The Hilbert Museum of California Art

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 10.35.31 AMThe Hilbert Museum of California Art is a gift to Chapman University and the surrounding community by Mark and Janet Hilbert. These two gave artwork valued over $7 million and another $3 million for the building of the museum to hold the timeless artwork. This generous gift by the Hilbert’s has created the first all California Scene art museum.

California Scene artwork is known for having man made objects in every piece. California Scene paintings use mostly watercolor and oil as the medium. The objects seen in the paintings can be anything from a building, a person, a street, a train station, ranch or pier. California Scene paintings tell a story. They represent people in their everyday life and communicate what was going on at that moment in time. The paintings date back to the 1920s and go on through the 1970s to show the changes that were happening in California during that time period. The paintings at the Hilbert Museum make you feel and understand the emotions that people during the 1930s-1970s faced.

Mark and Janet Hilbert have been collecting paintings for over 25 years. They have a collection of over 1,000 paintings, and recently gifted a portion of those great masterpieces to Chapman University to create this museum. In order to develop an eye for paintings, they have travelled to Europe about 25 times. Wow! While they were there, Mark and Janet visited all of the great museums of art to understand different types of paintings. By viewing the great art of older time periods, the Hilbert’s were able to develop their own eye.

Millard Sheets, “San Dimas Train Station,” 1933
Millard Sheets, “San Dimas Train Station,” 1933

How did they begin to collect all of these historical paintings? In 1992, Mark and Janet bought their first home together in Palm Springs. They did not have much money, but had a lot of wall space that they wanted to decorate. They hunted around through consignment shops and garage sales to find decorations. “I found our first California Scene painting at a consignment shop in Palm Springs that had a complete assortment of California watercolors,” Mark says. “It was love at first sight. After buying that first one, we developed an appreciation for the style. Since then, we’ve educated ourselves and continued to collect, and have now moved into collecting oil paintings and lithographs as well as watercolors.” Mark and Janet have found their collection at auctions, on ebay, at galleries and from what Mark called “pickers,” who are people that come to him with one or several paintings that they think he might like.

We were lucky enough to get an early sneak peek into the Hilbert Museum of California Art. The paintings that cover the wall indicate incredible times in California’s historical past. Just walking through the museum, you can feel the emotions of each painting, and understand what is going on. One of our very favorite paintings shows migrant California workers playing a baseball game. These workers travelled across the nation from the Eastern U.S. to find work in California. Another masterpiece is a watercolor painting of a beach scene. The artist strategically used salt to create a beachy feel, which also created a unique effect on the watercolor paint itself. Keep your eyes peeled for these gems and many more when you attend.

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Mark Hilbert and curator Gordon McClelland in front of our favorite watercolor migrant workers playing baseball

Please join us in celebration of the grand opening weekend of the Hilbert Museum of California Art on February 26th and 27th. The Open House on the 26th will be from Noon to 5PM. On the 27th, it will be held from 5:30-9:00PM. Admission is and will always be free. You can park in front of the museum, or on the street. The Hilbert Museum is located across the street from Ruby’s Diner, which will be catering appetizers and snacks for the event. We hope to see you there!

Last Updated on July 2, 2020 by