A Virtual Celebration Honoring Janet Blake, Curator of Historical Art

Janet Blake (Dominik), Curator of Historical Art, will retire on December 31, 2020. Blake has been affiliated with the museum since 1983 in the field of scholarship on the history of California art from 1900 to 1950, with a focus on American impressionists in California and the regional or American Scene artists of the 1930s and 1940s.

She began her exploration in the field in 1981 as private curator for Diane and E. Gene Crain and went on to provide curatorial services to Peter and Gail Ochs of The Fieldstone Company as well as Bente and Gerald E. Buck. At Laguna Art Museum, she organized the 1986 exhibition Early Artists in Laguna Beach: The Impressionists and contributed to the publication for the 1990 exhibition California Light curated by Dr. Patricia Trenton and Dr. William H. Gerdts. The following year she co-edited American Scene Painting: California, 1930s and 1940s with Ruth Westphal.

Transitioning from independent curator and contributor to staff of Laguna Art Museum in 1998, Blake worked as the registrar before assuming the additional position as curator of collections from 1999 to 2012. In 2012 she became the curator of historical art. During her tenure, Blake has curated several exhibitions: California Holiday: The E. Gene Crain Collection, 2002 (with Susan M. Anderson); Laguna’s Hidden Treasures: Art from Private Collections, 2005 (with Tyler Stallings); Millard Sheets in Mexico, 1932 to 1943, 2006; E. Roscoe Shrader, 2010; Clarence Hinkle, 2012; Timothy J. Clark, 2012; George Hurrell: Laguna to Hollywood, 2013; Travels with Millard Sheets, 1950–1980, 2014; Rex Brandt: In Praise of Sunshine, 2014; Phil Dike: The Wave Series and Malibu Set Series, 1968 to 1981, 2015; City Life, Los Angeles: 1930s to 1950s, 2016; Miss Hills of Laguna Beach: Anna Althea Hills, Art, Education, Community, 2016 (with Keith Colestock); Phil Dike: At the Edge of the Sea, 2017; Art Colony: The Laguna Beach Art Association, 1918 to 1935, 2018 (with Deborah Epstein Solon); and Thomas Hunt: California Modernist, 2020 (with Keith Colestock).

Blake fondly remembers her childhood in the small town of Penfield outside Rochester, New York. After moving to Southern California in 1976, she was charmed by the community of Laguna Beach. She visited often with her husband and two young children—Katie and Michael. They enjoyed visiting the shops on Forest Avenue and stopping at the Renaissance Bakery for lemonade and treats. Blake had begun her art history studies in the northeast and completed those studies at California State University Long Beach.

She recalls the advice of one of her professors—study what is in your own back yard. At the time, she had no idea that her area of study would involve the idyllic community that she first visited in 1976.

Ten years later she was curating her first major exhibition, focusing on artists who came to Laguna Beach in the early 1900s. Research material was scant, and available paintings were not widely known; however, the exhibition was well-received and it spurred further research into the subject.

Blake could not imagine that thirty years later, she would organize a major exhibition on one of those early artists and community leaders Anna Althea Hills, followed two years later by the celebratory exhibition Art Colony. Advancements in technology enabled original, in-depth research through the internet and an ability to locate paintings more easily. The result was a very thorough examination of that early period in Laguna Beach and the significant contributions of the Laguna Beach Art Association in the shaping of a community.

Blake says that over the years she was fortunate to work with dynamic directors at the museum, especially Bolton Colburn, who offered her first position, and Malcolm Warner, who encouraged her in ongoing research, curating, and writing. Under their tutelage, she expanded her knowledge to encompass the post-war, modern, and contemporary periods. Both Colburn and Warner shared with Blake a passion for the museum, the community, and for California art.

The board and staff of Laguna Art Museum celebrate the achievements and contributions of Janet Blake through the course of her 38 years of affiliation and service.

Please join us in celebrating the tenure of Janet Blake, who will retire on December 31, 2020. Gifts to the museum may be made “in honor of Janet Blake.” According to Janet’s wishes, gifts will provide unrestricted support; with gifts of $5,000 or more to the endowment, and gifts under $5,000 to the annual fund. To make an honorary gift by credit card, click below – or mail a check to the address below:

For gifts by mail, please write “in honor of Malcolm Warner” in memo:

Attn: Bernadette Clemens
Laguna Art Museum
307 Cliff Drive
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Questions? Please email Bernadette Clemens, Director of Advancement.

