Smith, and Forsythe
were all three honored by their peers in various ways. The American National
Academy of Design awarded Johnson associate status in 1929 and full membership
in 1937. Few other Californians had been so recognized, and Johnson was
enormously pleased. The California Art Club elected Smith its president
in 1920 and 1921. He rightly claimed a role in establishing it as
a strong civic cultural influence in Southern California. It chose
Johnson president four times1935 through 1938and he thought
that during his tenure there should be featured amongst other things
of interest to Artists, such activities as would tend to increase their
knowledge of materials, methods, and means of producing the best expression
possible in the different lines followed. In 1939 a painting by
each of the three men was among those shown at the Golden Gate Exposition
in San Francisco. There were certainly other oils, yet they not only dated
from Californias start to the expositions opening, but also
reflected both conservative and modern styles.
Good company, for sure.
Keeping the fields approval in mind, but returning to creativity
itself for a moment, one finds debate about the effect of rewardat
least extrinsic reward. Those who hold it in small regard seem to suggest
it implies control, which, earlier, has been shown to be inhibiting. But
should extrinsic reward, as from critics or collectors or peers, truly
be no more than a by-product, it would seem to fall into the realm of
That noted, what have we altogether?
Artists Alley has actually
remained something of a colony over the years. Nonetheless, it really
enjoyed its heyday during the 1920s and 1930s, and even then
it never drew residents from domains other than the graphic or plastic
arts. In this respect it was at odds with certain more celebrated coloniesTaos
and Santa Fe in New Mexico, for example, or Monterey and Carmel in Californiawhere
a greater number of domains were represented.
Still and all, the story of its beginnings is useful. Therein, first off,
one finds not just a few ingredients of creativitys necessary adjuncts,
domain and field, but more importantly some makings of creativity itself.
Most notably as to the latter, Artists Alley was a place where creators
could exchange ideas in a supportive environment. When all is said and
done, this may have been what really gave it purpose and significance.
In addition, however, one may undertake a bit of extrapolation. Forsythe
and Johnson probably had family in mind when they chose Alhambra; after
that, friend prompted friend. Has it been so different with numerous colonies?
The personal element, in short, has existed elsewhere.
Finally, concentrating on both domain and field, one may argue Southern
California was scarcely a cultural wasteland during the early 1900s.
It had professional critics who were knowledgeable and articulate. It
had active collectors who, admittedly, preferred the East Coast or Europe
but, in this, followed the tastes of the day as much as anything. It had
graphic artists of distinctive merit_never mind creators in other realms.
Although hardly as extensive or sophisticated as Paris or New York, say,
given its population and priorities, the Southland had nothing to be ashamed
The author David T. Leary
is a southern California native. He completed his undergraduate work at
Stanford University and received a doctorate from the University of Southern
California. Dr. Leary taught at Pasadena City College for many years with
a special interest in California history. For his research on Three
Creators of Artists Alley and requisite permission to quote,
Dr. Leary especially wishes to acknowledge: The Bancroft Library at the
University of California, Berkeley for their papers on Jack Wilkinson
Smith; The McCracken Research Library at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center
for their papers on Frank Tenney Johnson; and The Smithsonian Institutions
Archives of American Art for items pertaining to Clyde Forsythe (there
is no single repository on Forsythe).
On the first sorts of colonies,
see Robert V. Hine, Californias Utopian Colonies (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1983), esp. chap. 9. On the second, see Nancy Dustin
Wall Moure, California Art, 450 Years of Painting and Other Media (Glendale,
Calif.: Dustin, 1998), esp. chap. 15.
Eve Madigan, Artistic Ramblings_Then and Now, A Thumb-Nail Sketch of Alhambra
Artists (n.p., n.d.), is a useful booklet. A recent newspaper article
is Cecilia Rasmussen, Southland Sojourns Left Their Mark,
Los Angeles Times, 3 Jun. 2001, pt. B, p. 4.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census: 1920, Population, 4 vols.
(Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1921-23), vol. 1, table 51, p. 183; U.S. Bureau
of the Census, Sixteenth Census: 1940, Population, 4 vols. (Washington,
D.C.: GPO, 1942-43), vol. 1, table 7, p. 129.
There is a growing body of work on creativity. The model here derives
from Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, Creativity, Flow and the Psychology of Discovery
and Invention (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 27-28, as well as from
Howard Gardner, Creating Minds, An Anatomy of Creativity Seen through
the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and
Gandhi (New York: Basic Books, 1993), 37-40. A caveat is that the models
elements may overlap: creators, for example, may judge other creators
work and thus become members of the field.
