A “Definitive” Map of Home Savings Locations and other Sheets Studio Work

Map of Home Savings artwork locations and Sheets Studio art (please click for interactive)

Map of Home Savings artwork locations and Sheets Studio art (please click for interactive)

See the current “definitive list” here — and the interactive, scalable map of the locations (with some somewhat misleading information on which artwork is where) here. Map courtesy of BatchGeo.

Well, I have finally done it. About two years after I discovered I was working with hundreds, not dozens, of sites, I finally have something like a definitive list of the 138 Home Savings / Savings of America sites with artwork ready. This is thanks to the archival Sheets Papers and Denis O’Connor (DOC) Papers, and the notes in those files from Sue Hertel (SLH in my code) — and a lot of hard work from volunteer (and former Home Savings employee) Teresa Fernandez, and the magic of Google StreetView.

It is not perfect — and I need your help to send in corrections. Send in correct addresses, send in new status updates, send in alerts of places you think are threatened. I have found that the California Art Preservation Act is included in many of these contracts between artists and Home Savings — even when the artwork was in, say, Florida — so there is a mechanism to help with their preservation.

This is an imperfect simplification of my main work database, which holds the names of each artist who worked on each piece, archival notes, construction dates vs. completion dates, and more. But I do hope that it leads to a lot more information about the current state of this artwork coming to light!


Home Savings, LACMA, and the mausoleum?

Tony Smith, Smoke, inside the LACMA Ahmanson Building atrium

Tony Smith, Smoke, inside the LACMA Ahmanson Building atrium

A few final thoughts from researching the Pacific Standard time exhibits and the Sheets Studio:

First, the LA Conservancy has a Pacific Standard Time tour of Millard Sheets sites in Claremont and Pomona on March 18. A great time to see these connections; sign-up info here. Stay late in the day, and I should be on hand as well for a panel discussion.

Second, have you ever noticed how the Ahmanson building at the LACMA looks a lot like the early Home Savings buildings? Howard Ahmanson clearly had his favorite architects — Edward Durrell Stone, William Pereira, and Millard Sheets’s Studio — and it seems the museum building borrows from the Home Savings look — blank travertine faces with no windows, lower entrance ways, into soaring central spaces. Instead of teller windows and interior mosaic, you get more blank faces in the Ahmanson building atrium, hiding the floors of art behind.

This element of the Home Savings architecture was derided as looking like a mausoleum — perhaps that is part of what motivated Ed Ruscha to dream of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire

Ed Ruscha, Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire, 1965-1968

Ed Ruscha, Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire, 1965-1968


I have been busy with research at the Huntington, more oral histories, and new initiatives — including a definitive list of locations — to be highlighted here soon. Stay tuned!

Missing Millard Sheets: Pacific Standard Time and the Art of Home Savings

Dora De Larios, Franciscan 400 Series Contours CV Tile, 1963-1964, as installed by the Millard Sheets Studio at Pomona First Federal, Claremont

Dora De Larios, Franciscan 400 Series Contours CV Tile, 1963-1964, as installed by the Millard Sheets Studio at Pomona First Federal, Claremont

Pacific Standard Time is a juggernaut: over 60 exhibits in five Southern California counties, documenting and explaining — in many cases, for the first time — the role of the L.A. art scene on the world stage. The Getty has provided the bold vision (and the financing!) to create this massive multi-exhibit conversation, and the Performance and Public Art festival section of the shows, running from January 19 to 29, will only add to the marvel (and overwhelmingness) of it all.

Pacific Standard Time has included many overlooked artists, overlooked art forms, overlooked themes, and overlooked art. And what was included reflected what the participating art organizations wanted to highlight. But the fleeting presence of Millard Sheets in the Pacific Standard Time shows demonstrates some of the art-world boundaries that remain.

First, disclaimers: I know I am letting the myopia of my Home Savings project drive this post. I know that Sheets was already a nationally known artist before 1945. And I will get to the three Pacific Standard Time shows that include Sheets below.

But if the Pacific Standard Time exhibits would have commissioned an art-world treaty painting like the one showing Paris ceding to New York, Millard Sheets would have clearly been a face in the crowd, given not only his prominence among the California watercolor painters but his role as Director of Fine Arts at the LA County Fair 1930-1955, teaching at Scripps College 1931-1954, director of the Otis Art Institute after 1953, and his role advising Howard Ahmanson as he shepherded the Los Angeles County Museum of Art into being, and Sheets’s later role in curating the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation collections, now a permanent part of the Huntington collections. Perhaps Sheets’s influence is too large and too disparate to measure easily.

As this blog and the associated research project suggest, Sheets’s most important art contribution to LA after 1945 was the art and architecture of the Home Savings banks. Sheets managed a studio full of artists and architects to turn initial sketches and an open-ended offer from Howard Ahmanson into landmarks of the local community, telling history and celebrating family life through very traditional art forms: mosaic; conventional figurative paintings; stained glass; sculpture. In no way avant-garde, done for a commercial patron to advertise their business, it is easy to understand why the Pacific Standard Time exhibits (and other standard art-history studies) have missed the importance of these Home Savings works for the landscape of postwar southern California (and beyond).