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  1. Dear Janet, I honor you here today and every day! What a fortunate position it has been for me to work with you and learn so much from you. I admire so many qualities about you, especially those particular to our profession: your dedication to California art, your keen attention to detail, your scholarly sleuthing skills (mystery novel worthy!), and your readiness to don on multiple hats as required while executing scholarly and handsome exhibitions (I still think of the jewel-toned walls of William Wendt’s exhibition). Thank you for contributing so much to art history and for so generously sharing your knowledge, passion, and care with the rest of us. I remain forever grateful. Congratulations on your retirement and I hope this means many more frequent visits to the Pacific Northwest!

  2. Dear Janet,

    Congratulations on your retirement! I deeply appreciate your dedication to the research you have done to further knowledge and appreciation of California Art History. Your tremendous contributions will inspire generations to come.

    I have learned so much through reading your published writings, and I am grateful that we had the opportunity to share stories of the friendship between Anna Hills and Mabel George Haig. You have greatly inspired my interest in California Art History. I will continue to organize and share the archives of the Whittier Art Association & Gallery.

    Thank you for everything. Best wishes for wonderful years ahead.

    Vicki Schramm

  3. Janet, you have provided inspired leadership and dedication to our wonderful art heritage. Thank you for your service and commitment to the museum over so many years. We will miss you. Mary and Matt Lawson

  4. Gail and I began working with Janet at almost the same time we started developing our collection in the early ’80’s, and immediately appreciated both her professionalism and her warmth as a person. It was also obvious from the very beginning that she was passionate about the field of California Impressionism and loved what she did.By the mid ’90’s the Collection had matured to the point of our wanting to understand which of our works were of museum quality versus others which were good solid works .Once again Janet proved invaluable in bringing her expertise and deep historical knowledge to a very complex and thorough process. In all of our work together we have valued her friendship and our personal relationship, and Janet, no matter what you will do now, that part will remain intact. Of that you can be sure.
    with much love,
    Peter and Gail Ochs

  5. Janet–wow, what a great run at Laguna Art Museum. You certainly have been a guiding light for the Museum and a trusted and true friend to its mission and programming. It is rare to have an institutional influence as consistent and meaningful as yours has been. It was fabulous working with you and seeing your tenacity and dedication at work! You will be hard to replace, although I’d image you will still be involved to some degree. I will always warmly remember some of the more trying exhibitions that we worked on together and your willingness to stretch beyond accustomed norms and practices as well as your dogged pursuit of the exhibitions you believed should be realized at the Museum. Your insights and working relationships with some of the important collectors and dealers of the first half of 20th century southern California art were key to the Museum’s success. You could always be counted on. I wish you well and will miss your presence at LAM.

  6. Dear Janet, We go so far back, to 1986, when I was organizing my first exhibition on California art for Claremont Graduate School on Phil Dike and you were so supportive and helpful. That was the beginning of a long relationship in which we started as colleagues with a mutual love of art, to friends that had sometimes kooky adventures together! I was thrilled when Bolton was able to hire you for the registrar’s position at LAM, knowing it would grow into your curatorial position covering California historical art–my former position at the museum that I loved so well under Charles Desmarais–and that is essential to keeping the delicate balance between historical and contemporary exhibitions at the museum. You have done a phenomenal job of keeping the legacy alive of early art in Laguna and the Southland and I can’t imagine what they will do without you. I’m looking forward to many more years of friendship and kooky adventures and wish you much joy in your retirement.

  7. Janet

    Your knowledge and appreciation of historical California Art has been a cornerstone of the Laguna Art Museum’s permanent collection and of many of its exhibitions.

    We wish you fantastic times in the years ahead

    Tom and Barbara Stiles

  8. Dear Janet: I have enjoyed the many exhibitions and programs that you have done at LAM. Best wishes on your retirement. I hope the future continues to see you still connected to art. May 2021 be a good and safe and healthy year for you.

