GEORGE BARKER (1882-1965)
Nancy Dustin Wall Moure
George Barker, painter and art teacher, is the latest artist to be rediscovered in the study of Southern California's plein air landscape movement of the early twentieth century. Son of an Omaha real estate investor and broker, Barker studied in his hometown with painter/sculptor John Laurie Wallace (1864-1953). When it came time for advanced training he asked permission of Wallace's teacher, Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), to study with him. Because Eakins was not teaching publicly in 1906, Barker ended up in Paris. Although the city was a hotbed of avant garde experimentalists (these are the years Cubism was born) Barker spent his year at the conservative Grande Chaumiere and the Colorossi School under Andre L'hote and Edwin Scott where he learned sound drawing skills and loosened, expressive brushwork.
After his return in 1911, Barker "settled down," marrying fellow Omaha artist Olive Carpenter, daughter of a paper manufacturer (who he met in Wallace's art classes) and taking up art teaching. In 1921, with America enjoying nationwide post-War prosperity, Barker moved his family (that now included a son) to Long Beach California. In 1923 he appears in the Polytechnic High School yearbook Caerulea as one of three art teachers and remains on the faculty through 1929.
Long Beach, adjacent to the port of Los Angeles was booming. And, although the beach city did not obtain an art museum until decades later, an art community was beginning to take shape. The Long Beach Art Association came into being in 1924, and art exhibitions were held regularly at the Public Library in the Main and Alamitos branches, at the Municipal Auditorium, at the Villa Riviera and at various women's clubs. Art activities sped up in the late 1920s when the city hosted the Pacific Southwest Exposition in 1928 that had its own art gallery and when the Press Telegram ran an art column written by Alice Maynard Griggs and in its Rotogravure section occasionally reproduced portraits of artists and their paintings. Art organizations that formed in the late 1920s include the Spectrum Club (for men artists) in 1929 and the Wayside Art Colony (a cluster of studios for craftsmen) c. 1930. One of the most active advocates of art was Josephine E. Hyde, Art Chairman of the city's Recreation
Commission who organized frequent shows of California artists at the Recreation Park Clubhouse and founded the Women's Sketch Club (possibly the same as the Recreation Commission Sketch Club) before 1930.
At Polytechnic High School Barker supervised graphic arts. Photographs in the Caerulea show him to be a small man, nattily dressed in light colored suits wearing round glasses, looking more like an accountant than an artist. Barker also led an active private art career. He maintained a studio in Long Beach, exhibited in the first exhibition of the Long Beach Art Association in July 1924, contributed to most of the city's group exhibitions, and occasionally was honored with one man shows. His specialty was landscape, and titles of paintings show he traveled widely around the Southland for subjects.
In 1929 the Barkers seem to have come into money. When the rest of the country was reeling from the stock market crash, George Barker quit his teaching job, and he and Olive went on an extended European tour. On their return they settled in Pacific Palisades, a new luxury community on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean immediately north of Santa
Monica, where they built a large home and one studio on Alma Real Drive. (A second studio was erected for George in the fall of
1934.) The Palisades were still sparsely built during these years, and Barker and his artist neighbor Hugo Ballin(1879-1956) were slowly joined over the decade by a few other artists, primarily motion picture people who could afford the area. The lack of artists makes it clear why Barker attached himself artistically to the older and more artistically active neighboring community of Santa Monica where he started and was first president of the Santa Monica Art Association in 1929. Through the 1930s notices frequently appear on the couple in the local newspaper Palisadian either in regard to the exhibition of their paintings in various shows around the Los Angeles basin or to the events that they sponsored at their home to raise funds for various interests such as the Santa Monica philharmonic, a republican candidate, and the American-Japan student conference of 1937. Barker was an advocate of the Santa Monica Mountains Protective Association and lectured passionately against fires that destroyed it.
The 1930s were a rich time artistically for both Barkers. While they still occasionally exhibited in Long Beach, they joined many Los Angeles proper art organizations and exhibited annually with the California Art Club. (Olive Barker, who developed a unique 'thin paper' technique for her watercolors in which the paper is crinkled to give added texture to the painting, also exhibited with the
California Water Color Society.) George's prime subject was landscapes of Southern California found from Laguna Beach to the
Palisades on the Pacific Coast and extending to the deserts along California's eastern border.
Prior to the late 1920s, California' s hot and inhospitable deserts only attracted artists who were loners or mavericks or who needed the dry air to cure tuberculosis or some other ailment. But as the greater Los Angeles basin lost its virgin hills to farms, towns and residential developments, artists were forced further onto the periphery. New roads, especially those built by federal relief projects in the 1930s opened up the deserts to the newly popular automobile, and it became fashionable to make excursions after the spring rains to view the wildflowers. Resorts began to develop at places like Palm Springs, which became a playground for Hollywood personalities.
