Millard Sheets

1907 – 1989

One of the best known California watercolorists and lithographers is Millard Sheets. What is not so well known is what a 20th century Renaissance man he was. Most of his accomplishments were due to his incredible talent and drive but part were because he was able to put his talent and drive to constructive use even during bad times.

Millard Sheets grew up as a rural Californian in Pomona, graduating from Chouinard Art Institute in 1929 – the beginning of the Depression. He remained at Chouinard teaching watercolor and influenced many artists to adopt a style and regional subject matter that came to be called the “California Style” of watercolor painting – loose, and allowing the white of the paper to show giving a sparkle and liveliness to the painting. An extended trip to France in 1929 gave him the opportunity to see the new art directions in Europe and to study lithography with master lithographer Gaston Dorfinant. Lithography became an area to which Sheets devoted much of his creative life. The techniques allowed him the same expressive freedom as watercolor.

Passing through New York, his early ideas that art should be of service to others and should communicate clearly, were reinforced by seeing the work of Edward Hopper and that of Thomas Hart Benton, who expressed the philosophy that American artists needed to reflect the areas in which they lived and not copy the styles of Europe. Sheets’ work during the 30’s and 40’s had close ties to the American Regionalist attitude.

Millard Sheets’ inclusion in the Carnegie Institute’s International Exhibition of Painting in 1930 was the beginning of his national recognition.
In 1932, Sheets moved to Scripps College in Claremont where he single-handedly developed the art department and, at the same time, was chairman of the Scripps Graduate School.

The Federal Arts Project to assist in recovery from the Depression appointed Sheets as Regional Director for Southern California in 1934. So, in addition to his teaching, he had oversight of hundreds of artists working in printmaking, sculpture, crafts and painting.

Sheets devotion to teaching carried over to organizing major art shows for the public at The Los Angeles County Fair, a venue that introduced thousands to some of the best art and craft in Southern California. He did this each summer for twenty-five years.

During the years of WWII, Sheets took a break from teaching and was an artist reporter in India and southeast Asia. He also designed Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, AZ.

After the war, Sheets continued at Scripps College but moved, in 1960, to become head of the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.

In his studio he also did architectural design as well as mosaics and murals. His architectural credits include over 100 buildings throughout the United States most of which included his mosaic or mural designs.

As a teacher, watercolorist, war-time correspondent, architectural designer, lithographer, muralist, and organizer, Millard Sheets was unique in his abilities.

“Mountain Horses”
#124 out of an edition of 200
Stone lithograph
Image size including half inch margins 8 ¾” x 11 ½”
Framed size 18 ½” x 22 ½”