In 1992 I got a call from The Oaks heath resort in Ojai, California about a wonderful 7′ x 26′ mural by Jessie Arms Botke, painted in 1953. Botke has become very well known in the art history of early California and is collected by all the major collections of this type of art. Her prolific number of paintings of birds, fish and wonderful plants are usually all of high quality and can be expensive my most people’s standards.
The Oaks was about to go through a remodel which was going to involve the demolition of the wall on which this mural was painted. Actually, the mural was painted, in oil, on canvas then was glued to the wall. We were hired to carefully remove the canvas (that was adhered with wall paper paste) in a way that did not set into motion the mass flaking of the paint layers.
It was nice to be housed at the health resort/spa for a week… although we were not, of course, on a retreat! But all was accomplished as planned within the week set aside. Then we took the two sections of painting to our lab in Santa Barbara (for a quick video tour go to http://www.fineartconservationlab.com) for further work.
At the lab, we processed the painting stabilizing the paint to make sure that flaking would not be an issue far into the future. The murals were cleaned. Then we lined or backed the murals and mounted them to stretcher bars. The work was completed with layers of new varnish. Very little touch up (or inpainting) was needed as the murals were in great shape.
It was very gratifying to work with Irvine Museum Director Jean Stern on this project and to facilitate the donation process to the museum. What a wonderful place for these murals. Here is the explanation of the exhibit that is now at The Irvne Museum:
Inner Visions: Women Artists of California features works by women working in California in three major periods: the Tonalist style of the late 1800s; the Impressionist period of the early 1900s, and the Regionalist style of the 1930s and 1940s. The central attraction in Inner Visions is the 7 feet by 26 feet mural by Jessie Arms Botke, a gift to The Irvine Museum from The Oaks at Ojai, for which the mural was painted in 1953.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, California had more women artists than other regions of the country. In the East, the entrenched art establishment had existed for more than a century and it consisted solely of men artists. It was deemed inappropriate to have women earning a living and pursuing a career in the arts. By contrast, there was no entrenched art establishment in Los Angeles as both men and women artists began arriving at the same time. Artists who lived in Southern California in the early 1900s were part of a close circle of friends and included men and women.
Artists featured in Inner Visions include Jessie Arms Botke, Meta Cressey, Anna Hills, Donna N. Schuster, Marion Kavanagh Wachtel, among others.
The main attraction for Inner Visions is a mural from the venerable Oaks Hotel in Ojai, a generous gift to The Irvine Museum in 1992 from the Oaks at Ojai. The mural was painted in 1953 by Jessie Arms Botke, with assistance from her husband Cornelis Botke. It is a large work, measuring nearly 7 feet high by 26 feet long and it represents a scene in the Everglades, with a large variety of bird life and flora set on a gold-leaf background.
The mural graced the ballroom wall of the old Oaks Hotel for nearly forty years when, in the course of renovating the hotel, the decision was made to tear down the wall in order to enlarge the room. Mindful that this was an important work of California art, the hotel offered the mural as a gift to The Irvine Museum with the condition that the museum assume the costs of removal and restoration of the work. Fortunately, the mural was painted on two large pieces of canvas, and not directly on the wall. The mural was carefully removed and restored to its full glory.
At the time The Irvine Museum received the mural, the museum was in a large suite on the 12th floor of its current building. As such, it was impossible to bring the mural into the museum because it would not fit into the elevators. So, for more than eighteen years the mural was displayed at Joan Irvine Smith Hall, at the University of California, Irvine. A few years ago, the museum relocated to the ground floor of its current building, thus making the elevator restrictions moot.
The museum is finally able to display this majestic and magical mural. Since the museum does not have a single wall that measures 26 feet, the mural will be displayed in its two parts for Inner Visions, one measuring 14 feet long and other 12 feet long. They will be shown on opposite walls so the viewer will, in effect, be in the middle of the scene.
JESSIE ARMS BOTKE (1883-1971) was a Chicago artist who specialized in painting works that featured exotic birds surrounded by wondrous plants and blossoms. Little interested in landscape, Botke worked in the brilliant and colorful style of Art Deco. She worked in oil and often added gold and silver leaf in the background.
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