Goldfield Galleries owns several hundred oil-on-canvasboard sketches, most measuring 10 x 12 in., that Barker made between c. 1930 and his death. 1. The reverse of many are inscribed in pencil with the place and date showing us that he ranged widely over California's southern deserts. 2 Several of these bear the name Corona, a rural town east of Los Angeles where the Barkers had a ranch home and did much of their work; others are of nearby Temescal. From there Barker could fan out over four major routes that penetrated the deserts. By going south on highway 71 he could reach the Borrego Desert east of San Diego. By taking former Route 66 (current day Interstate 15) north out of San Bernardino he could reach Baldy Mesa, Victorville, and Barstow in the Mojave desert, places inscribed on his paintings. From Barstow, taking old US 91-466 towards Las Vegas, he could access the road into Death Valley.
Eastward from Corona ran US 60-70 (current Interstate 10) from which he could
get State 111 to Palm Springs or go directly to Indio. From Indio he could take US 99 south towards the Mexican border passing other sites at which he painted including
Mecca, Painted Canyon and Chocolate Mountains.
Barker camped on most of these sketching trips. Some seem to have been made with the Spectrum Club, the group of men painters of Long Beach. One particular notation on the reverse of an undated sketch informs us of his equipment: 2 bedrolls, 5 blankets (3 army, 1 double gray trim, 1 single), center pole lower, 1 tent and stakes, tripod, large umbrella, 2 extension poles, 2 stools
(folding), one 16 x 20 in. paint box, 1 pair high shoes, tan, 1 gal coal oil, tools-nails, 2 sweaters back of seatfront, 1 gunny sack with tools, mosquito netting front, old smock, red ... pillow, rags, 1 wash basin,
first aid (.. films, soda...), camera, mirror. He appears to be proud that his landscapes were painted on the spot since the fact is mentioned in some reviews of his shows.
Most of his trips were made in April and May with sometimes a desert trip in January or February.
Barker canvases are so rare that in the last ten years at auction less than ten have appeared. The several hundred sketches owned by Goldfield Galleries give us a first- hand view, like sketches by any
artist, of Barker's artistic goals. He seemed interested in capturing moods and colors and general contours of terrain with quick and broad sweeps of the brush. As a camper he was privy to a wide range of atmospheric conditions from extraordinarily colorful sunrises and sunsets, to haze caused by dust storms, to incredible clarity after rain and wind. In the later 1930s some of his landscape sketches take on unnatural colors implying he is experimenting with modernist color theories.
Besides landscapes, Barker painted several abstract, Kandinsky-like paintings composed of floating lozenges, circles, rectangles, egg shapes, arcs, and parallel wavy lines, whose colors range from mauves offset with blue and yellow to silver and green offset with yellow and pink. During the war years Barker, then 58, taught art to recouperating soldiers at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Sepulveda, and he seems to have curtailed his sketching trips since no sketches exist with dates of 1941, 1942 or 1943. In the last seven or so years of Barker' s life dated still lifes and monochromatic landscapes suggest that he was doing most of his work in the studio.
Even though Barker quit his position at Polytechnic High in 1929, he continued his interest in education, giving private lessons at his Palisades studio on Saturday afternoons to people from all walks of life. At one period of his life he conducted extensive studies on the work of Thomas Eakins. Goldfield Galleries owns a series of head studies of Dr. Gross from Eakins's
Gross Clinic (Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia) each rendered in a different color or color scheme that Barker may have used in his teaching; they bear notations of specific paint colors. Barker was a frequent lecturer on such topics as "Exploration in Color," "Art and Technique of Thomas Eakins," "Velazquez at the Prado," and "Quality in Painting." In December 1932 he was writing a brochure on art (although there is no indication that this was ever published).
The Barkers had one son, George Barker Jr. who probably attended Polytechnic High in Long Beach when Barker taught there, and, after the family moved to the
Palisades, went to the nearby University of California at Los Angeles (whose ground had only been broken in the mid 1920s). In
spring 1935 he was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa, spent a graduate year (Fall 1935-Spring 1936) at Columbia University in
New York studying journalism, and the
following summer obtained a job on the Santa Monica Outlook. Having predeceased his parents, in 1958 the Barkers established the George Carpenter Barker Memorial Prayer Garden at the Episcopal St. Matthews Church in Pacific
Much has yet to be learned about both George and Olive Barker. To date each seems to have maintained his/her own
artistic integrity: George emphasizing landscapes and teaching while Olive painted in watercolor and preferred figures
and still lifes to landscapes. More research definitely needs to be done, but this first study shows they deserve a place in Southern California art history.
