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Historic Art Collection With Unique Beginnings Goes On Display In Ventura County

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KCLU
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The collection of art is at CMATO in Thousand Oaks.

An extraordinary collection of Californian art – which was started by high school students over one hundred years ago, has gone on display in Thousand Oaks.

The year was 1919. Woodrow Wilson was U.S. president. Prohibition started, and the Treaty of Versailles ended World War 1.

And at Gardena High School – the senior class gifted the school with an original landscape painting by Ralph Davison Miller.

It became a unique, annual tradition which lasted until 1956 – remembers former Gardena High School student Bruce Dalrymple.

"It came about in 1919, the community of Gardena was a farming community at the time and a lot of the kids worked in the fields.

"The size of the school was fairly small, with around 40 students who graduated every year," he told KCLU.

The school's principal suggested senior students find and buy a piece of art to give the school.

"The following year, 1920, the students debated whether they wanted to continue this and they decided to do so...and so the tradition started," said Dalrymple.

The art collection has gone on display at the California Museum of Art in Thousand Oaks.

Lynn Farrand - senior curator at the museum – says the students built up an impressive collection at an interesting time in 20th century history.

"They managed to do that throughout all of these challenging historical events. Like World War 2, the Spanish flu pandemic, the Great Depression. They even had a polio outbreak and didn't have a vaccine for about seven years I think.

"But they didn't give up this collection and continued to do it to 1956, when they ran out of room," said Farrand.

The collection is considered to be one of the most outstanding collections of early 20th century California art.

"The artists are from many different areas of the United States and Europe who came to California for the landscape and the light," explained Farrand.

"The artists are wonderful. Many are very well known, and some are not, but they are equally profound in this collection, " she said.

Mike West is visiting the exhibition, he said it was an "absolute surprise" to find these works were collected by high school students.

"These are fine, fantastic quality pieces," he said.

The exhibition – called Gifted – is on view from from Sept 10 2021 - Jan 9 2022.