See for example Michael Jacobs, The Good and Simple Life, Artist Colonies
in Europe and America (Oxford: Phaidon, 1985), or Steve Shipp, American
Art Colonies, 1850-1930, A Historical Guide to Americas Original
Art Colonies and Their Artists (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1996).
Paul J. Karlstrom, Modernism in Southern California, 1920-1956,
Reflections on the Art and the Times, in Paul J. Karlstrom and Susan
Ehrlich, Turning the Tide: Early Los Angeles Modernists, 1920-1956, exhibit
catalog (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1990), 13-19;
Sarah Vure, Circles of Influence, Impressionism to Modernism in Southern
California Art, 1910/1930, exhibit catalog (Newport Beach, Calif.: Orange
County Museum of Art, 2000), 26-28.
On population see U.S. Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census: 1900, Population,
2 pts. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1901-02), pt. 1, table 5, p. 76. Los Angeles
City had just over a hundred thousand residents at the centurys
start. On infrastructure see Winifred Haines Higgins, Art Collecting in
the Los Angeles Area, 1910-1960, doctoral dissertation, University of
California, Los Angeles, 1963 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms,
1982), 6. Higgins is less positive about early Los Angeles culture than
Karlstrom or Vure (n. 6 above). See for example her remarks on 6 and 100.
Forsythes papers do not seem to have survived. But about 1954, on
his Clyde Forsythe letterhead, he typed a two-page biographic
sketch (in Los Angeles Examiner Collection, clippings morgue, ff. Forsythe,
Regional History Collection, University of Southern California, Los Angeles).
He also prepared brief biographic sketches for his friend John Hilton
(quoted in Hilton, He Paints the Ghost Towns, Desert Magazine,
Apr. 1942, 15-16) and the Los Angeles Westerners (Clyde Forsythe, Contributors,
Los Angeles Westerners, Brand Book, 7 , 288-89). Two accounts by
people who knew him are helpful: Ed Ainsworth, Clyde Forsythe, The
Man Who Dipped His Brushes in the Sky, in Painters of the Desert
(Palm Desert, Calif.: Desert Magazine, 1960), 22-28; Edith James Harvey,
Clyde Forsythe, Alhambra Artist, Alhambra Post-Advocate, 26
Sep. 1930, pt. 2, p. 6. On the family in Los Angeles, see Los Angeles
City Directory, 1895-1910, s.vv. William B. Forsyth or William
B. Forsythe. The directory is hereafter cited as LACD.
Ainsworth, Forsythe, 24-25; Forsythe, Forsythe,
[1-2]; Forsythe, Contributors, 288-89. For Herrimans
vita see Judith OSullivan, The Great America Comic Strip, One Hundred
Years of Cartoon Art (Boston: Little, Brown, 1990), 169-70.
On the posters see Labert St. Clair, The Story of the Liberty Loans (Washington,
D.C.: James William Bryan, 1919), esp. 161. For the comics see Ed Ainsworth,
The Cowboy in Art (Cleveland: World, 1968), 128-30.
Ainsworth, Forsythe, 25; Forsythe, Forsythe, ;
Hilton, Paints, 16.
Alhambra City Directory, 1922-35, s.v. Victor C. Forsythe.
The directory was apparently not published in 1921. It is hereafter cited
San Marino City Directory, 1936-62, s.v. Victor C. Forsythe.
Desert Artist Marks 26th Year in Studio, Los Angeles Times,
11 Sep. 1946, pt. 2, p. 1.
Forsythe, Contributors, 288.
Johnsons papers are MS 12, McCracken Research Library, Buffalo Bill
Historical Center, Cody, Wyo. They are hereafter cited as FTJ Collection.
The standard biography is Harold McCracken, The Frank Tenney Johnson Book,
A Master Painter of the Old West (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974).
A useful account by one who knew him is Edith James Harvey, Dreams
of Youth on Ranges, Alhambra Post-Advocate, 17 Nov. 1930, 11.
McCracken, Book, 27-34.
Grand Central Art Galleries, New York City, F. Tenney Johnson, A.N.A.,
Painter of Western Life, n.d., in Ferdinand Perret Collection, microfilm
reel 3858, frame 412, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The Archives are hereafter cited as AAA/SI. See also Arthur Millier, Frank
Tenney Johnson, A.N.A., Los Angeles Times, 16 Nov. 1930, pt. 3,
McCracken, Book, esp. 34, 50, 97-98.
