Carl Sammons was one of the noted early California
Impressionists. He was a long-time resident of the San Francisco
Bay Area and a prolific Plein Air artist. Sammons is known best
for his California representational landscapes and coastal
scenes. While much of his work was done in California, he
traveled and painted throughout the West. In his early career,
Sammons painted Tonalist pastels and some sources list him as a
Pastelist. However, around 1920 Sammons added vivid color and
Impressionistic brush strokes to his repertoire. At the same time
he began painting oils and these comprise the majority of his
work. The renowned early California Impressionist John M. Gamble
praised Sammons' work on several occasions and was reported to have
said that Sammons was the best painter of flowers in the west.
More recently, Alfred C. Harrison, Jr. of The North Point Gallery, San
Francisco said that Sammons was the best pastel landscape painter
America has produced.
Carl Sammons was born in Kearney, Nebraska to John B. Sammons and
Elizabeth (a.k.a. Lizzie) Danford Sammons on May 9, 1883. Many
sources list Sammons' birth date as May 9, 1886. However, at the
time of the 1885 Nebraska State Census, two year old Carl and his
family were living in the Riverdale Township, Buffalo County,
Nebraska. The 1900, 1910 and 1920 United States Federal Census
further confirm Sammons' birth date as 1883. He was the seventh
of eight children. Sammons' mother and father were both born in
Ohio. His father was a farmer but served in the Union Army during
the Civil War.
Sammons grew up in Kearney, Nebraska
and began working as a sign painter there. In 1905 Sammons moved
to Sioux City, Iowa and began working for Ashley & Loft, a sign
painting company where he painted signage up to and including
billboards. Although he worked in Sioux City, he kept his legal
residence in Kearney (as evidenced by his name being listed in the 1910
Kearney Federal Census and the 1910-1911 Kearney City Directory).
Sammons went on to work for the Sioux City sign painting companies
Arthur Loft in 1909 and 1910 and C W Ashley in 1911 and 1913.
in 1913, Sammons moved to Petaluma, California where his sister, Mary
E. Dye, lived. By the spring of 1916, Sammons had moved to Monte
Rio, California where he opened an art studio. Sammons lived in
Oakland, California in 1917 and moved back to Kearney later that same
year. Based on the Federal Census, Sammons' father passed away
between 1910 and 1920. It's possible that his father's passing
was the reason Sammons returned to Nebraska when he did. In early
1920 Sammons joined the local chapter of the Elk's Lodge in
Even though he had put down roots in
Kearney, Sammons hadn't forgotten California and he returned to the
state in 1920 when his mother moved to Long Beach, California.
From then on, Sammons earned his living solely as an artist and called
California his home. At least five of his siblings (the
five youngest) eventually moved to California.
On February 3, 1923, Sammons married Queen Esther Stewart.
Queen, a native Californian, was born on May 14, 1893 to Calvin Stewart
and Frances Julia Cooper Stewart residents of Fort Bragg. Queen
was the youngest of seven children. At the time of their
marriage, Queen was living in Petrolia (one of Sammons' favorite
locations to paint). Sammons and Queen had much in common: a love
and appreciation of California; a religious belief in God; and both
came from large families whose parents were born in the Midwest.
This was the first and only marriage for both of them. They were
married in the Oakland home of a friend, F. E. Lucas, by the minister
of the First Lutheran Church, Oakland. They settled in Oakland
and traveled widely throughout the West. During their first years
of marriage Queen went by Bess or Bessie.
a quiet, soft spoken and gentle man who was heavily influenced by his
Midwest upbringing. Nevertheless, in some ways he was a
contradiction. He was a very private man; yet he was also a warm
and friendly person who waved to passers-by while outdoors painting and
sketching. He eschewed the limelight but enjoyed the children who
would occasionally watch him paint, sometimes sending them on errands
to fetch something for him, e.g., a piece of redwood bark so he could
get the color right in his paintings.
