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As director of the University Art Gallery, CSU Dominguez Hills, I spent a six year spiritual odyssey of history and art--with the gracious assistance of Jean Stern, Executive Director of The Irvine Museum and generous support of the W.M Keck Foundation--in rediscovering and restoring a beautiful collection of California Impressionist masterpieces that were collected by the Gardena High School seniors from 1919 to1956. It culminated with the exhibit and educational project, “Painted Light: California Impressionist Paintings from the Gardena High School/Los Angeles Unified School District.” The then principal, Mr. John Whitley, a cultivated and creative man, was a friend to many of the artists, including William Wendt, Edgar Payne and Maurice Braun. The students sometimes even bought a painting right off the easel, as in the case of the sparkling winter landscape Lingering Snows, by Jack Wilkinson Smith.

The many aging Gardena High School alumni, who made a pilgrimage to see the paintings of their youth, the teachers and children from grades K-12 who immersed themselves in Impressionism, the campus audience, the community of Gardena, and the fans of these lovely paintings were a constant source of renewal in the midst of this all-encompassing project. The paintings themselves, which show an untouched land of rugged mountains, rolling hills and expansive coastlines, reveal a California filled with light and color that we can still glimpse, but through a maze of housing tracts and shopping centers. Happily, the Painted Light exhibition will be on display at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage [Opening March 24th--Ed.]. After the exhibit, fifteen of the most significant paintings, including works by Maynard Dixon, Maurice Brown, John Frost and Alson Clark, will remain on extended loan at the Autry, and will be rotated throughout the permanent collection galleries for all Californians to enjoy.