OPENING RECEPTION: SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2006, FROM 5 - 7PM
In 1769, under threat of incursion by Russians based in Alaska, the Spanish government decided to extend its sphere of influence into Alta California with a string of missions, presidios, pueblos and asistencias. The overland expedidition north from Baja was led by Gaspar de Portola and a Fransican monk named Junipero Serra. In 1769, the group established the first mission in San Diego, called San Diego de Alcala. The expedition then sped north, reaching Monterey Bay in 1770, where they established San Carlos Borromeo. Junipero Serra lived long enough to found seven more missions before he died in 1784, but by 1823, there were twenty-one missions along El Camino Real. Now over 200 years old, these structures create an architectural reference known the world over.
Constructed of indigenous materials and designed as both structures of utility and as symbols of Spain’s spiritual and cultural authority, the missions in Nueva California evolved a distinctive architectural vocabulary. While each mision employed a different design, the thick adobe walls, red clay tile roofs, arches, and the heavy exposed wood beams became signature elements of the mission style.
Unfortunately, the buildings constructed in this manner were no match for Mother Nature. In a series of earthquakes in December of 1812, five missions sustained serious damage. Other missions deteriorated from simple neglect.
Interest in the missions remained low until the 1870s, when photographers and trained artists began to record all twenty-one sites along El Camino Real. Carleton Watkins completed the first photographic record of the California missions between 1876 and 1900.
Edwin Deakin (1838-1923), an English artist who had settled in San Francisco in 1870, began his series of mission paintings in 1878 and completed them in 1898. Deakin painted each mission twice in oil and once in watercolor in a style which celebrated the exotcism and romance of the mission ruins.
Henry Chapman Ford (1828-1894), Santa Barbara’s first professionally trained artist, completed a set of twenty missions and the asistencia of San Antonio de Pala between 1880 and 1882. To make the missions affordable to tourists, Ford completed fifty sets of highly accurate and finely rendered etchings in 1883. In 1893, he also showed all twenty-one missions in watercolor at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which some scholars cite as an important moment in helping to start the mission revival movement.
Through the early twentieth century, America’s fascination with these historic structures continued, spurred along by the plein air school and a strong civic and aesthetic interest in mission revival.
Today, California is defined by these missions. Thir iconic formal elements inform much of the contemporary architectural vernacular and many of the cities which grew up around these buildings have become California’s principal cultural and economic centers. To look upon these missions is to stare our history in the face, but is also to delight in our particular sense of place.
Sullivan Goss has provided many paintings and etchings to our clients over the past 23 years that have been borrowed back for this exhibit. We have also assembled dozens of mission images that we reserved in our warehouse for this exhibit. And finally, we wanted to know how artists today looked at these buildings. We are indebted to the nine contemporary painters who visited the 21 missions and contributed nearly 40 new views of the missions of California.
- Jeremy Tessmer and Frank Goss