Sammons was a
careful and deliberate person. His niece recalls that when he
came to visit "there was a place for all of his paint equipment in his
car and it would always go back exactly in the designated location
along with luggage, picnic basket, etc." He was also a proud and
honest man. A friend asked Sammons to do some restoration work on
a painting of birds. Sammons didn't normally do restoration work
but since a friend had asked he agreed. He finished the
restoration and Queen liked the painting so much that she asked him if
he would copy it for her. Sammons asked his friend for permission
to copy the painting and she gave it. Sammons painted a copy;
however, he never signed the work since he didn't feel it was his
creation. As a final point about his character, Sammons was a
very humble man even as friends, fellow artists and art critics praised
After a career that spanned more than fifty
years, Carl Sammons died in Oakland on February 4, 1968. Services
were held on February 6, 1968 at the Telegraph Avenue Chapel of the
Grant Miller Mortuaries, Oakland. Sammons was survived by his
wife (she lived to be 103 and passed away March 19, 1997 in Moraga,
California); a sister, Mrs. Mary E. Dye, Petaluma; his brother, Roscoe
C. Sammons, Long Beach; nieces and nephews. Both Carl and Queen
were cremated and their remains interred at the Chapel of the Chimes,
Painting was a lifelong passion for Sammons
that began in his childhood. Like several other early California
Impressionists, Sammons "was inspired to paint landscapes by his belief
in God and his love of God's creation." Sammons began his formal
art studies in Sioux City while working as a gold letter sign
painter. During this time he studied under the leading local
artist F. P. Frisch, a German painter. Around 1920, Sammons
studied at the California School of Fine Arts (at the time affiliated
with the University of California and now known as the San Francisco
Art Institute). It seems likely that this is where Sammons
studied oil painting. One newspaper article implies that Sammons
may have studied with private instructors in New York and
Germany. However, no other information has been found to validate
By his twenties,
Sammons had developed a love of travel; something he would do for the
rest of his life. In 1909 he joined two other "artistic sign
writers", Seal Van Sickle and Henry Schneider, touring South
Dakota. Fittingly, Sammons was an early automobile enthusiast
and, by the mid-1920s, used cars extensively in his work to make
painting sojourns. Many of these painting trips involved Sammons
and his wife camping out by the side of their car in scenic locations
far away from any accommodations. These painting trips took them
throughout the West and to many national parks including Bryce, Crater
Lake, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Zion.
Sammons and his wife also made numerous painting trips within
California to Humboldt County, the Monterey Peninsula, Palm Springs,
the Russian River, Santa Barbara and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Sammons didn't always drive to his painting locales. In 1924 he
packed into the Piute Pass region of the high Sierras to paint that
During the late 1920s, Sammons was
a well known and sought after artist. However, as with most
artists, the Great Depression during the following decade was a very
difficult time. Art was a luxury item and, as with his fellow
artists, Sammons' sales were hard hit by the economic troubles.
In addition, as popular art styles changed to more abstract and modern
techniques, Sammons chose to continue painting in the Impressionistic
style. He was able to do this and make a living at it because he
was a prolific painter, he sold his paintings at reasonable prices and
he was a talented artist. It was during this time that John M.
Gamble, the renowned early California Impressionist, praised Sammons as
the best painter of flowers in the west.
Sammons painted a
wide range of natural scenes. "His many works included
landscapes, seascapes, high mountains, lakes, coastal ranges, the
desert and its flora, rolling California hills, thundering breakers,
scenes in all seasons, an occasional bouquet of flowers and even
birds." Within California, Sammons' paintings include scenes from
Antelope Valley, Big Sur, Cayucos, Contra Costa County (Mount Diablo
and the Orinda hills), Death Valley, Humboldt County (Cape Mendocino,
Davis Creek, the Eel River, the Etter Ranch, Ferndale, the Mattole
River watershed, Petrolia and Shelter Cove), Laguna Beach, Mission San
Miguel, the Monterey Peninsula (17 Mile Drive, the Carmel coast, the
Lone Cypress, Monterey, Pacific Grove and Point Lobos), Mount Shasta,
Palm Springs (Andreas Canyon, the Anza Borrego Desert, La Quinta
Canyon, Mount San Gorgonio, the Palm Springs Desert and Mount San
Jacinto), the Russian River (redwoods and the Russian River), the
Sacramento River, the Salinas Valley (Camp Hunter Liggett and the San
Miguel Mission), Santa Barbara (the Andre Clark Bird Refuge, Our Lady
of Mount Carmel Church in Montecito, the Santa Barbara coast and the
Santa Barbara Mission), San Diego (the Laguna Mountains), San Francisco
(the Cliff House, Golden Gate Park and Sausalito), the Sierra Nevada
mountains (Blue Lake, Convict Lake, Garnet Lake, Gull Lake, June Lake,
King's Canyon, Lake Diaz in Lone Pine, Lake Ellery, Lake George, Lake
Mary, Lake Sabrina, Lake Tahoe, the Mammoth Lakes region, the Merced
River, the Minarets, Mount Ritter, Relief Peak, Rush Creek, Silver
Lake, the Sonora Pass, Tee Jay Lake, Twin Lakes, Virginia Lake and
Yosemite) and Warner Hot Springs.
