Millard Sheets is known for creating very public art, including murals for schools, government buildings and, of course, Home Savings branches. One mural he painted for a private setting -- the dining room of a house in the Hollywood Hills -- soon will be seen at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.
The Southern California landscape was commissioned in 1934 by homeowners Fred H. and Bessie Ranke. It was donated last year by current owners Larry McFarland and M. Todd Williamson. The piece, which the artist signed and dated, had "undergone excellent care" and was in good shape, according to Jessica Todd Smith, chief curator of American art. "The question was how to get it out of the house."
Fortunately, she says, Sheets had painted on Sanitas -- "kind of a fine-weave wall covering" -- and tests showed its original adhesive could be removed. "In this case, drying glue was our friend."
During a painstaking process that took several weeks last fall, the artwork was slipped off the walls in sections, rolled onto cylinders (the bigger the better to reduce creasing) and sent to the conservation lab, where it's being lined, stabilized and mounted.
Besides moving the mural, says Smith, "We had to figure out how to take something in a room of one scale and put it into a room of another. The nice thing about Sheets is that he used a relatively consistent horizon line throughout and addressed the top with a simple band of blue ... Even without the pieces above doors and windows, the composition still reads beautifully."
Smith describes the painting as "elegant," adding that it "captures Sheets' affinity for the California landscape and ability to create an evocative sense of place." Displayed on panels that together measure about 46 feet wide by seven feet, it will reside in the boardroom in the new education and visitor center, which is set to open next year.
The Huntington's holdings also include a Sheets lithograph and other materials related to the prolific Pomona-born artist, architectural designer and educator, who died at 81 in 1989.
Top photo: The mural in the dining room of a Hollywood Hills home / Photo by Tim Street-Porter
Bottom photos: Conservators prepare for transfer / Courtesy of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens