Manuscripts, letters, documents, pamphlets and mementos illuminating the history of Laguna Beach as an art colony and the contributions of men and women artists who shaped it comprise the heart of a new exhibition opening next week at UC Irvine’s Langson Library.
“Open Air & Light: Art in Laguna Beach 1906-1941,” opens on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 5:30 p.m. with a lecture by Irvine Museum president James Irvine Swinden, who carries the weight of history in his very name as a member of one of the county’s founding families.
Organized by Steve MacLeod, public service librarian of special collections and archives, it will feature archival materials, but no actual paintings, culled from the UCI collection as well as from the Laguna Art Museum, the Bowers Museum, the Irvine Museum, the Laguna Beach Historical Society and the Peter and Gail Ochs Collection.
It tells the story of how Edgar Payne and Anna Hills founded the Laguna Beach Art Association, whose second gallery would become the Laguna Art Museum.
The Irvine Museum provided photographic facsimiles of most paintings, and a collection of mementos represent the founding luminaries of California Impressionism: Norman St. Claire, Payne and his wife Elsie, William Wendt, Frank Cuprien, Granville Redmond, Isaac Frazee, Guy Rose, George Gardner Symons and Jack Wilkinson Smith.
Frazee, whose paintbox and brushes are on display, was one of the lesser known artists but a prolific community activist, said MacLeod.
“The lecture will be about 25 Laguna artists and their lives and work and their impact on the environment,” said Swinden.
“I selected paintings to illustrate lecture points. Not only of the Laguna area but of locales that clearly no longer look the way the artists painted them in the hope that they inspire people toward environmentalism that includes preservation and stewardship,” he said.
Since the Irvine Museum is passionate about preserving the environment, collaboration with institutions such as UCI and allowing works from its collection to travel added breadth to their mission, Swinden said.
The exhibition will also touch on the history of the Festival of Arts and the Pageant of the Masters and the community that grew around them, said MacLeod.