  9. December 29, 2020
    Dear Janet,
    I had no idea you were leaving and am just seeing this announcement for the first time today! What a loss this will be for the museum. Your vast knowledge of American art history and especially the art of the American West and California has always provided one of the important focuses for the Laguna Art museum. Your high standards and expertise will be greatly missed. Hopefully we will continue to see your warm, friendly smile at openings and other museum events.

  10. Dear Janet, I don’t think we have ever met but I have enjoyed your exhibitions enormously. Best wishes for the next chapter.
    Catherine Dickinson, Sherman Library & Gardnens

  11. Dear Janet,

    Thank you for all your hard work and passion in shaping the the programming of the Laguna Art Museum. Your contribution to the community and the greater art world will be felt for generations to come. It was a pleasure getting to meet you, a sentiment I share with many many others. Best of luck in the next chapter of your life!

  12. Janet and I were colleagues for seven years when I was chief curator at Laguna Art Museum from 1999 to 2006. I felt like we were a great team, along with other LAM staff members too. But, for me, as a young curator who focused mostly on post-WWII art at the time, I learned so much from Janet that expanded my knowledge about California art through the centuries. Her focus on getting the details right was the mark of an exceptional art historian and demonstrated her passion for adding scholarship to the field. My time there would not have been as fun and smooth without Janet as a friend and wonderful colleague!!

  13. Dear Janet.
    I can not imagine the Laguna Art Museum without you. Even though you are retiring, I trust you will continue to make contributions to our art environment. Thank you for your help in putting articles together for the various publications I have worked for over the years, and thank you for helping cover some, at times, gaping holes in my knowledge.
    I wish you health and happiness.
    Daniella Walsh

  14. Janet,

    The world is a better place because of your excellent scholarship concerning California historic art. Thank you for all that you have done in your field.

    Best regards

  15. Janet,
    You have been such a wonderful source of accurate information about the history of this remarkable town and its artists. It has always been a pleasure to turn to you for insight, and it was fun also. I will miss the chance to see you. Thank you for your many years of service.

  16. Janet, you are such a treasure. You have been an incredible resource and representative for the Laguna Art Museum, that without you, we will not be the same. Thank you for decades of beautifully curated shows. You have made a difference by loving what you do.

  17. Janet, I greatly admire your extensive knowledge of and passion for historical art and the way that you’ve been able to share that with the community through your exhibitions. Thank you for allowing me to work with and learn from you, and for helping me to realize my own interest in art historical research. I’ll miss spending time at the museum with you.

  18. All best to one of the most knowledgeable and accomplished experts on California art! Janet’s solid scholarship and broad art historical insight has been manifested in countless exhibitions. Her eagle eyes have saved many guest curators (including myself!) from errors in attribution or dating. Her persistent pursuit of accuracy has been a solid rock in the shaping of Laguna’s brilliant collection of California art. Here’s hoping she continues writing and curating in retirement! We still very much need your voice and expertise! Happy wishes to you, Janet!

  19. I have worked closely with Janet over the years on several exhibitions in collaboration with the Festival of Arts and I never came away from any project without being astounded at the wealth and depth of her knowledge of our local Art History. She is a true gem in our local art community and I will miss saying HELLO to her when I visit LAM. Janet: I wish you the very best. It has been my pleasure to have worked with you and learned from you.

  20. Janet, thank you for all your years of service. You have always been part of the museum for the 35 years Gene and I have been members. The museum will not been the same without you. You and I had a special bond over the last four years and with our mutual goal achieved, hopefully you will retire with peace of mind. Enjoy your retirement, be well, and stay safe

  21. A marvelous curatorial era at the museum is coming to an end with your retirement. It was a pleasure to work with you and provide services for all the research projects you gave me over fifteen years. While under your guidance, I learned so much about California Impressionism and its artists. Wishing you all the best in your retirement! I know you will keep busy!

  22. Thanks, Janet, for the many years of friendship and the sharing of your impeccable knowledge while we served on the old Collections Committee, et al. Your little office then was a sanctuary, tucked away in the basement, where we commiserated in sadness and joy over the ongoing drama and transitions of LAM. How wonderful to see Laguna Art Museum in a strong and well-functioning place in the community, the art scape of California and beyond. We will miss you! Keep pursuing your interests, sharing the richness of your life in art…and have some other fun, too!