Ibid, esp. 107, 114, 126, 130, 155. See also ACD, 1926-39, s.v. F.
Frank Tenney Johnson, Frank Tenney Johnson, A.N.A., 1936,
in Perret Collection, microfilm reel 3858, frame 359, AAA/SI; Melissa
J. Webster, Frank Tenney Johnson, The Rimrock Years (Cody, Wyo.: Buffalo
Bill Historical Center, 1986), 27.
McCracken, Book, 190-94.
Smiths papers are BANC MSS 85/31c, Bancroft Library, University
of California, Berkeley. The collection is hereafter cited as JWS Papers.
An account by one who knew him is especially helpful: Edith James Harvey,
Scenic Splendor on Golden Coast Inspired Local Artist, Alhambra
Post-Advocate, 1 Nov. 1930, 3. F.C. Schindler, Tell Life History
of Jack Wilkinson Smith, Los Angeles Evening Herald, 24 May 1924,
pt. B, p. 10 is helpful, too. The Cuba item turns up in several obituaries
(e.g., New York Times, 9 Jan. 1949, 72). While it may have happened, the
Cincinnati Enquirer seems to have neither sketches signed by him for the
period, nor immediate information about any employment.
Arthur Millier, Jack Wilkinson Smith, Los Angeles Times, 5
Oct. 1930, pt. 3, pp. 22, 24. See also LACD, 1908, 1911-26, s.vv. Jack
Smith or Jack W. Smith.
Madigan, Ramblings, ; McCracken, Book, 159. See also ACD, 1926-49,
s.vv. J. Wilkinson Smith or Jack W. Smith.
A.M. [Arthur Millier?], The Editors Own Page, Touring
Topics, Jun. 1928, 9.
Jack Wilkinson Smith to Alice Smith Burrows, letter, 28 Nov. 1947, in
JWS Papers, Bancroft Library.
Teresa M. Amabile, The Social Psychology of Creativity (New York: Springer-Verlag,
1983), 6, 74, 91, 136.
Ainsworth, Forsythe, 25; Harvey, Forsythe.
Forsythe, Contributors, 288.
McCracken, Book, 130.
Grand Central, Johnson.
See Literary Digest, 9 Jul. 1932, cover.
Harvey, Scenic Splendor.
Millier, Smith, 22; Lee Shippey, Lee Side oL.A.,
Los Angeles Times, 21 Nov. 1929, pt. 2, p. 4.
Alma May Cook, Smith at Best in Art Exhibition at Biltmore,
Los Angeles Evening Express, 4 Nov. 1929, 8.
Jan Willem Schulte Nordholt, The Myth of the West, trans. by Herbert H.
Rowen (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995), esp. chaps. 6 and 10; Richard
W. Van Alstyne, The Rising American Empire (Oxford: Blackwell, 1960),
esp. chaps. 4 and 5.
Although review of it has little place here, theorizing about the West
continued after the U.S. reached the Pacific Coast (Schulte Nordholt,
Myth, esp. chap. 11; Van Alstyne, Empire, esp. chaps. 6 and 8).
Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain), Fenimore Coopers
Literary Offenses, in How to Tell a Story and Other Essays (New
York: Harper, 1897), 93-116; Martin Ridge, The American West: From
Frontier to Region, New Mexico Historical Review, 64 (1989), 125-41;
Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land, The American West in Symbol and Myth (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950), esp. chap. 22; Elliott West, A
Longer, Grimmer, but More Interesting Story, in Patricia Nelson
Limerick et al. (eds.), Trails, Toward a New Western History (Lawrence:
University Press of Kansas, 1991), 103-11.
William H. Goetzmann and William N. Goetzmann, The West of the Imagination
(New York: Norton, 1986), 318-23.
Fred Hogue, Nocturne Paintings Depict Frontier Days, Los Angeles
Times, 1 Nov. 1936, pt. 3, p. 4.
E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art (London: Phaidon, 1994), chap. 27.
James J. Best, American Popular Illustration, A Reference Guide (Westport,
Conn.: Greenwood, 1984), 7-8; Jo Ann Early Levin, The Golden Age of Illustration:
Popular Art in American Magazines, 1850-1925, doctoral dissertation, University
of Pennsylvania, 1980 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms, 1983),
chap. 1; Susan E. Meyer, Americas Great Illustrators (New York:
Galahad, 1978), 8-37.
