Early California Masters
Paintings from the Katherine A. Norris Legacy Collection

November 12, 2021 – December 19, 2021

Location: American Legacy Fine Arts

We are thankful for the foresight of art enthusiast Katherine A. Norris (1958–2011) in assembling this collection of exemplary paintings created by premiere masters of Plein Air Painting and California Impressionism. It is an honor that American Legacy Fine Arts was chosen to exhibit and represent the collection.

The works were selected with care to exemplify the unique style and subjects that best embody the oeuvre of each artist in the collection. Some of the artwork was represented through the private Newport Beach art gallery, Katherine Norris Fine Art, while others were retained for Mrs. Norris’ own personal collection. While the subject matters differ, the three main criteria for the collection are that the artwork should represent a sense of discovery, convey tranquility, and be created by a California resident artist.

There is something special about California that has an international mystique. Several years ago, while traveling through Italy with my husband, Peter, we stopped for lunch in a small cafe perched on a hilltop in a Tuscan village. There was a long table of a dozen men sitting together and they were curious about us, the strangers. They asked where we came from. We responded “California.” They smiled and nodded to each other with dreamy gazes. One of them replied with his Italian-English, “Ahh, Caleefornya is like a Ferrari to an Italian.” I realized then how special California is.

Certainly, there is a spirit about California that inspires the senses, stirs the imagination and conjures romance, independence, fortune and adventure for all newcomers. This was particularly true at the turn of the 20th century, when countless artists were lured from the cold climes of the Midwest and East Coast to discover the year-round sunshine and magnificent vistas of the Golden State. 

Academically-trained artists were hired by the railroads to paint scenes of the west and southwest for promotional purposes. The picturesque images were reproduced on menus, calendars and magazines in a brilliant subliminal commercial effort to entice easterners to travel west by railway.

In 1920, the Santa Fe Railway hired Sam Hyde Harris. His palette of reds, yellows, and blues was perfectly compatible with the colors of the desert, Native American dress, and the Grand Canyon. The Santa Fe Railway also commissioned Hanson Puthuff to create a series of Grand Canyon paintings that utilized his inimitable atmospheric perspective. Marion Kavanagh Wachtel’s poetic landscapes attracted a vice president of the Santa Fe Railway, who commissioned her to paint western scenes in exchange for free passage to California. Similarly, in 1906 Jessie Arms Botke created paintings for the Santa Fe Railroad in exchange for passage to California, where her stylized interpretations became a part of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad engaged Edgar Payne to paint scenes from Albuquerque to the California coast—images that have become iconic representations of the Southwest.

Some artists who arrived in California were hired by the burgeoning film industry. Western artist Carl Oscar Borg created artwork for both the railroads and movies. He was one of the first art directors in Hollywood and contributed to producing silent films from 1925 to 1928. 

Most of the artists represented in this collection had exhibited in the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, including Armin Carl Hansen, who won a silver medal, and Maurice Braun, who received a gold medal. When Orrin White’s artwork was accepted into the exposition, he quit his job with an interior design company to pursue painting full time. Featured at the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego were paintings by Anna Althea Hills, who won a bronze medal, Jean Mannheim, who received both gold and silver medals, and Jack Wilkinson Smith, who was awarded both bronze and silver medals.

Through the work of these superlative artists, we gain a glimpse of their lives and interests. Many of the paintings were created en plein air or from plein air sketches and represent California in its developing years. The Katherine A. Norris Legacy Collection can be considered a body of rare paintings that represent a special time in California history and art.

Elaine Adams
American Legacy Fine Arts

Featured Artists

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