painted throughout the West including Arizona (the Apache Trail, the
Grand Canyon, the Oatman Mines, the Painted Desert, the Superstition
Mountains, the Tucson desert, the Tucson Mission and the Virgin River
Canyon), Colorado, Montana (Glacier National Park), Nevada, New Mexico,
Oregon (Crater Lake and Diamond Lake), Texas, Utah (Bryce Canyon and
Zion Canyon), Washington and Wyoming (the Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole,
Jackson Lake, the Madison River, Mount Moran and Yellowstone). He
painted in Nebraska (the Elkhorn River) and outside the continental
United States in Alaska (Mount McKinley) and Canada (the Bow River and
Lake Louise in Alberta).
Sammons had studios in a
number of locations throughout California during his career. In
addition to the studio in Monte Rio on the Russian River, Sammons
maintained a studio in San Francisco during the mid-1920s. When
he and Queen lived in Oakland, he also kept a studio there.
Beginning in the 1930s and continuing into the mid-1950s, Sammons and
his wife followed a yearly routine of traveling around
California. They stayed in areas they liked for months at a time
and went on painting excursions from these temporary homes. At
these locales, Sammons would set up a studio. Other times,
Sammons would make pencil sketches as he traveled to be used as a guide
for painting in his studio.
Places they visited regularly where Sammons had a studio included
Humboldt County (they loved Petrolia and spent the late summer and
early fall there in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s), Palm Springs and Santa
Barbara (they lived there in 1943). Even after buying a home in
Oakland in 1956, they continued to travel around California, although
not as much.
Sammons was a critical and commercial success in the 1920s and a
commercial success again in the 1950s. He sold many of his works
to individuals and public institutions through private exhibitions and
personal contacts. Sammons even sold a few of his paintings to
other artists. He sold a number of his paintings through art
galleries in Berkeley; Carmel; Chicago; Cleveland; Palm Springs; San
Francisco; Santa Barbara; Santa Rosa and the East. Like other
artists, Sammons didn't always sell his paintings and was known to give
his paintings to his friends and occasionally in barter to pay his
bills (i.e., the dentist, barber, etc.). Although one gallery and
one auction house have written that Sammons had a patron, it turns out
that in both cases, this was a barter arrangement with his
As many of his
colleagues did, Sammons worked occasionally on commission. In
1926 he was commissioned to paint the Superstition Mountains in Arizona
for the Elk's Lodge in Oakland, the Apache Trail, and several paintings
along the Lincoln Highway for "eastern automobile magnates who were
officials of the Lincoln Highway Association." During that same
year, he was commissioned by the University of Arizona and the Phoenix
Chamber of Commerce for works to be painted along the Apache
Trail. In the 1920s, Sammons created a very large painting for
California State Senator A. W. Way, a 60 x 240 in. work, showing the
proposed Shoreline Highway from Sausalito north.
Sammons also painted a number of works to order for Donald Rheem; a
friend and the developer of Rheem Valley (Moraga) in Contra Costa
County. These included a 1940 oil painting titled "Mount Diablo
Wild Flowers" measuring 12 x 16 in. and a circa 1950 oil painting
titled "Rheem Valley Estate" measuring 36 x 54 in. Sammons was
known to visit the location where the commissioned painting was to be
displayed in order to choose the palette he used for the
painting. He did this to ensure the finished painting would be
complementary with its surroundings.
