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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
MovementCalifornia Scene Painting

Millard Owen Sheets (June 24, 1907 – March 31, 1989) was an American artist, teacher, and architectural designer. He was one of the earliest of the California Scene Painting artists and helped define the art movement. Many of his large-scale building-mounted mosaics from the mid-20th century are still extant in Southern California.[1] His paintings are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, the Chicago Art Institute, the National Gallery in Washington D.C.; and the Los Angeles County Museum.

Early life and education


Millard Sheets was born June 24, 1907, and grew up in the Pomona Valley, east of Los Angeles.[2][3] He is the son of John Sheets.[4] He attended the Chouinard Art Institute and studied with painters Frank Tolles Chamberlin and Clarence Hinkle.[5] 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 of the California Water Color Society.[6] The following year he was hired to teach watercolor painting even before his graduation from Chouinard.[7]


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

In May 1927, Sheets exhibited twelve of his landscapes and seascapes oil paintings at the Ebell Club in Pomona.[8] In 1929 he won second prize in the Texas Wildflowers Competitive Exhibitions, and the generous award[9] allowed Sheets to travel to Europe for a year to further his art education.[10] 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. In 1943, he painted four murals at the Main Interior Building in Washington, D.C. in the subject of “The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America.”[11]

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.

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.

Outside of California, he took on commissions for the Detroit Public Library,[12] 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).[13] 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.[14] During that time, a ceramics building, gallery, library, and studio wing were completed. By the time Sheets left Otis in 1962, the form and direction of the college had changed dramatically.[15]

Millard Sheets Art Center


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.[citation needed]


The Word of Life mural at the Hesburgh Library, colloquially known as "Touchdown Jesus".

Mosaic murals at Home Savings Bank branches


In the late 1950s, Sheets was commissioned by Howard F. Ahmanson to design Home Savings Bank branches throughout Southern California that would serve as community landmarks by expressing "community values" or presenting "a celebratory version of the community history." To accomplish this goal, Sheets designed his branch buildings with exterior façades containing large mosaic works depicting local heritage.[1][16]

The Ahmanson commissions multiplied to include more than 80 branch buildings after the initial 1955 commission.[17] Sheets resigned his teaching position at Scripps College and established the Sheets Studio in Claremont, California, employing a series of artists.[1]

Sheets produced these untitled mosaics as commercial commissions that are considered official public art,[18] and in the absence of a formal Sheets Studio title they are titled by their images or theme.[12][19] Although they enjoy some protections under the California Arts Preservation Act, many have been destroyed.[1]

List of Home Savings branches with Millard Sheets Studios artwork


According to researcher Adam Arenson, there were 168 Home Savings of America locations with some kind of Millard Sheets design contribution (including signage).[12][20] However over time many of the mosaic murals have been removed from the facade of the buildings; some of which have been relocated to museums.[21]

Mosaic murals, bronze sculptures, and stained glass designed by the Sheets Studio were placed at scores of bank branches throughout California. The art's highly localized themes made them community landmarks for many neighborhoods and cities.

  • 9245 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills,[12][22]
  • 6311 Manchester Blvd., Buena Park,[12]
  • 8010 Beach Blvd., Buena Park,[12]
  • Sunset and Vine, Hollywood,[12]
  • 660 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles[21]
  • 4 West Redlands Blvd., Redlands[23]
  • 27319 Hawthorne Blvd., Rolling Hills Estates[22]
  • Corner of Arden Way & Expo Blvd, Sacramento
  • Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, San Diego; "The Harbor" and "Children's Zoo" plus 6 historical character mosaics, wall painting inside[24]
  • 2750 Van Ness, Lombard Street and Van Ness, San Francisco,[12]
  • 98 West Portal Avenue, San Francisco[25]
  • 2600 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica[22]
  • 12051 Ventura Blvd., Studio City[12][22]
  • 6570 Magnolia Avenue, Riverside[26]

Other notable work




Sheets died on March 31, 1989, at his home in Anchor Bay in Mendocino County, California, after a long illness. A service was held at his home and at the First Unitarian Church of San Diego.[45]

Sheets had four children. His youngest son, Tony Sheets, has worked in restoring his father's murals, including the mural in San Jose, California.[40][21]

The Paul Bockhorst documentary film, “Design for Modern Living: Millard Sheets and the Claremont Art Community 1935–1975” (2015) was released posthumous.[24]



The following are awards Sheets won, among others:[38][unreliable source?]

