The 20th Century in Watercolor

Posted February 21, 2008 in Arts & Culture

The 20th Century witnessed two world wars, a great depression, the origination of rock & roll and inevitably the biggest break up in rock & roll history, the advent of birth control, and the evolution of art from expressionism and Dadaism to cubism and surrealism. In the midst of it all, Milford Zornes rose to become a renowned artist in a variety of mediums, most notably watercolors. As if turning 100 years old this year wasn’t enough, Zornes has a celebratory exhibit on display at the Museum of History and Art, Ontario.   

Born in Camargo, Oklahoma in 1908, Zornes spent most of his artistic career in California while trying to make a career in journalism. After high school, he attended Santa Maria Junior College looking to gain some formal experience in the field. But, as fate would have it, his artistic abilities were noticed and Zornes was encouraged to pursue a career in art instead.  

He wound up studying art with F. Tolles Chamberlin at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, a place where Zornes would also later teach, and became intrigued by watercolor painting. Eventually his studies took him to Millard Sheets at Scripps College, where he further honed his craft. Little did he know at the time, but he was on the verge of world-renown. 

In 1933, well before he would serve in World War II as an official war artist and spend 12 years as the art director for Padua Hills Theater in Claremont, Zornes’ work was front and center in highest places. During a one-man art exhibition in Washington DC, one of his watercolors was selected by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt to hang in the White House. Just like that, an art student became a well-known watercolor artist. 

To this day, Zornes paintings are characterized by the use of watercolor washes over detailed drawings allowing the white to show through and define shapes. He mostly deals with landscapes and has ventured into an eclectic use of mediums.  

The Museum of History and Art, Ontario opened its doors to the “Milford Zornes in Black and White” exhibit on February 20, in celebration of Zornes contributions to the 20th Century world of art. While he’s chiefly famous for his extraordinary watercolors, the exhibit will be one of the few that emphasizes his other styles. There’ll be 60 pieces on display in a variety of mediums, from print making and inking to lithographs. 

“In conjunction with his one-hundredth birthday, we decided to do something different and highlight his black and white pieces,” said Marci Callejo, Curator of Education at the Museum of History and Art, Ontario. A few of his rare World War II paintings will also be on put on view.

There will also be a special event at the museum on March 8 entitled, “Conversations with Milford Zornes.” Many of Zornes friends and colleagues such as Bill Anderson, Carolyn Wing Greenlee and Joanna Mersereau will join the man himself to discuss his long career and work. The exhibit is slated to run through April 20.

While the 20th Century ended nearly a decade ago, the centenarian Milford Zornes and his artistic contributions to years of historical and evolutionary extremes will continue to live on.

Milford Zornes in Black and White at the Museum of History and Art, Ontario, 225 South Euclid Avenue, Ontario (909) 983-3198, Thru April 20. Free.



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