Bibliography: National Cvclopaedia of American Biography, v.51, pp. 616-7 and includes photograph of Barker standing at an easel holding a study of Eakins' Gross
Clinic; Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, Publications in Southern California Art 1, 2 & 3, Los Angeles: Privately Published, 1984 (contains entries on Olive and George Barker in parts 1, 2, and 3); Caerulea (Yearbook of Polytechnic High School), 1929, p.24, has photograph of school's art teachers; "Art-
Exhibitions" file at Long Beach Public Library has two newspaper reviews of exh. at Alamitos branch Long Beach Public Library, 1932; ann. exh. Little Gallery, Sierra Madre, Palisadian, June 10, 1932,
p.3; lectures to Santa Monica Art Assn., Palisadian, Aug. 26, 1932, p.8; writes brochure on art, Palisadian, Dec. 2, 1932, p.5; work included in group show at mayor's office, Santa Monica, Palisadian, Feb. 24, 1933, p.3; entertain Santa Monica Art Assn. to raise funds for purchase prizes, Palisadian, April 7, 1933, p.7; repro of "The Shadow of a Great Rock," and review of exh. at L.A. Public Library, Palisadian, June 23, 1933, p. 1; entertains after Rames-Martinez opening at Santa Monica Public
Library, Palisadian, July 7, 1933, p.6; portrait and exh. at Canyon School,
Palisadian, June 1, 1934, p. 1,5; adds studio to home, Palisadian, Sept. 21, 1934, p.6; to lecture on "Quality in Painting," Palisadian, Nov. 23, 1934, p.l; "Artist Barker Pleads Against Fire Carelessness," Palisadian, Jan. 18, 1935, p.l; returns from month-long trip
to Omaha and New York City, Palisadian, March 15, 1935, p.3; Barker among artists of Palisades, "Hither & Yon," Palisadian, Feb. 14, 1936, p.2; celebrate 25th wedding anniversary, Palisadian, July 3, 1936, p.2; exh. at Hollywood Public Library, Palisadian, Feb. 19, 1937, p.5 (old issues of
the Palisadian are Coll. Palisades HistoricalSociety and the Palisadian); rev. of exh. at Santa Monica Public Library, (Los Angeles Times newspaper), Sept. 27, 1931, 3-18-6; brief rev. of exh. at Bartlett, LAT, Dec. 25, 1932, 3-4-4; "The Shadow of a Great Rock," LAT, May 28, 1933, 2-4, repro.; brief rev. of exh. at California Art Club, LAT, June 30, 1935, 2-7-5; ann. exh. Van Nuys Arts, LAT, Sept. 12, 1943, 3-5-4; unverified references to art reviews in LAT for Oct. 11, 1936 and March 23, 1941; works sold at auction, Franklin & James Decade Review: American Artists at Auction 1/83-1/93, Mansfield (Oh.): Franklin and James Publ., 1993; highway information from Federal Writer's Project, California: A
Guide to the Golden State, New York: Hastings House, 1939; Barker and Eakins in Gordon Hendricks, The Life and Work of Thomas Eakins, New York: Grossman, 1974; Perrett file, Archives ofAmerican Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
1Barker used a variety of manufactured canvas boards including Albemarle, Windsor Newton, "Lloyds
Pure Linen Hand Made Canvas Panels," (on a painting dated 1951) and "R. Stark Manufacturer of Artists
Canvases, 1183 N. New Hampshire, Los Angeles, HEmpstead 4308" (on paintings dated 1941, 1943,
1946). Hand written numbers on the reverse of the panels are of two types "G-" with numbers ranging
above 1225, probably affixed by Barker himself or his estate, and "GB-" numbers ranging up in the 500s
reflecting Goldfield Galleries inventory number. Most Goldfreld sketches are unsigned but bear the
rubber stamp on the reverse, "AN ORIGINAL AUTHENTIC PAINTING BY George Barker."
2 In 1931 Barker traveled to Indio and to Yosemite; in 1932 he sketched in the northern San Fernando
valley and the rugged coastal mountains north of Pacific Palisades in Topanga and at the ranch property
owned by Paramount studios near Agoura; in 1933 at Palm Springs, Temescal, and Chula Vista (SE of
San Diego); in 1934 at Indio; in 1935 at Death Valley, Victorville, Temescal and Corona; in 1937 in
Arizona and at Barstow; in the spring of 1938 around the Palisades and then in April and May in
Borrego, Barstow, and Baldy Mesa; in 1939 at Painted Canyon and Mecca; in 1940 at Indio. In 1944 he
was at the Mojave River at Victorville; in 1946 at Blythe and in Arizona; in 1947 in Arizona at San
Xavier del Bac and Rancho Yucca Loma; in 1948 in Arizona in Tucson and Rancho Yucca Loma; in
1949 at Borrego, Palm Springs, and Rancho Yucca Loma; in 1951 at Palm Springs; and in 1952 at Baldy
Mesa and Palm Springs.
Nancy Moure, Art Historian, has written several books on California Artists and exhibition catalogs in conjunction with several museums.
Goldfield Galleries, Los Angeles, CA has an extensive inventory of paintings by George Barker.
ŠThe Fine Arts Trader 2009