  • Watson F. Blair Purchase Prize, Chicago Art Institute (1938)
  • Philadelphia Watercolor Club Prize (1939)
  • Dana Watercolor Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1943)
  • Drawing Prize, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1946)
  • Gold Brush Award, Artists Guild of Chicago, Award of the Year (1951)
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana (1964)

See also



  1. ^ a b c d Arenson, Adam (2018). Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture in California. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. pp. 2, 131. ISBN 978-1-4773-1529-3.
  2. ^ "Artists: Millard Sheets". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Archived from the original on 2020-08-11. Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  3. ^ a b Kendall, John (1989-04-02). "Millard Owen Sheets, 81; Artist, Designer and Teacher". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2020-06-29. Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  4. ^ "Millard Sheets papers, circa 1907-2000". Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Retrieved 2024-02-12.
  5. ^ Blake, Janet (2012). ""In Love with Painting": The Life and Art of Clarence Hinkle". www.tfaoi.com. Archived from the original on 2020-07-18. Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  6. ^ "Women's Club News". Los Angeles Evening Express. Los Angeles, California. 4 Apr 1930. p. 15. Archived from the original on 2021-09-20. Retrieved 2021-09-19.
  7. ^ "Outing Spots In South Listed in Stage Line Book". Pomona, California: The Pomona Progress Bulletin. 14 Jun 1929. p. 21. Archived from the original on 2021-09-20. Retrieved 2021-09-19.
  8. ^ "Pomona Boy Exhibits 12 Paintings At Ebell Club". The Pomona Progress Bulletin. Pomona, California. 5 May 1927. p. 15. Archived from the original on 2021-09-20. Retrieved 2021-09-19.
  9. ^ "Wildflower Competitive Exhibitions" Archived 2013-06-20 at the Wayback Machine. San Antonio Art League Museum website. Retrieved Jan. 31, 2016.
  10. ^ "Wildflower Competitive Exhibitions: Millard Sheets" Archived 2015-12-19 at the Wayback Machine. San Antonio Art League Museum website. Retrieved Jan. 31, 2016.
  11. ^ Park, Marlene (1984). Democratic vistas : post offices and public art in the New Deal. Gerald E. Markowitz. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 234. ISBN 0-87722-348-3. OCLC 10877506.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Happy Birthday Millard Sheets: Top Ten Public Art Projects to See in Person". KCET. Public Media Group of Southern California. 2013-06-24. Archived from the original on 2022-06-20. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  13. ^ "Millard Sheets Named Art Institute Director," Los Angeles Times, August 20, 1953, A1.
  14. ^ "Art Institute Instruction Plan Mapped". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. 27 Jun 1954. p. 40. Archived from the original on 2021-09-20. Retrieved 2021-09-19.
  15. ^ "Andres Andersen". Progress-Bulletin. Pomona, California. 11 Jan 1962. p. 4. Archived from the original on 2021-09-20. Retrieved 2021-09-19.
  16. ^ Kudler, Adrian Glick (2012-09-10). "It's Sheets Week, Dedicated to the Man Who Made LA's Mosaicked Mid-Century Banks". Curbed LA. Archived from the original on 2021-10-19. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  17. ^ "Back in the Day: Famous mid-century designer's murals can be seen in Riverside, Hemet". Press Enterprise. 10 September 2016. Archived from the original on 20 September 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  18. ^ "Millard Sheets: (Untitled) Home Savings Bank". Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  19. ^ Sandefur, Timothy (Spring 2019). "Millard Sheets and the Art of Banking" (PDF). The Objective Standard. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  20. ^ "Millard Sheets Studio Public Projects | Adam Arenson". 2018-01-29. Archived from the original on 2022-01-20. Retrieved 2022-06-14.