Notable California artists counted among Sammons' friends included
Edward Borein (1873-1945), John Gamble (1863-1957), Deidrich Gremke
(1860-1939), Paul Grimm (1892-1974), Lorenzo Latimer (1857-1941),
William Otte (1871-1957), DeWitt Parshall (1864-1956) and Thaddeus
Welch (1844-1919). William Frates (1896-1969) who studied under
him was also Sammons' friend and best man at his wedding. Sammons
would occasionally paint with his friends and colleagues, e.g.,
Sammons' painting trip to the Grand Canyon in 1929 where he was to be
joined by John Gamble and his painting trip in 1932 with Edward
Sammons knew Southern California artists as
well. Around 1920, Sammons' mother moved to Long Beach,
California. Sammons would visit her and use the opportunity to
make "trips to the art colony at Laguna Beach where he had many
friends." Sammons also knew Albert DeRome (1885-1959) and his
"autograph" appears on the back of several of DeRome's works. "It
was DeRome's habit to seek the advice of acquaintances when they
visited his home. His visitors would then sign the backs of the
When it came to art club membership, it
seems that Sammons was a pragmatist, participating in organizations
that gave him an active venue to exhibit and sell his paintings.
In the 1920s, Sammons was a member of the Alameda County Art League,
the Berkeley Fine Arts League and the Art League of Santa
Barbara. In 1940 Sammons was a member of the American Artist's
Professional League (AAPL). He received an award from the League
for "distinguished participation" in November 1940 for his involvement
in the American Art Week exhibition held in Oakland. In 1941
Sammons was nominated for membership in the Society for Sanity in Art
(later to be renamed the Society of Western Artists); however it is not
known if he ever joined that organization. In 1942 he was a
member of the Rocky Mountain Artists Association. Sammons was
made an honorary member of the Redwood Palette Club, most likely in the
early 1950s. Sammons may have been associated with the
Desert Art Center, Palm Springs in the early 1950s as his presence in
Palm Springs is mentioned in two Desert Art Center newspaper
articles. However, the Desert Art Center's remaining records from
that period contain no reference to him.
many artists did, Sammons willingly shared his knowledge of art with
others. William E. Frates (1896-1969) studied under Sammons, as
did Henry Vardon Going (1913-1954). Sammons was also known to
give art advice when asked. For a short time, around 1960, he
taught art students at his home in Oakland. However, Sammons soon
found that many of these students asked for too much help and their
paintings began to look exactly like his work. He didn't feel
that these students were expressing their own individual styles and he
ceased formally teaching art.
The 1923 California
Industries Exposition in San Francisco marks the beginning of Sammons'
public recognition as an early California Impressionist. In 1925
his work was exhibited at the Berkeley League of Fine Arts' Third
Annual Exhibition, Berkeley; in 1926 at the California Industries
Exposition, San Diego; in 1926 at the Claremont Hotel Art Gallery,
Berkeley; in 1928, 1929 and 1930 at the Art League of Santa Barbara,
Santa Barbara (solo); in 1928, 1929, 1930 and 1931 at La Casa de Manana
Gallery, Berkeley (solo); in 1931 at the Haggin Memorial Galleries,
Stockton (now known as the Haggin Museum), (solo); in 1931 at the Tahoe
Tavern, Tahoe City; in 1931 and 1933 at the Courvoisier Gallery, San
Francisco; in 1939, 1940, 1941 and 1942 at the Desert Inn Gallery, Palm
Springs; in 1940 at the Golden Gate International Exposition, San
Francisco; in 1940 at the AAPLs American Art Week exhibition, Oakland;
in 1942 and 1951 at the Abilene Museum of Fine Arts, Abilene, TX (now
known as The Grace Museum); in 1946 and 1948 at the AAPLs American Art
Week exhibition, Hayward; in 1947 with the Artists of Cathedral City,
Cathedral City; circa 1947 at the William Keith Gallery, Saint Mary's
College, Moraga; in 1957 at the Alameda County Agricultural Fair,
Pleasanton and in 1957 at the Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento (now
known as the Crocker Art Museum).
"Sacramento River Landscape" was exhibited at the Smithsonian
Institution in Washington, D.C. for the United States 1976 Bicentennial
celebration. The Ronald E. Walker Collection contained Sammons'
works "Point Lobos", "Lupines on the Anza Borrego Desert" and "Yuccas,
Palm Springs Desert". The Walker Collection was
exhibited at the Nevada Museum of Art, Reno in 1993, the Grace Hudson
Museum, Ukiah in 1997, the Hearst Art Gallery, Saint Mary's College,
Moraga in 1997 and the Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard in 1998.
