Millard Sheets

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Millard Sheets
Born Millard Owen Sheets
(1907-06-24)June 24, 1907
Pomona, California
Died March 31, 1989(1989-03-31) (aged 81)
Gualala, California
Nationality American
Education Chouinard Art Institute
Known for Painting, Sculpture, Mosaics

Millard Owen Sheets (June 24, 1907 – March 31, 1989) was an American painter and a representative of the California School of Painting, later a teacher and educational director, and architectural designer of more than 50 branch banks in Southern California.

Early life and education[edit]

Millard Sheets was a native California artist who grew up in the Pomona Valley near Los Angeles. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute and studied with F. Tolles Chamberlin and Clarence Hinkle. While still a teenager, his watercolors were accepted for exhibition in the annual California Water Color Society shows and by nineteen years of age, he was elected into membership. At twenty, even before he graduated from Chouinard, he was hired to teach watercolor painting while completing other aspects of his art education.

In 1929, he won a second prize in the Texas Wildflowers Competitive Exhibitions, which were known for offering especially large prizes.[1] The award money allowed Sheets to travel to Europe for a year to further his art education.[2]

Post-educational career[edit]

By the early 1930s, he was well on his way to national recognition as a prominent American artist. He was exhibiting works in Paris, New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Houston, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Ventura and many other cities throughout the United States. At home in Los Angeles, he was recognized as the leading figure and driving force behind the California Style watercolor movement.

Between 1935 and 1941, the recognition, awards, and his output of high quality art increased. He was mentioned in numerous issues of Art Digest, had a color reproduction in the book Eyes on America, and in 1935 at age twenty eight, he was the subject of a book published in Los Angeles. Sales of art enabled him to travel to Europe, Central America and Hawaii, where he painted on location. Although his watercolor painting techniques during this period varied from very tight to very loose, his personal style always came through.

The 30 foot high mosaic on the Mercantile Continental Building in downtown Dallas was created in 1959.

During World War II, he was an artist-correspondent for Life magazine and the United States Army Air Forces in India and Burma. Many of his works from this period document the scenes of famine, war and death that he witnessed. This experience also affected his post war art for a number of years. Many of his works from the 1940s, painted in California and Mexico, reflect these mood shifts, especially when he used dark tonal values and depressing subject matter. After the 1950s, his style changed again, this time featuring brighter colors and often depicting subjects from his travels around the world.

Watercolor and oil painting was only part of Sheets' art career. Through his teaching at Chouinard Art Institute, Otis Art Institute, Scripps College and other institutions, hundreds of artists were taught how to paint, and then guided into an art career. He was director of the art exhibition at the Los Angeles County Fair for many years and brought world class art to Southern California. During the Great Depression, he worked with Edward Bruce to hire artists for the Public Works of Art Project, the first New Deal art project during the Great Depression. In 1946, he served as a president of the California Water Color Society. In later years he worked as an architect, illustrator, muralist, printmaker and juried art exhibitions.

Beginning in 1952, working directly for Howard F. Ahmanson, Sr., Sheets not only designed the mosaics for dozens of branch offices of Home Savings of America throughout California, he designed the buildings as well, and coordinated contributions from other artists such as sculptor Albert Stewart. Outside of California he was commissioned for artwork at the Detroit Public Library, the Mayo Clinic, the dome of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C., the University of Notre Dame Library, the Hilton Hotel in Honolulu and Mercantile National Bank in Dallas.

In 1953 Millard Sheets was appointed Director of Otis Art Institute (later named Otis College of Art and Design).[3] Under his leadership, the school's academic program was restructured so that BFA and MFA degrees were offered. A ceramics department was created with Peter Voulkos at its head and both a ceramics building and a gallery, library and studio wing were completed. By the time Sheets left Otis in 1960, the look and direction of the college had changed dramatically. The Library at Otis was named after him in 1997.

In 2016, a former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, designed by Sheets but largely vacant since 1994, was refurbished to house the Marciano Art Foundation museum. "Much of the original architectural detail is being preserved, the foundation said, including three Sheets murals and the building’s exterior Italian marble statues of Egyptian and Roman gods, U.S. presidents and other historical figures."[4] The building, for decades "one of Los Angeles' most notorious real estate white elephants," was used as a location for the 2004 adventure film "National Treasure," starring Nicolas Cage, which revolved around a fictional long-running Masonic conspiracy.[5]

Millard Sheets Art Center[edit]

The Millard Sheets Art Center first began as the Fine Arts Program of the Los Angeles County Fair in 1922. The 20,000+ square-foot art center was built in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration to house the program, the first major gallery dedicated solely to art in Los Angeles County. Each year the gallery provided visitors to the Los Angeles County Fair with access to art work found throughout the world. In 1994 the building was dedicated to Millard Sheets and in 2013 was identified by Fairplex as the home for year-round art education and exhibitions and is currently a part of The Learning Centers at Fairplex.

Notable works[edit]

The Word of Life mural at the Hesburgh Library.


  1. ^ "Wildflower Competitive Exhibitions". San Antonio Art League Museum website. Retrieved Jan. 31, 2016.
  2. ^ "Wildflower Competitive Exhibitions: Millard Sheets". San Antonio Art League Museum website. Retrieved Jan. 31, 2016.
  3. ^ "Millard Sheets Named Art Institute Director," Los Angeles Times, August 20, 1953, A1.
  4. ^ L.A.'s art world eagerly awaits 2017 opening of Marciano muse by Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 30, 2016.
  5. ^ Bluejeans moguls to turn Masonic lodge in L.A. into a private museum by Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2013.
  6. ^ Karen Wada, Millard Sheets mural moving to the Huntington, LA Observed, November 4, 2014

External links[edit]