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 Brents Carlton  (1903 - 1962)

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Lived/Active: California/New Mexico / Mexico      Known for: sculpture-abstract nude, painting

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Brents Carlton
An example of work by Brents Carlton
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Brents Carlton was the ninth of eleven children of John T. and Ida Carlton. He was born on October 31, 1903, in Roswell, New Mexico, but grew up in DeQueen, Arkansas, a small county seat, where the family relocated when Brents was quite young.  Without much exposure to art, he was nevertheless avidly drawing and painting with supplies funded from his after school job in a drugstore.  His first visit to an art museum in Kansas City led him to seek formal art training.

In 1924, he moved to San Francisco to study at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute.  The school was housed in a temporary structure on the site of the former Mark Hopkins mansion built after a fire had destroyed the mansion at the corner of California and Mason Streets on Nob Hill.  In August of 1926, as Brents was beginning his third year of study, the CSFA moved to its current campus on Russian Hill at Chestnut and Jones Streets.

He studied all the disciplines offered at the CSFA during those years; painting, etching, fresco, design and sculpture.  His instructors included Lee F. Randolph, Spencer Macky, Constance Macky, Ray Boynton, Nelson Poole, Gertrude Partington Albright, Otis Oldfield, Marion Hartwell and Edgar Walter.

His efforts were rewarded with the Anne Bremer Memorial Scholarship in 1925 and again in 1926, along with other awards and distinctions including the I.N. Walter Sculpture Prize.  Throughout art school he continued working in a drugstore and also began studying pharmacology texts to prepare for a comprehensive pharmacy license exam.

At the completion of his course of study at the CSFA, he won a scholarship to the Art Students League of New York for the 1928 1929 school year.  There he studied with Vaclav Vytlacil, Edward McCartan and Kenneth Hayes Miller.  He continued his employment in and study of pharmacy while in New York.

In 1929, Brents returned to San Francisco and established his first studio at 2430 Polk Street.  Immediately immersing himself in his art, he soon discovered sculpture to be the medium through which he could most profoundly express his vision.  In 1931 he became a licensed pharmacist and began the profession that would parallel his artistic career for his entire life.  He joined the San Francisco Art Association in 1934 and became a regular contributor to Bay Area exhibitions for the next quarter of the century.

Brents was selected to contribute to a PWA (Public Works of Art) project early in 1934.  His commission was intended to create two sculptures outside Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.  There are records of regular payments made to him for the completion of studies in conte crayon and maquettes carved directly in plaster. The actual sculptures were never completed, apparently because of the timing of PWAP's dissolution later that year and reprioritization of federal arts funds into WPA (Works Project Administration) projects thereafter.

In 1937 he moved his studio to 730 Montgomery Street.  It can be said that the time spent there was his most prolific.  In less than ten years he executed a large portion of his major work, including four pieces commissioned by the Golden Gate International Exposition for the Fair held in 1939 1940 on Treasure Island.  He also executed a large, privately commissioned bas-relief for a Telegraph Hill home in 1943.  His distinctive style of chunky and contorted nudes in bronze, stone, exotic woods and terra cotta was refined during that period.

Alfred Frankenstein, the noted art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, who frequently reviewed Brents' work, lauded his "exquisite portraiture, his classic sensitivity, his sense of the rhythmic, the monumental, the decorative."  He continued, "Although (Carlton) seems to run almost invariably to works of small size, there is nothing small about the range of his expressive gifts and nothing small either about the range of his technical adroitness and his mastery of materials."

In the mid forties, Brents relocated his studio to the loft above the pharmacy at 2567 Mission Street where he was working at the time.  The move was made in response to escalating rents in the "Monkey Block" and the surrounding area.  His studio had been in the adjoining block and also teemed with artists' lofts, including that of Maynard Dixon, and the famous "stone yard" of Ralph Stackpole.  Brents used the studio above the pharmacy for nine years, but he found its proximity to his day job less conducive to creativity.  By then he was also a husband and father with competing needs for his free time.  He maintained regular if more limited hours working in this studio.  In the mid fifties he moved everything to his home in the Excelsior District of San Francisco where he continued to work.

After 1957 declining health made carving in stone and wood extremely tiring for Brents, and although he never completely ceased working with chisel and mallet, he devoted a good deal of his long illness to sculpting in clay and exploring other media such as enamel on copper.

He died of cancer on September 6, 1962 at the age of 58.


1933 1937 Art Center Gallery (730 Montgomery Street, S.F.) Harriet Wheaton was the coordinator of this co-op gallery. One man's: 2/33, 11/35

1936 1945 Amberg-Hirth Galleries (165 Post Street, later 453 Post Street, S.F.) Ernst Amberg & Hugh Hirth were his regular agents during this period. One man's: Summer 1941, Fall, 1942, Fall, 1943.

1936 1945 Oakland Museum exhibited extensively during this period (for further details see Awards section). Carlton sculpture: 8/37 with painter Clarence Hinkle, 9/41 with painter Peter Blos.