Sammons' painting "Point Lobos" was displayed on the front cover of the
book published in connection with the Nevada Museum of Art's exhibit of
the Walker Collection.
In 1994, a private
collector loaned to the M. H. de Young Museum, San Francisco Sammons'
painting "Golden Hills of California" which was displayed in the
museum's galleries until 1999. Sammons' work was displayed at the
Irvine Valley College Art Gallery, Irvine in 2000 as part of the
California Deserts exhibit. Two of Sammons' paintings were
included in the Palm Springs Art Museum's "Treasures of the West: Art
from Desert Collections" exhibit in 2007. In the summer of 2008,
the Hearst Art Gallery, Saint Mary's College, Moraga will exhibit
(solo) Sammons' paintings selected largely from the collection of his
niece, Donna Walsh Sumner. This exhibit will be shown at the
Grace Hudson Museum, Ukiah in 2009.
paintings "Big Sur" and "King's Canyon" are held by the M. H. de Young
Museum, San Francisco. One of his paintings, a seascape titled
"Ocean and Clouds", is held by the Santa Barbara Historical Museum,
Santa Barbara. The Grace Museum, Abilene, Texas holds Sammons'
painting "Desert Flowers." His paintings are also held by the
John Muir Medical Center, Walnut Creek; the Lakeshore Avenue Baptist
Church, Oakland; the Moraga Historical Society, Moraga and The Santa
Barbara Club, Santa Barbara.
The Inventory of
American Paintings at the Smithsonian Institution; Washington, D.C
contains listings of Sammons' work. Slides of thirty-nine of his
paintings are contained in the Nan and Roy Farrington Jones Archive of
Early California & Western Art at the California State Museum
Resource Center, West Sacramento.
participate in many public exhibits during his long career.
However, when he did participate in public exhibitions it was alongside
well renowned California artists. During his career some of the
artists he exhibited alongside included Carl Oscar Borg (1879-1947),
Jessie Arms Botke (1883-1971), Maurice Braun (1877-1941), William Clapp
(1879-1954), Maynard Dixon (1875-1946), John Gamble (1863-1957), Arthur
Gilbert (1894-1970), Selden Gile (1877-1947), Percy Gray (1869-1952),
Armin Hansen (1886-1957), John Hilton (1904-1883), Maurice Logan
(1886-1977), Jean Mannheim (1863-1945), Edgar Payne (1883-1947), Hanson
Puthuff (1875-1972), Granville Redmond (1871-1935), William S. Rice
(1873-1963), William Ritschel (1864-1949), Milliard Sheets (1907-1989),
Jack Wilkinson Smith (1873-1949), James Swinnerton (1875-1974), William
Wendt (1865-1946) and Theodore Wores
At the 1923 California
Industries Exposition, Sammons' work first came to the attention of
Harry Noyes Pratt. Pratt was well known in the art world and was,
at various times, editor of the Overland Monthly, art critic for the
Sunday San Francisco Chronicle, Director of the Haggin Memorial
Galleries and Director of the Crocker Art Gallery. Pratt praised
Sammons' work on a number of occasions and the two became life long
friends. Other critics appreciated Sammons' work too. In
the 1920s, Sammons was described as "one of California's outstanding
artists" and as a "famous western painter." Sammons' work was
complimented by Florence Wieden Lehre, art critic for the Oakland
Tribune, Assistant Director of the Oakland Art Gallery (now known as
the Oakland Museum) and later Pacific Coast editor for the Art
Digest. As previously mentioned, Sammons' fellow artist John
Gamble held his work in high esteem. During his life, Sammons'
paintings were sold to people with homes around the world; however,
today he isn't as well known as many other early California
Even as a relatively unrecognized artist today, his paintings have
been auctioned at Bonhams & Butterfields, San Francisco;
Christie's, Los Angeles; John Moran Auctioneers, Pasadena;
Sothebys.com; Phillips, London as well as other auction houses in the
United States. In the last few years his paintings have been sold
in art galleries in Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, New
Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and
Sammons lack of recognition today may be due to several
reasons. First, unlike many of his more renowned colleagues, it
seems that Sammons chose to limit the amount of time and effort he
spent vigorously promoting his art. Sammons was a very private
man and it appears that he chose not to participate in many of the same
activities that his peers did. Therefore, many of the records
that art historians normally look at to support an artist's place in
history do not exist for him. After his passing, Queen wanted to
respect his memory and to her that meant respecting his privacy.