Best, Illustration, 84-99; Goetzmann and Goetzmann, West, 315-18; Meyer,
Goetzmann and Goetzmann, West, ix-xiii; E.H. Gombrich, The Image and the
Eye, Further Studies in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (Ithaca,
N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982), 137-61.
Amabile, Creativity, 32.
Gardner, Creating, 399-400.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States,
Colonial Times to 1970, 2 pts. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1975), pt. 1, ser.
B107-15, p. 55.
Amabile, Creativity, 85. See also Gardner, Creating, 27, 376.
Ainsworth, Forsythe, 24; McCracken, Book, 13, 20; Millier,
Amabile, Creativity, 168, 195.
Edan M. Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940, s.v. Victor Clyde
Forsythe; McCracken, Book, 30-31, 33; Schindler, Smith.
Just for the record, it should be noted that Harvard Military School granted
Forsythe a diploma in 1925 (Diploma Is Awarded to Local Artist,
Alhambra Post-Advocate, 13 Jun. 1925, 1).
Census Bureau, Historical Statistics, pt. 1, ser. H598-601, p. 379.
Amabile, Creativity, 7; Gardner, Creating, 141, 191.
Amabile, Creativity, 70; Gardner, Creating, 32.
Amabile, Creativity, 146-49.
Census Bureau, Historical Statistics, pt. 1, ser. A158-59, p. 19.
Ibid., ser. A288-319, p. 41; ser. A335-49, p. 42.
Jack Wilkinson Smith to Alice Smith Burrows, letter, 16 Sep. 1947, in
JWS Papers, Bancroft Library.
Amabile, Creativity, 169.
Gardner, Creating, 384-86.
The Thomas R. Owens lived in central Los Angeles for many years; they
moved to Alhambra about 1912 (LACD, 1893-12). The Owens and Forsythes
were sharing the same residence on S. Wilson Ave. (now Atlantic Blvd.)
in 1922 (ACD, 1922).
ACD, 1922-26, s.v., John W. Francis; ACD, 1922-23, s.v. James
W. Ash. The familys shared residence was on S. Fourth St.
Madigan, Ramblings, .
Laura Claridge, Norman Rockwell, A Life (New York: Random House, 2001),
esp. 130, 219, 222-25, 265, 296.
Eli Harvey, The Autobiography of Eli Harvey, Quaker Sculptor from Ohio,
ed. Dorothy Z. Bicker et al., 2nd ed.
(Wilmington, Oh.: Clinton County Historical Society, 1969), esp. 88-89.
See also Norman Rockwells Foreword.
Mary Sue Westland, Artists Alley Becoming Memory,
Alhambra Post-Advocate, 28 Sep. 1968, pt. A, p. 14.
Famous Painter Has Novel Trip, Alhambra Post-Advocate, 12
Jun. 1925, 1.
McCracken, Book, 103, 157.
Southland Calendar, California Southland, Mar. 1927, 5.
McCracken, Book, 140.
Smiths, Forsyths [sic] JohnsonsCamping in High Sierras,
n.d., in FTJ Collection, ser. 5A, box 6, no. 72-589, McCracken Research
Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity, 65-68; Vera John-Steiner, Creative Collaboration
(New York: Oxford, 2000), esp. chap. 3.
Frank Tenney Johnson, Broadcast KFAC Sept. 1935, 1, in FTJ
Collection, ser. 2, box 1, ff. 1, McCracken Research Library.
Daniel Boorstein, The Americans, vol. 3, The Democratic Experience (New
York: Random House, 1973), esp. 502-12; James T. Flexner, That Wilder
Image, The Painting of Americas Native School from Thomas Cole to
Winslow Homer (Boston: Little, Brown, 1962), xi-xiii.
Moure, California Art, 228-36; Susanne Sentell Shepherd, American Scene
Paining: The Rise of Regionalism, masters thesis, Stephen F. Austin
State University, Tex., 1979 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms,
Fred Hogue, Jack Smith, Los Angeles Times, 12 Aug. 1928, pt.
2, p. 4.
Clyde Forsythe, The Art of California, Arrowhead Magazine,
Nov. 1923, 9.
Norman F. Cantor, Twentieth-Century Culture, Modernism to Deconstruction
(New York: Peter Lang, 1988), esp. chap. 2.
