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Detail view of Sheets' mosaic mural. Photo by Paul Baker Prindle.

Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum preserves historic Millard Sheets mosaic mural for future generations and captures de-installation in mini-documentary
Farmers & Merchants Bank donates work of art for installation in new museum building

[Long Beach, Calif. July 14, 2020] Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum of Cal State Long Beach  announces the acquisition of historic public art by California artist Millard Sheets gifted from Farmers & Merchants Bank (F&M). The mosaic mural will be installed as a feature of the newly expanded museum. The initiative to save and preserve the work was spearheaded by museum Director, Paul Baker Prindle in partnership with F&M. In addition to the gift of this valuable mosaic, F&M made a significant philanthropic gift to the museum to support the conservation of this work for future generations.
 The first step in the conservation, the de-installation from the former Home Savings and Loan Building, is now complete. Threaded Films produced a mini-documentary showcasing the work’s significance while capturing the collaborative process of de-installation. RLA Conservation of Art + Architecture (RLA) has been contracted to conserve this work, following many successful Outdoor Sculpture Collection conservation projects with the museum. Brian Worley of Brian Worley Art & Restoration, Inc. (BWAR), official liaison for the Sheets Estate and part of the original installation team, also consults on the project. Both firms will assist in efforts to relocate and conserve this monumental work. 

Millard Sheets’ untitled mosaic mural before de-installation. Photo by Sean Dufrene.

Constructed from 1975-1977, the untitled mosaic designed by Millard Sheets uses byzantine-style glass tesserae. Standing over 14 feet high and over 11 feet wide, the floor-to-ceiling work frames a doorway. According to BWAR, the mosaic design is based upon an embroidered tunic that Sheets purchased on a trip to Mexico. The work depicts colorful, tropical birds with various foliage elements over a geometric background. The mosaic’s vitreous and smalti tiles create a textured surface and reflective sheen. 

It is one of two Sheets works which were located at the former Home Savings and Loan Building at 4909 Lakewood Boulevard, Lakewood, CA.  Artists who collaborated on these works also include Denis O’Connor, Susan Lautmann Hertel, Brian Worley, John Edward Svenson, Frank Homolka, Tina Reeder and Richard Ellis.

History of the Work

In 1955, Sheets was commissioned by Howard F. Ahmanson to design Home Savings Bank branches throughout Southern California to serve as community landmarks by expressing “community values” or presenting “a celebratory version of the community history,” according to Adam Arenson, a professor of history and director of the urban studies program at Manhattan College. Sheets designed large mosaic works to adorn the  buildings with scenes reflecting local heritage. 

The Ahmanson commissions include more than 40 branch buildings. The artist established the Sheets Studio in Claremont, California, employing a series of artists to help. Three of the most notable artists were Sue Lautmann Hertel, Nancy Colbath and Denis O’Connor, who shared the honor of having their signed names or initials included on the works with Millard Sheets.

About the Artist

Millard Sheets, 1948 Studio Portrait for LIFE Magazine

Millard Sheets (born Pomona, CA 1907-died Gualala, CA 1989) studied art at the Chouinard Art Institute and became one of the state’s foremost artists during his lifetime. Best known for his watercolor landscape paintings, he quickly rose to prominence among fine arts circles, gaining membership into the California Water Color Society as a teenager. His work is characterized by a stylized depiction of his natural environs and uses Surrealist imagery and iconography. 

A lifelong educator, he is notably credited for restructuring the academic program of present-day Otis College of Art and Design during his tenure as director from 1953 to 1960. Over the course of his career, Sheets designed numerous buildings, including banks, malls, schools and private homes. He also produced watercolors, prints and mosaics while serving as chair of the art department at Scripps College and Claremont Graduate School.  Sheets continued to produce work until his death in Gualala, CA on March 31, 1989.  His paintings are in the collections of prominent institutions including the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA.

About the Institution

Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum is a community of people who examine, critique and create contemporary art and culture. Our exhibitions and projects serve students, campus communities and the public. We build opportunities for participation and collaboration around art and art making and consider museums as more than their buildings. As we undergo a significant site expansion and renovation beginning in 2020, we will create a series of digital initiatives and off-site projects while we work to improve our home location.