Grace McKay and I (your humble correspondent, John Coleman) had been working together on a concept for a TV series about contemporary art and artists when we heard about Milford Zornes having a 97th birthday party. We couldn't believe he was still alive much less celebrating 97 years!
For the TV Pilot we had already filmed in Laguna Beach, at the Laguna Art Museum, at a Plein Aire event at Mission San Juan Capistrano and a few other places. And along the way met a number of fascinating artists. But before that, our common attraction to the world of art had first become obvious when Grace showed me her footage of the remote Maynard Dixon cabin she visited in Mt Carmel Utah. It included a weekend art event with a few dozen artists at the annual Maynard Dixon Campout. (http://www.thunderbirdfoundation.com/) Grace was inspired to take that trip by the old footage she had acquired with the film library of 1930's documentarian Francis Line. Now, here's where it gets a little convoluted…
Dixon, a big name known for paintings of the Western US—his work regularly graced the covers of magazines—had bought this little cabin from Line, the author, lecturer and documentary filmmaker, in the late 30's or 40s. Among other things, Francis Line had a connection to the art world of the era because he personally knew most of the Southern California artists and also because he founded the Chaffey Community Art Association (CCAA). It's now the Chaffey Community Museum of Art (http://www.chaffeymuseum.org/) located in Ontario, CA. As Grace did research on Line she came across Dixon, the cabin and the Chaffey Museum along with a host of other regional artists including Milford Zornes. Zornes along with Millard Sheets, Phil Dike and many others gained fame in the 1930's as a movement labeled the California Scene painters. They were mostly based in Claremont—a few towns over from Ontario—in the San Gabriel Valley about 40 miles due east of Los Angeles. Just to give you an idea of how intricate the artist relationships are in our story, Milford Zornes would eventually buy that same cabin from Dixon's widow!
I had heard of Milford Zornes because for a couple of decades I lived in Claremont where he was a favorite son. The post office there features a linear mural by Zornes from the Great Depression. It's at the top of the main room and depicts the (then) rural Pomona Valley in that stylized fashion so popular with the WPA. But of course, all that was more than a few years prior to Grace and her Francis Line connection.
So when we heard that the CCAA was hosting a birthday celebration for Zornes we knew we had to go! What we discovered there changed our complete approach to the project we had started.