Millard Sheets

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Millard Sheets
Millard Owen Sheets

(1907-06-24)June 24, 1907
DiedMarch 31, 1989(1989-03-31) (aged 81)
EducationChouinard Art Institute
Known forPainting, Sculpture, Mosaics

Millard Owen Sheets (June 24, 1907 – March 31, 1989) was an American artist, teacher and administrator who was one of the earliest of the California Scene Painting artists. Many of his large-scale building-mounted mosaics from the mid-20th century are still extant in Southern California.

Early life and education[edit]

Millard Sheets was a native California artist who grew up in the Pomona Valley east of Los Angeles. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute and studied with F. Tolles Chamberlin and Clarence Hinkle. While he was still a teenager, his watercolors were accepted for exhibition in the annual California Water Color Society show. By the age of 19, he was elected into membership. The following year he was hired to teach watercolor painting even before his graduation from Chouinard.

Post-educational career[edit]

In 1929 he won second prize in the Texas Wildflowers Competitive Exhibitions, and the generous award[1] allowed Sheets to travel to Europe for a year to further his art education.[2] By the early 1930s he began to achieve national recognition as a prominent American artist. He was exhibiting in Paris, New York City, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Houston, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Baltimore, and many other cities throughout the United States. In Los Angeles he was recognized as the leading figure and driving force behind the California Style watercolor movement.

Between 1935 and 1941, his recognition, awards, and output increased, winning him repeated mention in Art Digest and a color reproduction of his work in the book Eyes on America. In 1935 at age 28, he was the subject of a monograph published in Los Angeles. His art sales enabled him to travel again to Europe, Central America, and Hawaii, where he painted on location. Although his watercolor techniques during this period ranged from very tight to very loose, a consistent, he nevertheless exhibited a personal style.

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 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. His wartime experience also informed his post-war art for a number of years, where while painting in California and Mexico in the 1940s his work followed dark hues and depressing subjects. After the 1950s his style shifted toward brighter colors and subjects from his worldwide travels.

Watercolor and oil painting were only part of Sheets's art career. Through his teaching at Chouinard Art Institute, Otis Art Institute, Scripps College and other institutions, hundreds of artists learned how to paint, and were then guided into art careers. He directed the art exhibition at the Los Angeles County Fair for many years and brought world-class work to Southern California. During the Great Depression, he joined forces with Edward Bruce to hire artists for the Public Works of Art Project, the first New Deal art project. 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 art exhibition juror.

Beginning in 1952 Sheets began working directly for Howard F. Ahmanson, Sr. on his Home Savings of America buildings throughout California. Sheets designed the mosaics for the façades as well as many of the buildings themselves. For these projects he coordinated contributions from other artists, such as sculptor Albert Stewart.

Outside of California, he took on commissions for the Detroit Public Library, the Mayo Clinic, the dome of the National Shrine, the University of Notre Dame library, the Hilton Hotel in Honolulu, and the Mercantile National Bank in Dallas.

In 1953, 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 to offer BFA and MFA degrees, and a ceramics department was created, headed by Peter Voulkos. During that time, a ceramics building, gallery, library, and studio wing were completed. By the time Sheets left Otis in 1960, the form and direction of the college had changed dramatically. In 1997, the library at Otis College was named after him.

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.

Popular culture[edit]

The Scottish Rite Masonic Temple on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles was used as a location for the 2004 adventure film National Treasure, starring Nicolas Cage, which revolved around a fictional long-running Masonic conspiracy.[4] Designed by Sheets and completed in 1961, but largely vacant since 1994, it was refurbished in 2016 to house the Marciano Art Foundation museum. For decades the building was considered "one of Los Angeles's most notorious real estate white elephants." [5]

Notable works[edit]

The Word of Life mural at the Hesburgh Library.


  1. ^ "Wildflower Competitive Exhibitions" Archived 2013-06-20 at the Wayback Machine. San Antonio Art League Museum website. Retrieved Jan. 31, 2016.
  2. ^ "Wildflower Competitive Exhibitions: Millard Sheets" Archived 2015-12-19 at the Wayback Machine. 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. ^ Bluejeans moguls to turn Masonic lodge in L.A. into a private museum by Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2013.
  5. ^ L.A.'s art world eagerly awaits 2017 opening of Marciano muse by Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 30, 2016.
  6. ^ Karen Wada, Millard Sheets mural moving to the Huntington, LA Observed, November 4, 2014

External links[edit]