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Monthly Archives: September 2010


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Stained Glass at the Laurel Canyon branch

Stained glass at the Laurel Canyon branch

I have been providing an initial tour through all the media of the Sheets Studio artwork, and today we have arrived at stained glass. These can be some of the hardest images to photograph — even before we consider the banks’ restrictions on taking images only from the outside.

Millard Sheets and Susan Hertel were the primary designers of the images, and, in the case of stained glass, all the fabrication was done offsite; Denis O’Connor created the mosaics, working from gouaches and inverted cartoons and cans and cans of tiles. That was about all the labor they could handle in-house. (Brian told me that the stained glass was made by Carnevale and Lohr, the Bell Gardens, Ca., firm recently involved in restoring the Rancho Palos Verdes mosaic; I can’t figure out if they are just stonemasons, working mostly in the iconic marble of these banks. or also glass artists, too. Update: Brian recalled that the Pasadena stained glass firm was John Wallis Stained Glass. Rufus Turner also indicates that Judson Stained Glass did commissions as well.)

Both Hertel and Sheets had a lifelong love of horses, and here is yet another image where it shows: horses at the corral, young men and women out for a ride, and children being pulled toward fun by a woman at the reins. Other animals join in the fun — lots of dogs, and a few cats — and the bright, contrasting colors accentuate the theme of fun.

As I mentioned last week, these artworks could do a lot to set a happy mood in the bank — and of course the use of stained glass suggests the sense of awe inspired by walking into a darkened cathedral. The 1960s also saw the interest in Color Field painting, watching how one bright color would play off another; I see influences of that style and interest here, with the green moon, purple dog, bright green reins, and dappled blue- and orange-and-white horses.

These are commercial products — artwork sold to banks, that helped the banks’ bottom line — but they are also exemplary period pieces, valuable artworks from the time, which, as I have mentioned elsewhere, also tend to tell a story of California history. One hopes that JP Morgan Chase, as their current steward, understands the power and significance of these artistic bank assets.

Sculpture in Pasadena

The Home Savings artworks included sculptures as well as mosaics and murals.

The Pasadena bank at the corner of Lake and Colorado has been a focus of Home Savings art conservation in the last year, as Chase’s makeover of the location — new color palette, new entrance, new thick Plexiglass over the tellers’ windows — changed the experience of the bank radically.

The Pasadena branch as constructed.

The much-loved painting by Millard Sheets of Pasadena’s iconic Tournament of Roses parade was taken down, and as of last report, it is still seeking a permanent home in Pasadena where it will be both secure and on public display. (This report suggests the Pasadena Convention Center — as my history of this work will consider the interplay of public art and commercial spaces like banks, it says a lot about how society has changed that new venues being considered have to be public or nonprofit spaces, to guarantee the artwork, even despite the California law forbidding such artwork from being destroyed, regardless of location; see some discussion¬†here.)

But sometimes lost in the discussion are the elements of the original Home Savings artwork that almost always remain on site: the sculptures. They are heavy, they tend to be more tall than wide, and hence even new arrangements seem to welcome them easily, even while divorcing them from their original context.

I have yet to figure out where (or if) the sculptures were signed, but I am told by Brian that the sculptors involved were John Edward Svenson and Albert Stewart. Some further information about them can be found here and here, respectively, but I must say they seem the most unsung part of the collection of artists and architects working in the Sheets Studio.

What to make of the sculpture? They are almost always family scenes, with some animals (dolphins on Santa Monica Blvd., for example). Men, women, and children enjoying one another’s company, normally in a nondescript way — walking, embracing, singing maybe. But not, say, driving, working, shopping, or, obviously, banking.

Like all of this artwork and architecture, the Sheets studio was working to create a welcoming space, with art that ennobled the experience of banking, and celebrated life — not in the means of the transaction, but in the life of that community, its history, and its pastimes. For a bank to endorse and pay for such work seems a throwback — though, I gather, these artworks paid for themselves in increased attention, increased deposits, and increased bank loyalty. Like the ongoing discussions of Mad Men‘s popularity¬†and meaning suggest, perhaps it is this present-reality/past-ideals contrast that feeds the work’s unflagging popularity.

This week more individuals motivated by the cause of saving and understanding the art and architecture of the Home Savings banks have been in touch, and I appreciate it! I look forward to continuing to learn about this remarkable work, and sharing images and insights here on the blog, at the Urban History conference in October, and onward from there. Keep getting in touch!

Update: Thanks to an email from John Svenson’s son David, I have learned that the work above is Albert Stewart — and that his father, 87, is demonstrating his craft and signing books at the Millard Sheets Center at the LA County Fairplex this month.) He also noted that Paul Manship did the sculpture in front of the Hollywood bank. Thanks again for everyone who is adding information!