Antony Anderson, Of Art and Artists, Los Angeles Times, 24
Dec. 1916, pt. 3, p. 13; Moure, California Art, 225-28; Sharyn Rohlfsen
Udall, Modernist Painting in New Mexico, 1913-1935 (Albuquerque: University
of New Mexico Press, 1984), 1-16.
Alma May Cook, Nightmare Paintings Are Assailed by Clyde
Forsythe, Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express, 8 Aug. 1939, pt.
B, p. 1.
Frank Tenney Johnson, Broadcast over KFCA [KFAC] November 30, 1934,
4, in FTJ Collection, ser. 2, box 2, ff. 2, McCracken Research Library.
[Jack Wilkinson Smith], Introduction by Alma May Cook, [Smiths
remarks at the opening of a show at the Biltmore Salon], n.d., in JWS
Papers, Bancroft Library.
Jack Wilkinson Smith to Edward Chiapella, letter, 8 Jan. 1948, in Perret
Collection, microfilm reel 3863, frames 1436-37, AAA/SI; Harvey, Scenic
Combine Western Painters at Biltmore, For Arts Sake,
1 Jun. 1924, 1;Everett Carroll Maxwell, Salon of Painters of the
West, Overland Monthly, Nov. 1931, 15 and 29.
American Art Annual, 21 (1924) through 30 (1933) lists the officers of
both entities. Smith related well to the business community (Millier,
Smith, 24). His association with businessmen, he said, had
improved his painting (F.C. Schindler, Famous Artist Tells Student
of Value of Ideas in Painting (Los Angeles Evening Herald, 17 May
1924, pt. B, p. 11).
See, for example, Arthur Millier, Of Art and Artists, Los
Angeles Times, 25 May 1924, pt. 3, p. 13. Still, in the 1920s Los
Angeles could claim over thirty galleries (Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, Los
Angeles Painters of the Nineteen-Twenties, exhibit catalog [Claremont,
Calif.: Pomona College Gallery, 1972], n.p.).
A.M. [Arthur Millier], Forsythe Exhibits, Los Angeles Times,
16 Mar. 1941, pt. 3, p. 7; A.M., Clyde Forsythe, Los Angeles
Times, 17 May 1942, pt. 3, p. 5.
Fred Hogue, In Navajo Land, Los Angeles Times, 24 Mar. 1928,
pt. 2, p. 4; Everett Carroll Maxwell, When Romance Rides, The Art
of F. Tenney Johnson, A.N.A., Overland Monthly, Dec. 1931, 28.
Arthur Millier, Southland Landscapist Pursues Poetic Quality,
Los Angeles Times, 31 Jan. 1932, pt. 3, p. 10; Fred Hogue, Smith
Termed Premier Painter of Our Light, Los Angeles Times, 4 Oct. 1936,
pt. 3, p. 4.
[Vinnie F. Johnson], Art Sales Ledger, 1928-36 Inclusive,
in FTJ Collection, ser. 3, box 1, ff. 118, p. 132, McCracken Research
For example see checklists in Higgins, Art Collecting, 56-69, 112-16,
The Huntington Art Collections: A Handbook (San Marino, Calif.: Huntington
Library, 1986), 154-55.
Higgins, Art Collecting, 139-40, 154-61.
McCracken, Book, 173, 190.
Presidents in Whos Who in the California Art Club, Inc.
([Los Angeles: California Art Club, 1984]), n.p.; Smith to Chiapella,
Presidents, California Art Club; Johnson, Broadcast
KFAC Sept. 1935, 1.
California Commission, Golden Gate International Exposition, Illustrated
Catalogue, Art Exhibition by California Artists, 1939 (San Francisco,
), esp. 35, 36, 37.
Amabile, Creativity, esp. 119-21; Csikszentmihaly, Creativity, 334-35.
Arrell M. Gibson, The Santa Fe and Taos Colonies, Age of the Muses, 1900-1942
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983) attends to the first pair;
Franklin D. Walker, The Seacoast of Bohemia, new and enl. ed. (Santa Barbara,
Calif.: Peregrine Smith, 1973) examines the other two.
More on the friendship factor is in McCracken, Book, 157-58.
Robert Henri, for example, was influential in drawing artists to Santa
Fe (Gibson, Santa Fe and Taos, 34). Poet George Sterling was a particular
advocate of the colony at Carmel (Walker, Seacoast, esp. 13, 36).