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 James Arthur Merriam  (1880 - 1951)

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Lived/Active: California/Ontario / Canada      Known for: desert landscape and mission paintings, commercial art

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Ad Code: 3
James Arthur Merriam
from Auction House Records.
Mission San Juan Capistrano
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Chris Merriam-Leith :

I have located some very detailed information that leads me to believe that a particular mission painting is an early work by James A. Merriam, and that it might be his first mission painting.

At first when I discovered this painting I was not certain that it was authentic.  Much to my surprise I located some very significant information that convinced me of the authenticity of this painting as well as its potential value.  Furthermore, I have personal knowledge about James A. Merriam that added to the evidence that this was his original work.  James A. Merriam is a distant cousin of mine.  His Grandfather is my 5th Great Grandfather.

This painting was purchased at a garage sale in Kansas City, KS for $10.00.  I was not certain if this was an original; after all, how did a James A. Merriam painting end up in Kansas?  This has a simple answer: in the 1880's my ancestors relocated from Chatham Ontario, Canada, to Kansas City to work for the Railroad Company.  James A. Merriam had many relatives that relocated and moved to Kansas.  I believe that James must have sent this particular painting back to Kansas as a gift to one of my relatives where it hung on someone's wall for the last 90 years.

I believe that this painting is a previously undiscovered original work of James A. Merriam and that it is the San Gabriel Mission.  It has Merriam's signature and has the following name, "Mission San Gabriel, El Camino Real".  I had the honor of naming this painting and this is the name that I feel is most accurate.

My description follows:

The mission painting represents a significant find and is perhaps one of James A. Merriam's first early mission paintings.  This is a signed painting. At first you might not recognize this as an original James A. Merriam painting. It is apparent that this painting is not like any of his other works. This painting includes figures which is uncharacteristic of James Merriam. This painting at face value looks sort of like an old street scene from some unrecognizable fictitious southwestern town.  The characters in this painting are not easily identifiable until you dig a little deeper into its history and discover who they actually are. Furthermore, this painting includes some symbolism that is not easily recognizable by the common observer.

After a careful examination of the facts and evidence that I will provide, I believe that you will agree with my findings that this is an important painting.  Its importance is not necessarily based purely on its artistic merit, but more importantly for its historical significance.

The main focus of this painting seems to be centered on the lamp post and bell.  What may not be so obvious is that this bell is not just an ordinary bell; but it is the symbol for the California State Landmark of the El Camino Real.  The structure in the background is the San Gabriel Mission and the doors located on the right side of the painting are known as the "Doors to the El Camino Real" (The Kings Highway). This painting includes figures which to my knowledge are not found in any other James Merriam paintings.

In this painting these figures represent two very important groups of people who were responsible for the creation and preservation of the El Camino Real.  The two monks very obviously represent the Franciscan Monks who originally built the El Camino Real.  The three female figures located in the background almost seem out of place, until you understand the history of the El Camino Real Bells. I believe that the three female figures are symbolic of the three different women's organizations as well as three distinct women that headed these groups who were responsible for the preservation of the El Camino Real.

The three organizations were the

Camino Real Association
California Federation of Woman's Clubs
Native Daughters of the Golden West

The names of the three ladies are,

Miss Anna Pitcher
Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes
Mrs. Caroline Olney

I believe that once you read the above history you will be convinced that my findings are indeed factual and relevant.
A note from Rebecca Martin Seaman, submitted in April of 2006:
Paintings by James Merriam wound up in Kansas City because my great-aunt, Regina Bilyeu, was a patroness of James Merriam.  She lived both in Los Angeles and Kansas City. She purchased many of his paintings during the period from 1920-1946; several remain in our family collection.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Canada, James Merriam became a painter of California desert scenes and of missions, Yosemite, Monterey, and the High Sierra Mountains, having settled in 1920 in Los Angeles where he remained until his death in 1951.  He also painted the desert of Arizona.

He began his art career in Detroit, Michigan in 1897.  His daughter, Eleanor Merriam Lukits became an accomplished artist.

Source: Edan Hughes, Artists in California 1786-1940

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