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Who Was Sam? The Art of Sam Hyde Harris (1889-1977)
On view January 24- April 29, 2007
Sam Hyde Harris Sam Hyde Harris is among the celebrated group of Southern California painters of the 1920s to 1970s that included William Wendt, Jack Wilkinson Smith, Clyde Forsythe, Edgar Payne, Hanson Puthuff and Orrin White. These artists preserved the natural beauty of the Southern California landscape in their paintings before it was lost to us with development.

Sam Hyde Harris led a fascinating, complex life. This exhibition explores the many aspects of his career. He was a fine artist, he operated a successful commercial art business, and he was a master teacher. In his lifetime, Harris produced somewhere between 2500-3000 oil paintings. Who Was Sam includes more than 250 pieces: one gallery devoted to approximately 100 paintings, and another to his commercial work, including sketches, mixed media and illustrations. Visitors will see examples of Harris’ progressions from sketch to tempura to oil and come away with an understanding of how this art was created.

Sam Hyde Harris was born in England, one of seven children in a working class family. In his formative years, he was befriended by an elderly local artist who encouraged his artistic talent and interest. As a teenager his family moved to Los Angeles. He enrolled in evening classes at the Art Students League and the Cannon Art School, studying with some of California’s foremost artists.

  Thank you to our generous exhibition donors:

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation
Robert & Leslie Zasa
John Moran Auctioneers, Inc.
Charles Mauch

Tirage Art Gallery

Mike Sumner Painting

National Mustang Association & Harris Art Works
Judy Taylor Interior Design, Inc.
Randy & Judy Wilson

Exhibit Catalog
The Exhibit Catalog is now available in the Museum Store.
To earn a living as a young man, he worked at a variety of jobs in advertising art, eventually developing a successful commercial art business, designing and printing advertisements and posters for such prestigious clients as Van de Kamps Bakeries. Sam designed their well-known windmill logo and the original lettering. Other clients included the Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Santa Fe Railroads and the Pacific Electric or “Red Cars."

It was in the field of transportation and travel that the poster, such as Sam’s, had the greatest impact. The poster is probably the oldest form of advertising. At its best, it delivers a clear, forceful, memorable message, understood even by those unable to read. Harris’ posters are fine art in themselves. They demonstrate his talent for strong composition and well-placed lettering, and are often used in textbooks on the subject.

Meanwhile, Sam pursued his interest in easel painting. In his twenties, he spent six months in Europe, developing areas of artistic focus – a preoccupation with light and atmospheric effects – that would be evident throughout his life’s work. Back in Los Angeles he studied and became friends with Hanson Puthuff, Edgar Payne and Jean Mannheim. Most of his painting was done on outings around the San Gabriel Valley and San Pedro harbor. He was a recorder of the working person’s life, never the elite. He joined and exhibited with a number of artists’ organizations including the California Art Club, the San Gabriel Artists’ Guild, the San Gabriel Fine Arts Association, the Whittier Art Association and the Laguna Beach Art Association.

Although he decried the notion of “painting to please the public,” Sam won popular acclaim for his paintings, which sold well and won abundant recognition from his peers. He was the recipient of more than 100 awards and purchase prizes bestowed by colleges, community organizations and leading art associations. He is listed in the Who’s Who in American Art and Who’s Who Western Division.

At the age of 55, Harris divorced his wife of 27 years, Phoebe Mulholland, the niece of William Mulholland. He married Marion Dodge, a UCLA librarian whom he met in an evening art class, and moved his home and commercial art business to an area of Alhambra known as Artists’ Alley. Through the 30s and 40s, this area was home to Jack Wilkinson Smith, Clyde Forsythe, Eli Harvey, Frank Tenney Johnson, and Norman Rockwell who painted here in the summers.

At the same time, Harris met James Swinnerton, a painter of desert scenes, who would have the most influence on him in this later period of his career. He began painting in the area around Palm Springs. His color palette changed also, as it did for many artists in the 40s. Due to the war, many of the rich colors he previously used – crimson, orange, blue and purple – were prohibitively expensive, and he turned to the desert-appropriate earthtones.

Another aspect of Harris’ career was his importance as a teacher. He had begun teaching during the Depression to make ends meet, but found the relationships with his students so rewarding that teaching became his major occupation in his later years. He taught both privately and for many community organizations.

In the 1970s, a renewed and growing interest in his paintings and those of other early CA artists led to the organization of numerous exhibitions. Important among those were “Design 1910” at the Pasadena Center and “Southern CA artists 1890-1940” at the Laguna Beach Museum of Art. Also in 1976 Harris had a one-man show at the San Gabriel Fine Arts Association and in 1977 a one-man show in Alhambra opened only four days before his death.

Who Was Sam? was curated by Maurine St. Gaudens. Ms. St. Gaudens was curator of the Museum’s exhibition Nature’s Palette: Garden Views, Vistas and Fantasies 1880-2005 . She was co-curator of the 2002 exhibition A Cultural Legacy, also at the Museum. Ms. St. Gaudens has curated exhibitions of California paintings for Pasadena Heritage at the Women’s City Club Blinn House (1996) and the Cole House (1994). She curated exhibits of paintings by Jean Mannheim, Elmer Wachtel and Marion Wachtel for the American Institute of Architects at their Legacy of the Arroyo Seco (1993). Ms. St. Gaudens is also a Fine Arts Conservator and Appraiser.

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