  23. Janet
    We are honored here in Laguna to have your care and insight all these many years – may you now find time for those special projects personal to you – our best to you always

  24. Dear Janet,
    How I have marveled at your knowledge and ability to communicate it, often from memory. I’ve learned so much from you. I want to thank you for being such an inspiration.

  25. What a pleasure to honor you and the extraordinary contribution you have made over the past four decades to California historical art.
    You have been a seminal art scholar in this arena, contributing greatly to our knowledge of the art and artists during the period from 1900-1960. Thank you for all you have done for Laguna Art Museum and the art community. You will be dearly missed!

  26. Janet:
    Thank you for making yourself available to reporters at the Indy. Your insights always enriched the reader’s understanding.
    I hope you find new pursuits in retirement.

  27. Janet has always been such a great asset to the Museum and will surely be missed. During my time on the board I was always amazed by the vast wealth of knowledge she has. Janet you will surely be missed, enjoy your new chapter in life. I think all are sorry to see you go.

  28. Thank You Janet for your wonderful contribution to the museum. As a Docent, I always looked forward to your walk throughs when we had a new exhibit. Your knowledge & years of experience assisted all of us in preparing for future tours. Have a wonderful, fun filled retirement!

  29. Oh no, Janet! You will be deeply missed.
    Your dedication and thoroughness is impressive. I will never forget working with you on the marble show. Acting as registrar, you examined every centimeter of stone with a concern which touched my heart. In your hands, my work would be safe.
    Thank you for your passion for art and the artists who make it! Your commitment to the story of California art is remarkable. Wishing you only good things!

  30. Dear Janet,

    I have been inspired by your knowledge and generosity in the training lectures you gave while I was a docent at the Museum.

    Last May I relocated to Boston and hope to visit Laguna and the museum the first winter we are allowed to freely travel.

    I wish you all the best in your retirement.

    Barbara Hoag

  31. Dear Janet ~ My deepest and warmest gratitude to you for your leadership in advocating for California’s 20th century art and placing it in its true context. We had a lively and distinctive art scene here (are you listening, New York!) and the LAM’s constituency has benefited from your labors and your wise and well-tuned eye. Now, how about doing an oral history??!!

  32. Thank you for your significant contribution to Laguna Beach. Your efforts have enriched the community and have improved the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. Personally, I’m grateful that I was able to lend you my mother’s work papers for the excellent exhibition of Rex Brandt’s art back in 2014. I only wish that my mother were alive to see what a wonderful job you did in organizing the presentation. You gave me the opportunity to honor my mother’s memory in a way that enriched and educated others. Thank you.

  33. Congratulations on an incredible career and with the sincere hope that you will continue to sprinkle us with your knowledge and wisdom. It has been a joy working with you and i can only wish you the very best in your future endeavors.

  34. Congratulations to an incredibly committed scholar to furthering the history of early artists associated with California Impressionism! From our early days working together on projects of mutual interest at LAM you have never wavered in you commitment! The Museum, the artists you’ve researched and the history of our regional art have all benefited from your hard work…work I believe you’ve loved.
    May you journey ahead be filled with wonderful times and continued interest in the story of California visual art!

  35. When my wife Sue and I moved to Laguna Beach and began regular visits to the museum, one of the first exhibits that impressed us was Rex Brandt, In Praise of Sunshine. Coincidentally, I came across a Rex Brandt being offered at auction in a distant city, and Janet was kind and forthcoming enough to look at the listing and offer her scholarly opinion that it was in fact a bona fide Rex Brandt. As a result of that assistance, Sue and I have enjoyed for years now Brandt’s bucolic watercolor of a red barn and two tractors. We want to extend our admiration for Janet’s knowledge and dedication and thank her for her contribution to making the Laguna Art Museum the wonderful opportunity it is to view and appreciate so much excellent artistic expression.

  36. Dear Janet,

    Thank you for all you’ve done -your exhibitions have been beautiful and backed with knowledge. You’ve educated us in so many ways. It’s been a delight to have you in our community. This isn’t goodbye, as we look forward to seeing you at the museum for many occasions . We wish you the best in this next chapter of your life-may it be filled with joy !

    Diane and Igal Silber


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