1934 1946 San Francisco Museum (now SFMMA) exhibited extensively during this period and possibly beyond. One man's: 6/41, 6/43.

Sept. 1938 California Palace of the Legion of Honor with painter Rinaldo Cuneo.

Feb. 1938 Sacramento Junior College (now Sacramento State University) Organized by Walter Murray, Professor of Art.

May 1940 Garden Court, Palace Hotel, S.F. (now Sheraton Palace Hotel)

Nov./Dec. 1983 Atelier Dore Gallery, San Francisco, Retrospective Exhibition


April 1930 Architecture League of New York 52nd Annual Exhibition. (Catalogue printed.)

April 1940 The Whitney Museum, New York Sculpture Festival of the National Sculpture Society, non-member exhibitor. (Catalogue printed.)

1935 1950 San Francisco Museum (now SFMMA)
6/35 Thirty Years of Sculpture, 3/37 Contemporary American Ceramics, 9/37 Sculpture Show, 8/38 First Annual California Ceramics Exhibition (traveling), 10/41 American Sculpture Today (aka Contemporary American Sculptors), 10/41 First CSFA Alumni Show, 1/45 Painting & Sculpture in the Bay Region S.F. Annual, 1/46 Bay Region Sculpture Show, 1/50 Fifteenth Anniversary Bay Region Sculpture Show

1936 1950 Oakland Museum
1936-1938 1st 3rd Annual Sculpture Exhibitions, 1940-1943 5th 8th Sculpture Annuals, 1945 10th Sculpture Annual, 1950 15th Sculpture Annual.

1930 1938 California Palace of the Legion of Honor
3/33 Art Center Exhibition, 11/34 California Artists Series, 3/39 San Francisco Artists Show.

1930 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition
1939 Decorative Arts Exhibition, 1940 Fine Arts Exhibition (both held in the Fine Arts Palace, Treasure Island). (Catalogue printed)

March 1938 Los Angeles Museum (now LA County Museum)
First California Ceramics Exhibition

1934 1937 Art Center Gallery - Exhibitions of Recent Sculpture & Decorative Art by Local Artists; 1934, 1936 (twice in latter year)

Oct. 1936 Amberg-Hirth Galleries
Small Sculpture by Brents Carlton with Jewelry by Margaret De Patta.

1930 1946 San Francisco Art Association Annuals
(may have participated after 1946, but lack documentation) See detail of some of these in Awards section.

1935 & 1943 Gump's Gallery, S.F. (latter Gump's Honolulu)

1936 Consignment Gallery, The Emporium, S.F.

Oct. 1938 Foundation of Western Art, L.A.

Nov. 1940 Palace Hotel, S.F. National Art Week Show

Mar/Nov '41 1st/2nd San Francisco Open Air Art Shows
Hotaling Place (former) / Ferry Bldg. (latter)

Sept. 1951 Rotunda Gallery, City of Paris (now Neiman Marcus), S.F.

Apr-Aug '93 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Early Modern Textiles: From Arts and Crafts to Art Deco

June 1999 MFA, Boston, Drawn to Design

Oct./Dec. 2003, Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts, Beverly Hills, Trends in Northern
California Modernism


1936 Third Prize in Oakland Museum's 1st Annual Sculpture Show

1937 Gold Medal of First Prize for Sculpture 57th Annual SF Art Association Annual

1937 First Prize in Oakland Museum's 2nd Annual Sculpture Show

1938 Guest of Honor Oakland Museum's 3rd Annual Sculpture Show

1942 First Prize in Oakland Museum's 6th Annual Sculpture Show

1943 Guest of Honor Oakland Museum's 7th Annual Sculpture Show

2012 On May 5th the Art Deco Society of California honored Brents Carlton’s work at their annual Art Deco Preservation Ball


San Mateo/Burlingame Polo Club, Hillsborough, CA - 1928
Murals (no longer extant, date destroyed unknown)

Golden Gate International Exposition at Treasure Island 1937
Two 9' 10' figures in cast stone for Court of Pacifica (still extant) and
Two 18' bas-relief figures for the façade of the California State Building (destroyed 1940)
Wall installation for private home, Telegraph Hill
Maple bas-relief (still extant)


The Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts
The Archives of American Art
Cooper-Hewitt Museum
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
MFA, Boston
The Oakland Museum
San Francisco Archives (SF Public Library)
The Treasure Island Museum

Member: San Francisco Art Association 1934 1956
Executive Council, Alumni Association CSFA 1937-1939

Juror for Selection of Sculpture Awards:

58th Annual SF Art Association Annual, 1938
Third Annual Sculpture Show, Oakland Museum, 1938
59th Annual SF Art Association Annual, 1939
61st Annual SF Art Association Annual, 1941
65th Annual SF Art Association Annual, 1945


