High Schools are typically judged by their graduation rates and standardized test scores.  However, one California High School boasts an impressive fine art collection, selections of which are on view now.
Nestled only a stones throw from the Pacific Ocean is the small subdivision of Gardena, California just south of downtown Los Angeles.  Between the years 1919 and 1956, Gardena High School established a remarkable tradition that continues to captivate and entertain even to this day.  For each of those years, the High School administration allowed the seniors to collaborate and select artworks by contemporary artists.  After careful consideration, the seniors would choose a work to be purchased and given to the school upon graduation.  The tradition, which seems nearly unthinkable today, enabled the school to amass an impressive collection of museum-worthy paintings, many of which are now on view at The Autry National Center in Los Angeles.

Franz Bischoff, “A Cool Drifting Fog,” 1924, oil on canvas, (c) Gardena High School Collection 2015

Featuring nine paintings from the collection, the exhibition is frustratingly small but packs an impressive punch considering the works included are by some of California’s most celebrated artists of the early twentieth century.  One such masterpiece is by the famed painter Maynard Dixon (1875-1946).  “Men of the Red Earth,” circa 1931-32, was purchased by the Summer class of 1944.  The image displays a pair of statuesque Native Americans in profile, stoically peering out of the picture.  Illustrative in style, the painting boasts solid shapes and forms with masterful use of pastel colors and atmospheric space. 

John Frost, “Desert Twilight,” 1924, oil on canvas, (c) Gardena High School Collection 2015

Another stunning piece from the exhibit is Joe Duncan Gleason’s (1881-1959) “Head Winds (Storm at Sea).”  In a powerful diagonal composition that stretches from lower left to upper right, a group of sailors struggle to control their vessel as it thrashes and bobs over stormy waves. 

Joe Duncan Gleason, “Head Winds (Storm at Sea),” oil on canvas, (c) Gardena High School Collection 2015

Those who wish to view the show have plenty of time to plan.  “California Impressionism: The Gardena High School Collection” opened on September 12 and will be on view through October 2016. 
To learn more, visit The Autry National Center.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

Previous articleAcute Observations
Next articleMusic Finds its Voice
Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here