As a result, she was reluctant to talk to art historians about him so
her knowledge of his contribution to early California Impressionism
isn't available to researchers.
Even though his wife
helped market his paintings in various venues, for much of his career
Sammons didn't promote his paintings as actively as his
contemporaries. However, there were a couple of exceptions.
Early in his career, he convinced C. M. Bruner, owner of Bruner's Art
Gallery in Santa Rosa, California, to let him paint pastels in the
window of the art gallery to draw in customers. Later in 1929,
Sammons participated in an advertising campaign with the Durant Motor
Company (an automobile manufacturer). Articles were written that
highlighted Sammons' use of his Durant Six Coupe during his western
painting trips. These articles were printed in over fifty western
In contrast, Sammons was inconsistent in naming his paintings in an
ear catching or poetic manner. Some of his paintings drew praise
for their titles but others were either untitled or had titles which
were only descriptive of the scene they represented. On the other
hand, Sammons painted for over fifty years and it would be difficult
for any artist to create new and poetic titles for that long. In
some cases, Sammons would sell his paintings on temporary matting and
let the purchaser frame the painting which may have conveyed the
impression that the work was not on par with a finished piece.
Even though Sammons called a number of well-known California artists
his friends, he is known to have actively participated in only five art
clubs throughout his long career; and three of those were during the
1920s. Also, unlike a number of his peers, Sammons does not
appear to have participated in any of the social clubs (i.e., the
Bohemian Club, etc.). Art and social clubs helped other artists
promote their work and increased their historical recognition.
Sammons didn't participate in many public or juried exhibits;
preferring to sell his paintings through galleries, private exhibits
and personal contacts. It appears that Sammons felt painting
wasn't a competitive endeavor but an act of creation in which each
artist expressed his interpretation, each equally valid, with the
ultimate verdict lying in the hands of the purchaser of the
painting. However, by not participating in juried exhibits, he
excluded himself from the possibility of winning awards, another way
that artists gain historical recognition.
level of participation in clubs and juried exhibits were at least
partly due to the result of conflicts with his painting trips. In
the 1920s Sammons traveled to some distant painting locations by
himself however by the 1930s he and Queen always traveled together and
loved their annual trips around California. Both he and Queen
rarely spent more than three or four months a year in any one location
making it difficult to be an active member in any organization.
They developed a routine, traveling to Santa Barbara in the late fall,
then on to Palm Springs for the winter, then back north to Carmel and
the Sierras ending up in Humboldt County for the late summer and early
fall. Sammons would exhibit his work in local venues along his
route of travel and rarely elsewhere. Therefore, their yearly
travel took precedence over broader promotional considerations for most
of his career.
In summary, it seems that
Sammons promoted his work only enough to make a reasonable
living. This in turn though allowed him to focus on what he
loved; spending time with Queen, painting and traveling throughout
California (and the West).
Second, some of the technical aspects of Sammons' paintings may be
viewed as less sophisticated than his peers. While Sammons'
technique improved over his career his brushstrokes remained
deliberate, measured and generally ordered resulting in a well defined
composition. This may be interpreted by some as being too precise
for an Impressionistic work and hence lacking in sophistication.
With regard to his palette, Sammons typically used a few pure or
strong colors set amid a number of more subdued tones (possibly harking
back to his earlier Tonalist days). Many of his more renowned
Impressionistic peers used palettes that were more complex than
this. They used either subtler shades of color or color contrast
to form vivid color values. Therefore, these artists may be
perceived to have used more refined color techniques.
many examples exist, both in oil and pastel, where Sammons' paintings
exhibit sophisticated brushstrokes and color values. It is worth
noting that Granville Redmond's brushstrokes are deliberate and
measured in a manner similar to Sammons' brushstrokes. Also, John
Gamble used strong color in his paintings. Both artists are
highly regarded early California Impressionists. Speculatively,
given the relationship between them, it's likely that Sammons was
influenced to use strong color in his paintings by John Gamble.
