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Whittier Builds a Gallery
The Whittier Art Association formed in 1934, with the goal of opening an art gallery to show the work of Southern California artists. This was during the depths of the Great Depression.
As prominent galleries in Los Angeles dealt with declining sales, the new Whittier Art Association opened its first Whittier Art Gallery in a borrowed building space in the center of Whittier’s business district. Artists from the art colony in Laguna Beach and Los Angeles came too exhibit, speak at open meetings, and teach art classes.
Through the leadership of local artist Mabel George Haig, the WAA was modeled after the Laguna Beach Art Association and Gallery, where she had been an active, exhibiting member since 1921. Mabel became a close friend of the Laguna Beach Art Association’s co-founder Anna Hills. Mabel exhibited at least 28 times a the Laguna Beach Art Gallery from 1921 – 1953.
Mabel Haig enjoyed a career as an artist becoming a member of the California Art Club and the California Water color Society. She participated in art exhibits with man of the most prominent of the California artists of the time. She was also an accomplished writer, who wrote about her artists friends and accounts of the life during the Depression and years of World War II.
More than any other one person, Mabel’s experience as an artist and writer, helped gain the needed community support to build the Whittier Art Gallery in 1939. Six hundred people attended the opening of the Gallery on April 10, 1939. After attending the event, Los Angeles Times Art Critic, Arthur Millier wrote:
Whittier has the Southland’s best designed, best equipped small public art center Whittier has shown Southern California the way.
Arthur Millier, April 16, 1939, Los Angeles Times
Artists came from Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, and Pasadena to exhibit; Edgar Payne, Conrad Buff, Glen Lukens, Hanson Puthuff, Emil Kosa, Phil Dike, Sam Hyde Harris, Milford Zornes, and countless others. The work of American artist Norman Rockwell was exhibited in 1950. Disney artists Tyrus Wong, Ben Messick, and Ralph Hulet also exhibited. Art Landy, who worked on Pluto cartoons and Peter Pan, became the Gallery president in 1948. Painter Ida O’Keeffe, sister of Georgia O’Keefe, exhibited twice in solo shows, and served on the Gallery’s Board of Directors.
The Whittier Art Association still maintains the Whittier Art Gallery, providing “exhibits of the best available art and fine crafts” as it has done for over 75 years. We are grateful for the many artists and art supporters that were inspired by Mabel Haig, and for those who continue to support the Whittier Art Gallery to this day.
We wish to acknowledge the Whittier Museum, and Erin Fletcher-Singly of the Whittier Public Library History Room, for assistance in locating historical documents and other resources.
President Vicki Schramm
Web Administrator Evan Martinez
Evan Martinez has digitized over 300 newspaper articles that tell the history of the Whittier Art Gallery. As our research continues, articles, photos, and documents will be added to this website. Questions can be emailed to: email@example.com, or call the Gallery at 562.698.8710.
Photo Credit, George Rodriguez