Millard Owen Sheets is perhaps the best known California Scene painter, as his charisma, charm, and raw talent propelled the California School into the national spotlight. Born in Pomona, CA, Sheets set out as an artist early in life. His watercolors were accepted for exhibition in the annual California Water Color Society shows while Sheets was still a teenager, and by nineteen years of age, he was elected into membership. At the Chouinard Art Institute, he studied with Clarence Hinkle and F. Tolles Chamberlin, and was hired to teach watercolor painting before he even graduated. He received his MA from Otis Art Institute. Sheets was the driving force behind the revival of watercolor in California, and viewed the medium’s quick drying, fast moving qualities as both artistically liberating and an apt reflection of the mood of a modernizing nation.
Sheets epitomized the role of artist for the people. He chose to capture subjects that depicted urban and rural people in humble everyday life, in landscapes and scenes inspired by California and his world travels. He truly expanded what it was to be a regionalist painter by extending his reach into the public domain. Although he is arguably the greatest California watercolorist, his talents went beyond painting. He was an illustrator national magazines and handled production design for Columbia Pictures. Early commissions in the 1930s allowed his the opportunity to travel in 1935; his democratic gaze never wavered from the subjects that he most revered in life: people and landscape.
After receiving his degrees and serving in WWII, he developed large public works though his studio for architectural design. His projects included the mosaic dome and chapel at the National Shrine in Washington DC, the mosaic library tower at the University of Notre Dame, the mosaic facade of the Detroit Public Library, mural at the Rainbow Tower of the Hilton Hotel in Honolulu, and murals for the Los Angeles City Hall. Sheets designed artistic decoration for the Offices of Home Savings of America branches throughout California, until his death in 1989. These prominent commissions earned Sheets, who was also a member of the National Academy of Design, decorated distinction as a design visionary.
Millard Sheets paintings are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, the Chicago Art Institute, the National Gallery in Washington D.C.; the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco; and the Los Angeles County Museum, and many other institutions.
California Scene Painting Timeline
1929: Taught watercolor classes at Chouinard and used his prowess to inspire other artists, including Phil Dike, Lee Blair, Hardie Gramatky, Barse Miller, Phil Paradise and Paul Sample, to embrace the medium and join the California Water Color Society. Sheets paints Tenement Flats for the Public Works of Art Project, which became one of the most famous paintings in American art in the 1930s. Chosen to symbolize President Roosevelt's commitment to the arts and the American people, the artwork is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He also had his first solo exhibition at Dalzell Hatfield Galleries in Los Angeles.
1930: His work was selected for inclusion in the Carnegie Institute's International Exhibition of Paintings.
1931 - 1959: Sheets was the director of exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Fair.
1934: He was one of the few artists chosen nationally to paint murals in the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. for the Public Works Art Project.
1930s- 1955: Headed the art departments at Scripps College and the Claremont Graduate School.
1940-1945: Served as an artist-correspondent during World War II for Life magazine and the United States Army Air
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1953: Became Director of the Otis Art Institute, and created the new official County of Los Angeles seal.
1950s - 1980s: He executed murals, mosaics and other design projects for over 50 public buildings.