Sammons lack of recognition may be due to the fragility of many of his
works. Most of Sammons' pastels were painted prior to 1940 and
many of those have probably not survived to the present day.
Sammons painted many pastels with rich, vibrant color; however they are
rarely seen in art venues today. Since pastel works are more
delicate than oils and must be properly maintained in order to stand up
to the tests of time, it's reasonable to assume that many of his
pastels have not survived into the present and therefore are not
available for study.
However, there is a professional
art researcher who recently viewed a collection of Sammons' pastels and
that is Alfred C. Harrison, Jr. of The North Point Gallery in San
Francisco. He wrote "I don't think America produced a better
pastel landscape painter than Carl Sammons, and I'm not forgetting
William Merritt Chase or the California pastel painters Jules Tavernier
and Charles Dormom Robinson when I express that opinion."
Although Sammons' early works are painted in the Tonalist style, the
majority of his work is a combination of Impressionism,
Post-Impressionism and the American Realist tradition that fits
squarely into the California Eucalyptus School of painting. Just
as it is important to describe the style Sammons used, it is equally
important to describe what his method does not include. Sammons'
was not a Modernist. His paintings are not Symbolic, Abstract or
Expressionist; nevertheless, they do embody a spirituality of the
Sammons' early pastels contain many Tonalist
elements. These early paintings portray nature as idyllic and
serene. Sammons used narrow, yet harmonious ranges of color along
with diffuse lighting to evoke these peaceful and quiet moods.
Once Sammons began painting in the Impressionistic style, his palette
(for both his pastels and oils) became more complex and colorful.
Sammons seems to have made the transition from Tonalism to
Impressionism around 1920, slightly after other California
artists. It was at this time that art critics began to take
notice of Sammons' work and praise it.
Sammons' career, California changed considerably yet his focus remained
on landscapes. California's population grew from about two and a
half million in 1910 to slightly over nineteen million by the time of
his death in 1968. Industry and development became increasingly
important to the state's economy and many places which, in 1913, were
remote or scenic became easily accessible or developed by 1968.
As development increased, the desire to protect scenic areas, preserve
open space and curb growth grew within the state. During the same
time frame, the United States went through considerable changes
including an isolationist period, a severe depression, two world wars,
its emergence as one of the world's two superpowers and social
unrest. However, there is no indication that any of these factors
influenced his work; only that he loved the scenery he painted.
believe that Sammons was "inspired by the compelling aesthetic beauty
of canvases by a somewhat older generation of early California artists
such as Granville Redmond (1871-1957), John Gamble (1863-1957) and
Percy Gray (1869-1952). Carl Sammons was also attuned with artists of
his generation such as Edgar Payne (1883-1947), Albert DeRome
(1885-1959) and Paul Grimm (1892-1974). It is worth noting that
Sammons was actively painting California imagery in the same locales
and during the years overlapping all six of these artists." While
Sammons was aware of the work of his peers, it seems that he was
inspired more by the natural beauty around him.
"His early canvases are generally more tonal renditions in the
pastel palette of impressionism and characterized by medium width
broken brushwork applied in a layered, craftsman-like manner.
Eventually, by the late 1930s, he began using a narrower, more
representational style of broken brushwork, while employing a higher
key of color values to represent nature's palette." Sammons'
paintings "are recognizable for their strong color and well defined
composition." Besides oil and pastel, Sammons worked in two other
mediums: watercolor twice during his infrequent illnesses and in
Sammons' oils are typically recognized as including a vivid color
component; however, his pastels are not. In truth though, his
pastels exhibit a broad range of color extending from restrained to
vibrant. In the early days of his career Sammons bought his
pastel supplies from his former mentor F. P. Frisch. Later,
possibly after F. P. Frisch had passed away, Sammons made "his own
crayons in colors that cannot be bought. The result is that no
blending is necessary and the finished painting gives a fresh color
effect similar to water color technique." John Gamble described
Sammons' pastels in one exhibit as "little gems possessing a richness
of color one seldom sees in this difficult medium."
noted earlier, Sammons painted a few large works on commission.