But — there are elements of this story in four of the Pacific Standard Time exhibits. In order of increasing relevance, I give you:

4) California Design, 1930-1965: “Living in a Modern Way” at LACMA. This is the marquee decorative-arts and design exhibit for Pacific Standard Time, and it delivers — everything from an Airstream trailer to the reconstruction of Charles and Ray Eames’s living room in the gallery. There are the perfect exemplars that match the white-walled modernist setting — for example, a Japanese-style screen painted by Millard Sheets — but also lots of helpful contextual information on the source of inspirations, the choice of design media, the marketing and distribution of these products, often intended for the home or daily use. Items from Sheets’ influential 1954 Arts of Daily Living show are echoed here as well.

3) Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California, 1945-1975 at the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA). This show uses Millard Sheets as an organizing principle–ceramicists with a “direct connection” to Sheets and “his dynamic personality, inspirational teaching, and business savvy” are included. The AMOCA’s new space has a spectacular Sheets and Hertel mural along one wall, and one part of the exhibit puts ceramic tiles used by the Sheets Studio (like those above) into their original context, in an artist-in-industry program Millard Sheets established with Franciscan Ceramics, including the work of Dora De Larios, and which led him to do some large-scale ceramic-tile mosaics with Interpace. And its exhibit book has the most up-to-date scholarship on Millard Sheets’ role as interface between business and industry, with essays by Hal Nelson and others that will be a spectacular resource for me.

Dora De Larios’ work was also included in the Autry’s Pacific Standard Time exhibit, part of the L.A. Xicano subset of PST. Race and memory, nostalgia and the growing multiculturalism of postwar southern California is key to how I situate the Home Savings artwork, so I found

2) Sandra De La Loza’s Mural Remix installations at LACMA very powerful. I particularly like the video installation where naked men and women paint the murals onto themselves (through some green-screen magic), demonstrating some of the ways in which the murals become a part of us — something that I think is true of the Home Savings work as well. The more standard video documentary — catching up with Judy Baca and other 1970s Chicano muralists in LA — has lots of great info as well. There is also an affiliated tour with Sandra on Saturday January 21.

1) The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945–1985 at the Huntington Library. If I have to pick a #1 exhibit for understanding the Home Savings artwork and the Sheets Studio work, this is it. The LACMA has the Eames’ living room, but this exhibit, curated by Hal Nelson, feels like Sheets’s living room, with a collection of his POmona Valley colleagues from Sam Maloof to enamelists Arthur and Jean Ames to sculptors Betty Davenport Ford, John Edward Svenson, and Albert Stewart, Sheets’s constant collaborator, painter Sue Hertel, represented with work in their own style, but with hints at how Millard Sheets also used some of their talents in Home Savings buildings as well.  

Am I missing something? Let me know in the comments. And read more about these exhibits and their ties to Sheets herehere, here, here, here, and here.


Welcome to 2012, and a Reinvigorated Blog!

Denis O'Connor and Sue Hertel, mosaic, Savings of America, Springfield, Missouri, 1986. Note the goof at installation that reversed the SH of Sue's signature at bottom right.

Denis O’Connor and Sue Hertel, mosaic, Savings of America, Springfield, Missouri, 1986. Note the goof at installation that reversed the SH of Sue’s signature at bottom right.


After a semester on other projects, I am proud to announce that I am a Haynes Foundation Fellow at the Huntington Library this semester, so I am working full-time on the history and preservation of the art and artwork of the Home Savings and Loan buildings.

My plan is to complete research in the papers of Millard Sheets and Denis O’Connor, and to track down more interview subjects and other paper collections to help me complete the research. By fall, I will be writing, and hopefully we can see a beautiful book, with lots of color images of this remarkable artwork, appear in late 2013/early 2014. So any tips, leads, and memories are always welcomed!

In the “radio-silent” period, I have been to Home Savings locations in the Bay Area and around Los Angeles, to Savings of America locations in Missouri, and to all the presentations I mentioned in my last post. Also, thanks to a Jonathan Heritage Foundation fellowship at the Autry National Center over the summer, I have determined more about where the “Home Savings style” drew from, in the decoration and marketing of other Los Angeles banks in the early twentieth century, especially Security Trust and Savings (later Security First, later Security Pacific). More about all that soon.

I also am proud to announce one new publication and two more great events to put on your calendar:

This month, look for a (cover?) story — by me — in Huntington Frontiers, the magazine of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, about the Home Savings and Loan artwork and the collections I am using.

Sunday, March 18,Millard Sheets: A Legacy of Art and Architecture” in Pomona and Claremont, organized by the L.A. Conservancy’s Modernism Committee.

Sunday, May 6, a panel discussion (with me and noted architectural historian Alan Hess) at the gallery exhibition of Home Savings locations, organized by Cal State Fullerton students Concepción Rodriguez and Wendy Sherman, at the Grand Central Art Center.

I will now resume posting weekly. Next up: all the great Pacific Standard Time exhibits that show the circle of mutual influence around the Sheets Studio and the Home Savings work. Details to come, but if you want to get ahead, the key exhibits are The House That Sam Built at the Huntington Library; Common Ground at the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA — which has a spectacular Sheets and Hertel painting in its new location, a former Pomona First Federal); and California Design, 1930-1965: “Living in a Modern Way” at LACMA.

Happy 2012! I look forward to reinvigorating the conversation.