  21. ^ a b c "The Iconic Murals Of Millard Sheets Are Disappearing From LA". LAist. 2019-07-31. Archived from the original on 2022-07-24. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  22. ^ a b c d Kudler, Adrian Glick (2012-09-14). "Touring 5 Millard Sheets Projects in Greater Los Angeles". Curbed LA. Archived from the original on 2022-07-24. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  23. ^ "What will happen to mural by famed Pomona artist when Redlands Chase branch moves?". Redlands Daily Facts. 2018-12-14. Archived from the original on 2022-09-14. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  24. ^ a b Kahn, Eve M. (2016-06-09). "The Artist Who Beautified California Banks". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2022-07-24. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  25. ^ "Home Savings and Public Art – Public Art and Architecture from Around the World". www.artandarchitecture-sf.com. Archived from the original on 2015-12-26. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  26. ^ "Happy Birthday Millard Sheets: Top Ten Public Art Projects to See in Person". PBS SoCal. 2013-06-24. Retrieved 2023-12-05.
  27. ^ Karen Wada, Millard Sheets mural moving to the Huntington Archived 2014-11-05 at the Wayback Machine, LA Observed, November 4, 2014
  28. ^ "Udall Department of the Interior Building: Sheets Murals - Washington DC". Living New Deal. Archived from the original on 2022-09-13. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  29. ^ "Millard Sheets and Susan Hertel (Lautmann), "Panorama of the Pomona Valley," 1956". AMOCA. Archived from the original on 2021-10-17. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  30. ^ a b Kudler, Adrian Glick (2012-09-12). "Touring 5 Millard Sheets Projects in Claremont and Pomona". Curbed LA. Archived from the original on 2022-07-24. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  31. ^ L.A.'s art world eagerly awaits 2017 opening of Marciano muse Archived 2016-12-31 at the Wayback Machine by Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 30, 2016.
  32. ^ Bluejeans moguls to turn Masonic lodge in L.A. into a private museum Archived 2013-07-31 at the Wayback Machine by Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2013.
  33. ^ "Buffums' murals by Millard Sheets return to Pomona". Daily Bulletin. 2018-12-07. Archived from the original on 2022-09-14. Retrieved 2020-09-09.
  34. ^ "Millard Sheets murals commissioned for Buffums Pomona". Progress-Bulletin. 1961-10-06. p. 9. Archived from the original on 2020-07-24. Retrieved 2020-09-09 – via Newspapers.com.
  35. ^ Loyola Marymount Tapestry designed by Millard Sheets, CaliSphere, California Digital Library, 2019-06-14, archived from the original on 2022-07-24, retrieved 2022-07-24
  36. ^ "Waikiki's Rainbow Landmark". The San Francisco Examiner. San Francisco, California. 19 Jan 1969. p. 254. Archived from the original on 11 February 2022. Retrieved 11 February 2022.
  37. ^ "Millard Sheets, Family of Man, City Hall East, Los Angeles". Archived from the original on 2021-04-21. Retrieved 2020-09-11.
  38. ^ a b c d e f Millard Sheets Recent Paintings. New York: Kennedy Galleries, Inc. 6 Oct 1978. OCLC 4810067. Archived from the original on 24 May 2022. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  39. ^ "Millard Sheets Mural at San Jose International". Flysanjose.com. Archived from the original on 2021-07-26. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  40. ^ a b "Millard Sheets' son saves artist's doomed mural at San Jose airport". The Mercury News. 2010-07-09. Archived from the original on 2022-07-24. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  41. ^ "Millard Sheets historic mural set to be knocked down". Daily News. 2010-06-16. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  42. ^ "Afternoon Washing", private collection, Lake Chapalam, Mexico, 1979
  43. ^ "Elegant Ancient Cypress", image from art magazine, 1980
  44. ^ "Lake Chapala, Mexico, (1983)", www.californiawatercolor.com, 1983, archived from the original on 2022-03-03, retrieved 2022-03-03
  45. ^ "Obituary: Millard Owen Sheets". Independent Coast Observer. Gualala, California. 7 Apr 1989. p. 16. Archived from the original on 20 September 2021. Retrieved 19 September 2021.