However, unlike many of his well-known peers, Sammons doesn't seem to
have painted many larger pieces instead preferring smaller
canvases. There may have been two reasons for this. First,
Sammons was a true Plein Air artist; one who used his car to travel to
remote locations in order to paint them. The cars he used could
not accommodate very large canvases. Secondly, Sammons painted on
smaller canvases to paint works that were more affordable and saved a
little money on materials. He was known at times to purchase a 24
x 30 in. canvas board, paint the backside green, and then divide the
board into four, 12 x 15 in. sections for his paintings.
Sammons also occasionally painted miniatures. These paintings
were 2 x 3 in. and required great skill to paint an Impressionistic
work in such a small area.
Sammons would usually sign his
paintings at the bottom (on either the right or left side) as Carl
Sammons, C. Sammons, or Sammons. On several occasions, he signed
only the matting on which he had mounted the painting.
Sammons excelled at painting both oils and pastels. He combined
Impressionistic and Post-Impressionistic techniques to create very
sophisticated canvases. As such, his finest works are comparable
to those produced by his more renowned early California Impressionist
colleagues. However, Sammons' desire to paint the landscape he
loved took precedence over promoting his work and has caused his
paintings to be overlooked by many modern scholars and
collectors. As time passes, and more people become familiar with
his legacy, Sammons' paintings will come to be known as an important
contribution to the early California Impressionist
Training and Study:
California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco
Alameda County Art League
American Artists Professional League
Art League of Santa Barbara
Berkeley Fine Arts League
Redwood Palette Club
Rocky Mountain Artists Association
Residences/Studio Locations in California:
Monte Rio; Petrolia; Oakland; San Francisco; Palm Springs; Santa Barbara
American Artists Professional League Award for Distinguished Participation 1940
M. H. de Young Museum, San Francisco
Moraga Historical Society, Moraga
Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Santa Barbara
The Grace Museum, Abilene, Texas
California Industries Exposition, San Francisco 1923
Berkeley Fine Arts League, Berkeley 1925
California Industries Exposition, San Diego 1926
Art League of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara 1928-1930 (solo)
Haggin Museum, Stockton 1931 (solo)
Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco 1940
The Grace Museum, Abilene, Texas 1942, 1951
William Keith Gallery, Saint Mary's College, Moraga c. 1947
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento 1957
Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. 1976
The Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, Nevada 1993
M. H. de Young Museum, San Francisco 1994-1999
Grace Hudson Museum, Ukiah 1997
Hearst Art Gallery, Saint Mary's College, Moraga 1997
Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard 1998
Irvine College Art Gallery, Irvine 2000
Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs 2007
Hearst Art Gallery, Saint Mary's College, Moraga 2008 (forthcoming, solo)
Grace Hudson Museum, Ukiah, 2009 (forthcoming, solo)
The Hyde Collection. An Enduring Legacy: American Impressionist Landscapes from the Thomas Clark Collection, November 15, 2009 to March 28, 2010
Berkeley Daily Gazette 26 May 1936.
Carl Sammons (1886-1968) (Carmel: Trotter Galleries, 2002).
Carl Sammons Biographical Summary, N-R (the initials of the unknown author), [Kerwin Galleries, Burlingame, CA] 22 Oct. 2001.
Durant Review Mar. 1929.
Los Angeles Times 6 June 1926.
Montgomery Gallery, 21 Oct. 2004 <http://www.montgomerygallery.com/art/artwork.asp?key=201>.
Santa Barbara News Press 25 Nov. 1928, 7 Nov. 1937.
Walter A. Nelson-Rees, Albert Thomas DeRome 1885-1959: Being a Story of His Life and A Picture Diary of His Oils and Watercolors (Oakland, CA: WIM, 1988).
Written and submitted by Douglas S. McElwain
Carl Sammons began his art career in Iowa working as a sign painter. When he determined to further his art studies, he enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts in 1919. He chose to live in Oakland and then began his extensive travels throughout the state of California.
He visited and consequently painted the scenery of the Monterey Peninsula, Russian River, Humboldt County, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara.
Sammons died in Oakland, California in February 1968.
Today, Carl Sammons is recognized for his exquisite landscapes and coastal seascapes of his beloved California.