© By Eric J. Merrell, CAC Historian
From the Fall 2008 CAC Newsletter

CAC Medal of Honor by Philip Paval (1899-1974). Collection Chartwell House, England.
Reproduced by kind permission of Mr. Winston S. Churchill.

Since its inception in December 1909, the California Art Club has attracted renowned personalities and invited them to participate as honored guests, speakers, and members. This list includes world-famous artists, architects, musicians, actors, doctors, and even a world leader or two.[1] Many of the early meetings, held at the “Hollyhock House” designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, hosted keynote speakers expounding on any number of topics; and when a celebrity presence came to town and was reported on by the city’s newspapers, all of Los Angeles was abuzz with the news.[2]

Perhaps the apex of CAC-celebrity interaction occurred during the tenure of Philip Kran Paval (1899-1971) as 24th President of the CAC, from 1953-1955. Born in Nykobing, Denmark, Paval emigrated to the U.S. in 1919 and during the 1920’s established a silversmith shop in Los Angeles. He soon became well known for his silver and gold sculptures, as well as his paintings of Hollywood celebrities, exhibiting his work often and receiving considerable press coverage. His autobiography[3] is filled with stories recounting his adventures that seem to involve everyone in Hollywood at the time – Mary Pickford, Vincent Price, Errol Flynn, Elizabeth Taylor and Charlie Chaplin are but a few of the names a reader would recognize.

Paval was called upon by his friend Tom Knudsen of Knudsen’s Creamery in Pasadena to design a crest for President Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) to hang in the Castle of Frederikborg in Denmark[4], a result of Eisenhower’s involvement in freeing Europe during World War II while still a General. When Paval became CAC President, he proposed to the Board that they make both Eisenhower and Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874-1965) honorary members of the CAC, knowing that both statesmen were also artists.[5] The two world leaders were each sent an Honorary Membership certificate along with a Medal of Honor, the medal being designed and created by Paval.[6]

Sir Winston Churchill painting at his easel, February 1946, Miami Beach

Although Eisenhower declined (he was President of the United States at the time, and it was his policy to decline memberships unless they were on a national level)[7], Churchill accepted: “I must tell you of the great pleasure that this gives me and I shall always value the medal and life membership card which you have presented to me.”[8] When President Paval and the CAC received this news, Los Angeles newspapers reported the widespread excitement and honor that the club felt by Churchill’s acceptance.[9] A little later, on two separate occasions,[10] Paval requested Churchill to again favor the CAC by lending paintings to the Annual Exhibitions, offering to pay for shipping; but the CAC’s entreaties were politely refused in a letter that explained: “[Sir Winston] is complimented by your thought of him, but very much regrets that he cannot do as you ask, as he does not ever lend his paintings for exhibition.”[11]

The medal that Paval created and the California Art Club awarded to Churchill is in the collection of Chartwell House, England, where it may be viewed today along with many of Sir Winston Churchill’s paintings. The California Art Club has a great legacy, and if the opinions of statesmen and the actions of world-famous personalities are to be recognized, then, their endorsements of the California Art Club are well worth appreciating.

Sir Winston Churchill painting on location.

[1] Various California Art Club Bulletins, 1925-32; The California Art Club: A History (1909-1995) by Susan Landauer, Ph.D.

[2] Mapping of a Decade: Los Angeles During the 1930’s by Margaret Nieto

[3] Paval, Autobiography of a Hollywood Artist, Gunther Press, 1968

[4] Ibid. p.177-179; For Danish Castle: Coat of Arms for Ike Made by Local Artist, unnamed and undated newspaper clipping

[5] Paval, op. cit. p.180

[6] CAC Medal of Honor, collection of Chartwell House, U.K.

[7] Letter from Eisenhower to Paval, May 11, 1954; Email from Herb Pankratz, Archivist, Eisenhower Library to Eric Merrell, May 8, 2008

[8] Paval, op. cit. p.194; Letter from Churchill to Paval, May 12, 1954

[9] Paval, loc. cit.; California Art Club Honor to Churchill, by Alma May Cook, Los Angeles Evening Herald & Express, undated

[10] Letter from Paval to Churchill, August 21, 1954, and a second undated letter (ca. 1956-57)

[11] Correspondence between Paval and Churchill, August 28, 1954 and January 28, 1957