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Jessie Arms Botke Featured in “Inner Visions: Women Artists of California”


Jungle Scene by Jessie Arms BotkeMany people have heard that we were responsible for saving the wonderful, gorgeous mural of a tropical jungle by Jessie Arms Botke from demolition but few have heard the story. So, here it is!

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.



Botke Mural at The Irvine Museum

The right section of the mural





Botke Mural

The left side of the mural



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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About Scott M. Haskins

Scott Haskins has been in professional art conservation since 1975, specializing in the conservation/restoration of easel paintings, murals and art on paper. FACL, Inc. is known nationally for doing A+ work no matter the size or difficulty of the project. We are happy to do a quick cleaning on a family heirloom. Our client list and resume is also full of very satisfied clients of large, difficult/complicated projects at remote locations. Excellent services are also available as an Expert Witness/Legal Testimony in art related matters. Consultation on art related projects occur regularly including extensive insurance evaluations for insured or insurer. Services are offered worldwide. Scott M. Haskins is also author of the "Save Your Stuff" series, educational information, materials and supplies to help people protect and save their treasured family heirlooms and collectibles at home and office. He can be reached at 805 564 3438. Video and written testimonials at http://www.fineartconservationlab.com/testimonials/
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33 Responses to Jessie Arms Botke Featured in “Inner Visions: Women Artists of California”

  1. Silvia Ramon says:

    I love Jessie Botke’s work.

  2. Scott M. Haskins says:

    I know what you mean Sadie. We have had some of her stunning masterpieces come through our lab and they leave you with a lasting impression. She did very beautiful work.

  3. Sadie Richmond says:

    We collect early CA art and we love Jessie Botke’s art. I wish we could afford more of it. Thanks for letting us share in the inside details of this project.

  4. Betty Smith says:

    Whenever I’m out looking at art, its interesting for me to see that the works that catch my eye are most the time done by women artists. Jessie Arms Botke is no exception and we love her very decorative style of painting.Some people think she’s not a serious artist cause her artwork isn’t gutsy or soul wrenching or whatever. Supposedly, art created for beauty’s sake isn’t worthy. I beg to differ and think your efforts to save this wonderful mural was worth whatever efforts and money it took. Great job saving a wonderful painting by a wonderful artist.

  5. Ray Dowdy says:

    Thank you for posting about this mural that used to be in the spa where my wife and I go to “get away from it all.” We have wondered what happened to that mural and there are differing stories from the people in Ojai. And we never knew it was by a famous artist. So, great post and thanks for the interesting info. Thanks for saving it too!

  6. Faith says:

    Jean Stern, the museum director, was very complimentary of you, Scott, and your art restoration company. He said you do a lot of work on Botke’s and that your company has been around for a long time. So, I was glad to find this article with more info about the mural. I can see from your website that Mr. Stern was right. Congratulations.

  7. Brad says:

    George Stern’s Gallery recommended that I go see the show at the museum and I was not disappointed. I love art by women cause it has a certain vibe for me. So, standing between the two large panels of these murals (one on each side of the room) was amazing. I imagine that Ms. Botke was a special spirit. Thanks for writing about it and giving us more info. Very nicely done.

  8. Scott M. Haskins says:

    Thanks Nicki

  9. Nicki says:

    I saw this exhibit at The Irvine Museum. The mural looks great. Congratulations.

  10. Scott M. Haskins says:

    Yes, we’ve done 100’s of paintings for the Irvine Museum.

  11. Jenny says:

    FACL came to my house in Carmel and discussed the condition of my painting by J.A. Botke with me. I appreciated the service and given the very high recommendations from dealers in the area, I was most confident that I was being well taken care of. I was not disappointed and extremely pleased with the professional and honest service besides the simply beautiful job done on cleaning my painting. Thank you.

  12. Pat Kolppa says:

    The painting looks great. It is good to hear that it has been preserved. There don’t seem to be many people that paint giant murals anymore so it is nice future generations can enjoy this one.

  13. Ray says:

    Thank you Mr. Haskins for looking over my artwork with me the other day. I appreciate the time you took to explain everything so clearly. I also appreciated not being charged to discuss these matters with you. Your business and facilities are most impressive.

  14. Gail says:

    Scott’s our expert. He’s working right now for us on cleaning a painting by this artist that got badly smoked in a house fire. The folks at FACL will make the painting look perfect. They are the best. Give them a call.

