San Diego Art Guide

100 Years of Balboa Park Through Artists’ Eyes


Marston House Museum & Gardens
3525 Seventh Avenue in Balboa Park

Opening: April 18, 10am
Continues through September 21

Art of the Park: 100 Years of Art in Balboa Park (1915-2015), an exhibition of paintings of Balboa Park dating from the 1915 Panama-California Exposition to the present, will be on display at the 1905 Marston House Museum & Gardens in Balboa Park April 17-September 21, 2015. Ten rooms of the Arts and Crafts-style home in Balboa Park’s northwest corner will showcase dozens of paintings, watercolors, and pastels depicting only the park, its buildings, gardens and landscapes.

This major exhibition is part of Save Our Heritage Organisation’s year-long celebration of the Centennial of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, which was held in a transformed Balboa Park for this international event. SOHO is the region’s largest and most active historic preservation group and operator of the Marston House Museum & Gardens, a National Historic Landmark at 3525 Seventh Avenue.

Paintings of the park’s century-old Spanish Colonial-style architecture, courtyards, fountains, thematic gardens and groves of trees created by early 20th-century artists such as Alfred Mitchell, Martha Bintliff, D.A. Lovell, and Maude Rice will hang in this intimate setting, as will pieces by mid-century artists Richard Gabriel Chase and Robert Kinyon. Recent Balboa Park paintings by two dozen plein air artists will hang amongst the historic paintings. A seven-member professional art jury selected contemporary works by San Diego area artists such as Ken Goldman, Dot Renshaw, Marjorie Taylor, Elizabeth Weems, Toni Williams, and Jeff Yeomans, and, from Tijuana, Armando Elizarraras.

Most of the art selected for this exhibition was painted outdoors in the park in the plein-air style, a technique pioneered by the French Impressionists to capture nature in fleeting light and atmosphere, in contrast to working in a studio.

In California, and especially San Diego, where artists can work outdoors year-round and explore dramatically diverse natural environments, painters and sculptors founded the California Art Club in 1909. Mitchell and Fries, two of San Diego’s most acclaimed early 20th-century painters, were members, as was Mitchell’s teacher, Maurice Braun. Many of the contemporary artists exhibiting in this show also belong to this venerable club, following a revered tradition of venturing outdoors to paint. Formed in 1965, the San Diego Watercolor Society is also well represented by several of its members.

“We are celebrating 100 years of Balboa Park as muse,” said Elizabeth Weems, a SOHO board member who heads the Events & Education Committee. She is also an accomplished artist whose oil paintings of park landmarks will be on view in Art of the Park. Her subjects, colorfully tiled fountains and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, demonstrate the breadth of subjects the park offers.


Christopher Pro, a member of the committee, a collector and art dealer notes that Balboa Park is just as much a destination for artists today as it was a century ago. “This exhibition pays homage to the early painters and illustrates how the tradition lives on,” he said.

To amplify the indoor presentation, SOHO has invited leading plein air artists: Joan Boyer, Will Gullette, Rita Pacheco, Ken Roberts, and many others, to show their paintings of Balboa Park in the Marston House garden and on its shady lawn the third Sunday per month from April through September. Half a dozen artists, including several whose work will also be on display in the Marston House, will be on site, sometimes painting and informally discussing their work. Different artists will be present April 19, May 17, June 21, July 19, August 16 and Sept. 20 from 10am to 4pm. This free art show and sale includes live music and light refreshments and benefits the Marston House Museum.

Another reason SOHO is mounting these art exhibitions focused on Balboa Park is that George Marston is considered San Diego’s first activist historic preservationist for his efforts in Old Town, Anza Borrego, and Balboa Park. Balboa Park as we know it today is a product not only of two international expositions but also the ongoing efforts of committed historic preservationists since 1917. In fact, Coons explained “the idea for the show came in 2013 when a local gallery owner sent a card and watercolor to SOHO thanking us for our advocacy and signing it on behalf of the last century of artists who have called Balboa Park their own.”

“I would like visitors to Art of the Park to gain a renewed appreciation for the beauty and history of Balboa Park, and to better understand that we have the responsibility to protect and preserve it for the future generations,” said Christian Chaffee, a San Diego-based art and antiques dealer who helped locate historic paintings for the Marston House exhibition. An opening concert and reception for both shows will be held April 17 at the Marston House. Tickets are available through SOHO.

Opening along with Art of the Park to complete SOHO’s quartet of centennial exhibitions at the Marston House is Exposition Memories: The music, literature, and decorative arts of the 1915 Exposition, which will run through November.

The 1915 Exposition in particular highlighted the literary and artistic heritage of California and the greater Southwest, creating widespread interest in the region at a time when writers, artists, and intellectuals were prominent in daily life.

This exhibit is located throughout the museum’s rooms and will showcase the rich artistic and cultural heritage of the Exposition with a varied collection of music, literature, and decorative arts. Displays consist of examples or originals from the same manufacturers, artists, and authors that exhibited at the expo along with representative artifacts that will all evoke exposition memories.

Two other well-received exhibits, Balboa Park Exposition Designers: The Making of the Dream City, 1915-1935 and Souvenirs and Keepsakes: Memorabilia of the 1915 and 1935 Expositions, are also on view at the Marston House through November 30, 2015.

All four exhibitions complement each other while offering distinct historic insights into the cultural, social, and commercial life of San Diego. Three are accompanied by a catalog. “There really is something for everyone here, and because each exhibit addresses a different aspect of the Balboa Park story, we hope visitors will return again and again to the Marston House this year to enjoy and absorb it all,” Coons said.

SOHO’s ambitious 2015 exhibits and related programs supplement a host of other ongoing preservation efforts, educational activities and events throughout San Diego County. SOHO also operates five museums, including the Marston House & Gardens in Balboa Park and the Whaley House Museum in Old Town San Diego. Find more events and information online at Contact SOHO at 2476 San Diego Avenue, San Diego, CA 92110, or by calling (619) 297-9327.