California Heritage Museum honors significant Californians

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Milford Zornes

Restoration, preservation and protection were Friday night’s buzz words.

By Vicki Godal/Special to The Malibu Times

Friday night the California Heritage Museum honored three vitally significant Californians in its 17th annual awards ceremony, which included dinner, jazz and a silent auction at the museum in Santa Monica.

Art collector Diane Keaton, artist Milford Zornes-the last living member of the 1930s “California School” of watercolor painters-and Dr. Piedad F. Robertson, president of Santa Monica College, were honored Friday. Commitment to cultural and artistic excellence in restoration, preservation and protection were the buzzwords of Friday night’s awards ceremony.

Well known for her collection of clown paintings, which she began acquiring from flea markets, Keaton Friday evening talked about her love of California artists being forged at the swap meet, where she first encountered Hillside pottery, Bauer, Malibu Tile and desert paintings. Keaton told of her encounters with ” a unique cast of characters who re-found the indigenous treasures that define the myth of California with all its romance.”

The awards ceremony recognized Keaton’s tireless pursuit to protect and preserve California’s cultural heritage. Keaton is on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Conservancy, which protects and preserves the cultural heritage of Los Angeles. Dedicated to the preservation of the heritage of California, Keaton is personally responsible for the restoration of three homes in Los Angeles: a 1928 Art Deco house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a 1926 residence by Wallace Neff and her own home, a 1920 hacienda style.

Keaton thanked the Heritage Museum for “finding a permanent home for our beautiful treasures” and “making the Southland’s regional history come alive.”

E. Gene Crain, founder of the E. Gene Crain Collection, introduced Milford Zornes, calling the artist an “American hero.”

At the age of 96, artist Zornes still finishes, mats and frames a painting every day. As a leading figure in the California watercolor movement in the ’30s and early ’40s, Zornes changed the way people looked at watercolors. Using large sheets of paper, Zornes applied the watercolor paints with broad brush strokes, leaving areas where the white paper would show through to define a shape or color. Zornes and other members of the movement were “painting” with watercolors as opposed to the traditional use of watercolor to add color to detailed pencil drawings. Zornes showed that watercolor was a medium equal to oil.

Zornes spoke about his first experience of selling a painting and realizing that this was his vocation. He encouraged young artists with an anecdote about painting in public, with a passerby mistakenly donating money: “See, you can make money as an artist!”

Zornes’ paintings are now in permanent collections at the Los Angeles County Art Museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the White House collection.

Monsignor Lloyd Torgerson of St. Monica’s Parish drew parallels between the character of the city’s patron, Saint Monica, and the character of Dr. Piedad Robertson-both determined women who achieved a great deal.

In 1995, Robertson was appointed superintendent/president of Santa Monica College. Recognized nationally as an educational leader, Robertson is one of seven members on the Gates Millennium Scholars Program Advisory Council, which oversees the $1 billion scholarship endowment created by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Robertson created the Santa Monica College Academy of Entertainment and Technology. In 2003, Robertson was appointed to the Arnold Schwarzenegger Transition Committee and named special advisor to California Secretary of Education Richard Riordan.

Held annually, the Heritage Awards Dinner is crucial to supporting the work of the California Heritage Museum. Built in 1894 by nationally renowned architect Sumner P. Hunt, the two-story house that is home to the California Heritage Museum once belonged to Santa Monica founder, John Percival Jones.

The California Heritage Museum is located at 2612 Main St., Santa Monica. Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. More information can be obtained by calling 310.392.8537.