American Art Annual, Vol. 34 (1937-1938), Vol. 36 (1942)
Art Index, Vol. 3 (1935-1938), Vol. 4 (1938-1941)
The Art of California: Selected Works from the Collection of the Oakland Museum, edited by Christina Orr-Cahall, 1984
The Art of Treasure Island, Eugen Neuhaus, Berkeley: UC Press, 1939
Artists and People, Yvonne Greer Thiel, The Philosophical Library, Inc., 1959
Artists' Bluebook,, 2001
Artists of California 1786-1940, Edan Milton Hughes, Braun-Brumfield, Inc., 1986
California Artist 1935-1956, Dewitt Clinton McCall, III
Davenport's Art Reference & Price Guide, Ray Davenport, 2001
Early Modern Textiles: From Arts and Crafts to Art Deco, Marianne Carlano and Nicola J. Shilliam, MFA, Boston, 1993
Index of Artists, Daniel Trowbridge Mallett, 1948
The Magic City, Treasure Island: 1939-1940, Jack James and Earle Weller, Pisani Printing and Publishing Co., 1941
The Meaning of the Courts of the Golden Gate International Exposition 1939, Juliet James
The San Francisco Fair: Treasure Island 1930-1940 edited by Patricia Carpenter and Paul Totah, 1988
Two San Francisco Artists and their Contemporaries, 1920-1975, Ruth Cravath, Dorothy Wagner Puccinelli Cravath, An Interview Conducted by Ruth Teiser and Catherine Harroun, Regional Oral History Office, San Francisco Artists Series, The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, 1977
Who Was Who in American Art 1898-1947, Peter Hastings Falk,1985
Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975, Peter Hastings Falk, 1999
Who's Who in American Art, Vol 2, 1937, and Vol 3, 1940


American Magazine of Art 1/37, 3/39
The American Home 3/39
Architectural Forum 5/38
The Archives of American Art Journal Vol. 31, Number 2, 1991
The Argonaut Magazine (SF) 2/10/33, 11/01/35
The Art Digest 3/15/33, 6/01/37, 7/01/37, 6/01/38
California Arts and Architecture 1/39
The Coast Magazine 10/38
House & Garden 2/39
Life Magazine 12/05/38
The Los Angeles Times 11/21/38
The New York Times 4/24/38
The Oakland Tribune 6/20/37, 9/05/37, 9/12/37, 5/15/38, 6/08/41, 9/07/41, 5/17/42, 3/18/45, 2/21/60
San Francisco Art Association Bulletin 4/37, 9/37, 10/38, 12/38, 9/41
The San Francisco Call Bulletin 2/04/33, 8/17/35

The San Francisco Chronicle 1/20/35, 8/18/35, 10/27/35, 6/07/36, 4/01/37, 4/03/37, 5/16/37, 6/06/37, 6/20/37, 8/14/37, 5/15/38, 9/25/38, 1/22/39, 5/22/40, 6/08/41, 9/07/41, 5/17/42, 6/27/43, 1/21/45, 2/04/45, 9/08/62
The San Francisco Examiner 2/12/33, 10/27/35, 4/01/37, 9/25/38
San Francisco Life (Magazine) 9/38, 1/39
The San Francisco News 10/26/35, 4/03/37, 10/01/38
Standard Oil Bulletin - 1st Quarter 1939
Sunset Magazine 5/38
Triptych (The Museum Society of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco) 7/93
Vogue Magazine 2/01/39
Western Women's Magazine 10/16/43
Journal of Management History, Volume 12, Issue 2, 2006. Article title: "Viewing Work Historically Incorporating the Visual Arts into Organizational Studies", Elizabeth M. Doherty. pages 137-153

Written and submitted September 2002 and updated March September 2014 by Carrie Carlton Helser, daughter of the artist and Executor of the Estate of Brents Carlton.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Roswell, NM on Oct. 31, 1903. Carlton spent his early years in DeQueen, AR. At age 20 he moved to San Francisco to enter the CSFA. While studying at that school he was awarded a scholarship for further study at the ASL in NYC. Except for the year 1928 when he was in New York, he remained a resident of San Francisco for the rest of his life. With a family to support, he worked as a pharmacist during most of his career. He is best known for his Post-Cubist sculpture of bold, stylized figures in wood; however, he also worked in stone and marble. He began as a painter and ended up as one after ill health prevented him from sculpting. He died in San Francisco on Sept. 6, 1962. Exh: SFAA, 1928, 1937 (gold medal); SFMA Inaugural, 1935; Gump's (SF), 1935; Oakland Art Gallery, 1936 (3rd prize), 1937, 1942 (1st prizes); Foundation of Western Art (LA), 1938; CPLH, 1938 (with Rinaldo Cuneo); LACMA, 1938; GGIE, 1939; Palace Hotel (SF), 1940; City of Paris (SF), 1951. In: San Mateo-Burlingame Polo Club (murals, 1928); Oakland Museum.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Interview with the artist or his/her family; Art of Treasure Island; Artists and People; Who's Who in American Art 1938-41; SF Chronicle, 10-8-1962 (obituary) & 12-22-1983.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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