  15. Kim says:

    This article and discussion thread is great cause last week, I found a painting that looks like these paintings you are all talking about in the trash. The board its on is broken but I’ll call to have you look at it. This should be fun!

  16. Scott M. Haskins says:

    Thanks Grace for your testimonial. My best to your family.

  17. Grace says:

    We inherited a small painting by Botke. An gouache on panel that seems to be a planning painting for a bigger work of art. It was discolored, flaking and generally looked super faded. Scott and his crew did an amazing job and returned our painting to us looking perfect. Actually, we were beyond amazed. After Scott and the other conservators worked on our painting, the appraisal price tripled! Thanks everyone at FACL.

  18. Meg says:

    We’ve had Scott work on a lot of paintings by Botke for our gallery in West Hollywood and the work always turns out perfect. I would consider him THE Botke expert.

  19. Ally says:

    This seems like it would have been a big job. But have you done much other work for The Irvine Museum?

  20. Tammy G says:

    Great job and thanks for writing about this. This is good for all early CA art collectors to know about.

  21. Ron says:

    Do you know anything about Jessie Arms Botke’s background gold technique?

  22. Andre says:

    Have you seen the murals by Botke in the old Buffum’s building on Wilshire Blvd in LA? No one seems to know about them.

  23. Scott M. Haskins says:

    Thanks for leaving your questions Daniela. Gold leaf is a technique in paintings that dates back 1000 years or more. In modern times, artists have used gold leaf but its not common. J.A. Botke made it a common part of her painting technique and used gold leaf metal leaf, aluminum lead and maybe silver leaf. In addition, she used a very stable gold paint used for radiators, colored varnishes and glazing layers to add variety and movement to her gold back grounds. She sometimes got into trouble when she painted over the gold. Paint doesn’t stick very well to gold leafing (or other kinds of leafing) and eventually flakes. This is a fairly common problem with Botke when she made this mistake.

  24. Daniela says:

    I heard she used gold leafing in the background. Is that true? Isn’t that weird?

  25. Yvette says:

    As a collector for some years, its been frustrating to know that The Irvine Museum has all this great early CA stuff that Joan Irvine Smith bought 20 years ago and you never get to see a lot of it. It’s nice to see this come out of its private hiding place.

  26. Clancy says:

    Great job. Congratulations on saving this mural. Its really beautiful.

  27. Scott M. Haskins says:

    Ummm… That’s a complicated LONG answer for an all inclusive response. However, the short answer for THIS mural is that the painting was first done on canvas and then glued to the wall. So, we detached the canvas after protecting the paint layer. If you want to see more about mural removal issues, there’s a quick and very interesting video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iOiL2urctM

  28. Tamara says:

    How do you take the paint off the wall when you remove a mural? That seems so impossible without destroying the artwork.

  29. Scott M. Haskins says:

    Rhonda,
    Thanks for leaving your comment and your feelings are completely understandable. I assume there was no benefactor willing to step up to pay the bill for removal of the mural from the wall before demolition and the art conservation and restoration treatments required afterwards to make it look perfect for exhibition. In addition, the Oaks was looking for a charitable organization to whom they could donate the artwork for the tax implications. Also, as a mural, you need 7′ x 28′ of space on a wall to show the mural and not a lot of places have a wall that big. Add all that up and there may have not been anyone in Ojai that was “a fit” for the mural.

  30. Rhonda says:

    I’m from Ojai and I was sad to see in your article that this wonderful artwork used to be in our town. It would have been like the best artwork anywhere around and now its gone! Couldn’t it have been saved and stayed here?!

  31. Scott M. Haskins says:

    Hi Dani,
    Yes, there are murals in the old dept. store of Buffum’s on Wilshire in LA and in the lobby of the Oxnard, CA Library. Other large paintings were originally painted, or glued, to plywood then bolted to a wall but several of those have been converted into paintings on stretcher bars. She was so good at murals that I suppose there are others out there but I don’t think I know about any more off the top of my head.

  32. Dani says:

    I love Botke’s art and have seen a lot of them. But I’ve never seen any murals. Did she do other murals too?

  33. Nancy says:

    I was at The Irvine Museum last month and saw this really beautiful mural and given the removal and saving it from demolition, I wondered if you did the work. So, I am really jazzed to find out that this is your expert work!

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