SBTHP Hosts a Santa Barbara School of the Arts “Preview” Tour

Thomas Van Stein (right) leads the tour group through the Ranchero Visitadores room at El Paseo, which is painted with artwork from the 1930s, some of which is by faculty of the School of the Arts. The Ranchero Room is now the office of architects Barbara and Tom Sanborn, who generously hosted our visit. Photo b Anne Petersen.

On April 4, 2018 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation hosted a tour of the Santa Barbara School of the Arts by Artist Thomas Van Stein.  The small group on the tour was invited to preview sites related to the campus of the school as well as nearby artwork produced by faculty and students of the school.  The preview tour helped us brainstorm with peers and formulate ideas for a public open house at the School of the Arts campus on May 6, 2018. Opening with a short presentation on the history of the school in the Alhecama Theatre at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, guests will be able to view works of art by school faculty, enjoy a reception in the courtyard, tours of former school buildings, and visit nearby art and architecture related to the faculty of the school.

The Santa Barbara School of the Arts is a special resource within El Presidio de Santa Bárbara SHP, and one we hope to bring more attention to.  The School was incorporated in 1921 with the intent to involve the community in the study of the arts. In 1925 the school had twenty-one faculty members, 260 students, and was funded through tuition fees and a $125,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation.

The faculty of the school was made up of renowned artists, landscape architects and architects including Carl Oscar Borg, Ed Borein, Lockwood de Forest, Jr., Albert Herter, and James Osborne Craig, and many very successful students, including painter and muralist Channing Peake. Courses included life drawing, painting, portraiture, landscape painting and sketching, color theory, design and handicrafts, etching, architecture, modeling from life, and antique bronze casting and wood block printing.

In 1938 the school closed because of the financial strains of the Great Depression and the end of the Carnegie Foundation grant. The following year, Alice F. Schott purchased the property. Schott deeded the property to the Santa Barbara School District‘s Adult Education Program in 1945. The property was occupied jointly by the Adult Education Program and the Santa Barbara Junior College until 1958, when the Junior College, now Santa Barbara City College, moved to its campus on the Mesa. In 1981, the Adult Education Program outgrew the site and moved to a new location. The State of California purchased the site in 1982. The campus is now operated by SBTHP.

We will be sharing more information about the May 6 open house in the upcoming weeks, and we hope you will join us at the event. We look forward to seeing what might come from this renewed interest in the School of the Arts and the growing coalition of artists, arts supporters and preservationists as we work together to activate the school’s amazing legacy.

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