A quick getaway is yours in Santa Paula, where the Santa Paula Art Museum and the Blanchard Community Library are exhibiting works that open the door to lush fantasy, Hollywood magic and lighthearted aloha.
Botke: Birds and Blossoms, at the Santa Paula Art Museum through July 8, showcases works by Jessie Arms Botke, a well-known and beloved local artist. Known for her lush paintings that are alive with magnificent birds and colorful flowers, Botke has been a longtime favorite among collectors, both at home and abroad.
“We show her work every three or four years because she is so popular in the area,” says the museums’s Executive Director Jennifer Orcutt Heighton. This particular show stands out as it features many works from private collections. As the exhibit’s literature points out, “For the first time we explore more fully what inspired Jessie Arms Botke’s lifetime love of birds and blossoms through works that have never before been exhibited.”
Born in Chicago in 1883, Botke studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and went on to work as a tapestry “cartoonist” (designer) for the famed Herter Looms in New York. Botke was also sought after by private patrons, from New York to Europe, to paint wall friezes in their homes. The artist and her husband later settled in nearby Wheeler Canyon, where she would further develop her style of painting splendid, colorful paintings that she often augmented with gold leaf.
Some of the works on loan from private collections include “White Peacock with Lotus,” “Manchurian Cranes” and “Mrs. Cherry’s Garden.” Painted with exquisite detail and astonishing realism softened with a loving eye, they give the viewer a sense of stepping into a private paradise.
An entire section of the exhibit features photographs, sketches and other materials that illustrate her artistic process and her growth as an artist, from her days in New York to the inspiration she found at her home in Wheeler Canyon, which still remains in her family. There she had her own studio and aviary, which supplied endless inspiration. Also in the exhibit is a full-size reproduction of a mural she painted in 1950 for the Woodrow Wilson High School in Oxnard, the largest painting of birds she ever created.
In the next gallery is Setting the Scene: Hollywood Animators and Background Painters in the Santa Paula Civic Collection. On exhibit until June 17, the show celebrates the work of artists of the American Scene Painting movement that coincided with the Golden Age of Hollywood (1930 to 1960). As explained by the Santa Paula Art Museum, the movement “encompassed realistic, everyday scenes of urban and rural America.” The artists featured in the show, such as George Gibson, Basil Davidovich, Robert Caples and Stewart Robertson, found work painting backdrops for the Hollywood studios to supplement their incomes, especially during the hard times of the Great Depression. All of the paintings on exhibit were once submitted to the Santa Paula Art Show, illustrating that in many ways Hollywood had nothing over the small agricultural town in Ventura County. Next to each painting is a list of the artist’s film credits and, in some cases, an image or clip from a relevant film. A monitor in the gallery shows the artists’ work “in action” in such films as Planet of the Apes, The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and other iconic films.
Down the road at the Blanchard Community Library is a solo exhibition of works by local artist Dean DeWinter, on display through May 12 with a reception scheduled for Saturday, April 21, at noon. Thirty tropical tiki-inspired pastel and acrylic paintings sweep the viewer away to Hawaii for some fun in the sun. An award-winning art director, DeWinter worked in publishing for decades before retiring and pursuing his passion. “My lifetime dream is to express myself through art and have fun with it,” he says. That art director sensibility remains strong within him, though. “I’m a little too critical,” he confesses. As an art director he says, “There were so many rules and people to please. Now, I don’t have to.” He once carved tikis in wood but when his wife got a little too nervous watching him wield a chainsaw, he switched to paint and pastel. His paintings, such as “Dropp’n,” “Sunset Swell” and “Lovers,” are filled with whimsy and aloha, reminiscent of Kauai, one of his favorite places.
Lucky for us we don’t have to travel that far to get a taste of the tropics or be dazzled by the limelight. To paraphrase the Setting the Scene brochure, Santa Paula is a small town that is home to a remarkable collection of art. We need only take a short drive to discover that the whole beautiful world is at our feet.
Botke: Birds and Blossoms and Setting the Scene are on exhibit now at the Santa Paula Art Museum, 117 N. 10th St., Santa Paula, 525-5554 or www.santapaulaartmuseum.org. See Dean DeWinter’s work at the Blanchard Community Library, 119 N. Eighth St., Santa Paula, 525-3615 or blanchardlibrary.org.