Monday, March 19, 2012

Millard Sheets

AMOCA mural by Sheets and Susan Lautmann

In Los Angeles, architect and artist Millard Sheets (1907-1989) is best known for designing the former Home Savings and Loan bank buildings—the once great monuments to commerce covered in marble and larger-than-life tile murals. As a kid I thought his work was rather ostentatious. Sheets has recently become something of a cause célèbre, however, as more and more of his now defunct bank buildings are threatened with demolition. On Sunday, the L.A. Conservancy celebrated Millard Sheets by hosting a tour of his art and architecture in Claremont and Pomona.

Cooped-up in the house all day Saturday because of rain, we decided to brave the weather and schlep out to the east San Gabriel valley for the tour. We could see patches of snow on the foothills as we approached Claremont. Our first stop was Scripps College, where Sheets taught and headed the arts department in the 1930s and ‘40s. His simple yet beautiful Garrison Theater, built in 1963, still stands on the west end of campus. Signature mosaics of three Shakespeare plays float above the front entrance.

Garrison Theater mosaic: sword fight from
Romeo and Juliet

Lobby tapestry by Arthur & Jean Ames

Sheets’ studio was located just a handful of blocks from campus. Now the home of Claremont Eye Associates, the complex is surprisingly compact: a small office building plus a slightly larger building that housed his working studio. Delicate mosaics of birds and Asian falconers adorn the otherwise unassuming white facades. Working with a team of artists, Sheets would paint the first draft of his tile murals on the inside wall of his two-story studio and then lay the paintings on the floor as a blueprint for placing the tiles, which were fired in a kiln out back. It was amazing to see the actual space where so much public art was created.

Toucan mosaic

Cat mosaic - office floor

Sun mosaic peeking through the trees

From there, we drove half-a-mile to the former Pomona First Federal (PFF) Savings and Loan on Foothill Blvd. and Indian Hill, built in 1969. Another dramatic edifice minimally decorated with mosaics.

Mosaic outside former PFF

The highlight of the tour was the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA), located in Pomona in yet another former bank. Unlike its cousins, the exterior of the building is plain and almost industrial. Inside, however, hangs a magnificent 78-foot-long painted mural of the history of Pomona that was saved when AMOCA moved into the site. Although the museum’s exhibit, “Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California 1945-1975” (part of the soon-ending Pacific Standard Time series), is fabulous, the mural alone is well worth the drive to Pomona.

There were two more outdoor stops on the tour, but the temperature had dipped into the mid-40s by then, so we hightailed it back to Culver City, where it was somewhat warmer. And, oh yeah, I no longer think Millard Sheets’ work is ostentatious.


Adam said...

A nice overview of the LA Conservancy's tour. Learn more about Sheets and the significance of the Home Savings buildings here:

Cyn said...

Thanks, Adam, for your comment and link. Your web address is incorrect, however. I believe it should be