A Proud Heritage

The legendary Carmel Art Association was formed on August 8, 1927 by a small group of artists who gathered at “Gray Gables,” the modest home/studio of Josephine Culbertson and Ida Johnson at the corner of Seventh and Lincoln in Carmel-by-the-Sea. These nineteen “pioneers”—who grew up in the 19th century and individually found their respective paths to Carmel from all corners of the world—each desired a greater sense of community, a spirit of collaboration, and a place to show their work. Before the meeting concluded, they had established an association with a mission “to advance art and cooperation among artists, secure a permanent exhibition space, and promote greater fellowship between artists and the public.”


No one in the room that afternoon could have foreseen the dramatic influence and lasting impact that this informal alliance would have—and continues to have—on American art. Since the Carmel Art Association’s birth in 1927—distinguishing itself as the oldest continuously operating gallery in Carmel and one of the oldest non-profit artist cooperatives in the United States—the CAA has attracted into its fold the most significant names in California’s art history.

These early CAA Artist Members were painters, sculptors, etchers, muralists, mosaic artists, authors, illustrators, printmakers, dancers, actors and playwrights. They came here from training at schools as diverse as the Otis Art Institute, Kansas City Art Institute, Chicago Art Institute, California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco School of Design, Mark Hopkins Institute, Mills College, New York Art Students League, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Julian Academy of Paris, Union Nationale des Beaux Arts et Lettres, Boston School of Design, Ontario Society of Fine Arts, and the Royal Canadian Academy of Art, to name just a few.


They explored styles ranging from academic to modernism, and from art movements spanning California Impressionism, Early California Colorist, and California Decorative to Arts & Crafts, Plein Air, and Tonalism. They held memberships in all of the National art societies. No fewer than nine have been elected to the elite National Academy of Design in New York, and in the case of CAA Artist Member Henrietta Shore, she even founded new ones: the New York Society of Women Painters and the Los Angeles Modern Art Society. They have had exhibitions in—and their works added to—the collections of such prestigious institutions as the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum, Whitney Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York City; Boston Museum of Art; San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor, Museum of Modern Art, and Bohemian Club; and the Monterey Museum of Art.

CAA Artist Member Francis McComas was often favorably compared with the celebrated painter John Singer Sargent. John O’Shea has been described as a “creative comet.” Legendary fine art photographer Edward Weston called Henrietta Shore “an artist by destiny.” And the preeminent American artist Winslow Homer said of Paul Dougherty: “Now I can lay down my brushes and know the great work will be carried on.” 


The CAA’s earliest Artist Members also figured prominently in shaping Carmel’s own unique history as an artist colony. Members Armin Hansen and Paul Whitman, for example, founded the original Carmel Art Institute in 1937. This art school provided instruction for a multitude of art students for several decades. Other multi-discipline Artist Members contributed their acting, singing and playwriting talents to the Forest Theater Guild, the Bach Festival, and other performing arts here that ultimately led to the creation of Carmel’s historic Sunset Center.

To many, the words Carmel and Art are synonymous. Some believe that Carmel and Art have always been linked in a special providence—or, as one writer beautifully expressed this unique union, “The Carmel region may have been elected by geography, time and circumstance to be the flowering ground for a distinctly American art expression—a garden, perfectly set for art to flourish.”


As early as 1865, writers first extolled to the world the beauty of Carmel’s sand dunes, cypresses and sea and the wonders of this settlement amid the pines. But while individual artists visited the Monterey Peninsula at intervals during its infancy, it was not until the final decade of the 19th century that an art colony took root here. This impetus came largely from European and East Coast-trained painters imported to San Francisco during the era when the newly affluent began to yearn for culture. After the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, many of these artists flocked to the Monterey Peninsula for refuge and to set up new studios. Their chief exhibition center was a gallery in the old Del Monte Hotel (site of today’s Naval Postgraduate School).

In 1912 local artists Mary DeNeale Morgan and Ferdinand Burgdorff created business cards for themselves stating the days and hours that their studios were open to the public, along with a sincere expression of welcome to visitors. They distributed these to the few stores then operating in Carmel as well as to the two hotels. Writes Burgdorff in his memoir: Our ‘open studios’ every Saturday afternoon was the very earliest form of the idea that eventually became the Carmel Art Association. An exhibition of Peninsula artists’ works in 1922 called the “Monterey Industrial Exposition” was organized by artists Cornelis Botke, Francis McComas and Armin Hansen. A bit later, artists from Carmel and Monterey began to exhibit each spring and fall in the old Arts & Crafts Hall, now part of the Golden Bough Circle Theater. At the point that these events became overflow crowds, we knew that interest was there and formed the CAA in 1927.


By the fall of that year, the Association began renting a room for $30 a month (soon raised to $40) in the Court of the Seven Arts Building at Lincoln Street and Ocean Avenue. One of the first events organized was an exhibition of miniature paintings called “Thumb-box Sketches.” It proved so successful that it became an annual show, continuing at the CAA to this day, each December.

Burgdorff further recalls: In 1933 each of the CAA’s early Artist Members donated five paintings to a drawing to raise money to cancel the mortgage on the Dolores Street building. It was a gala night when the mortgage was burned. A reception was held at the gallery to celebrate. The mortgage was brought in on a silver platter in the shape of a cone. The cone was lighted from the top, and it was with great joy that we saw it die into ashes.


Newer generations will never know or fully appreciate the sacrifice of good painting time or the physical effort that went into the building of the Carmel Art Association Gallery. Volunteer Member Artists did much of the labor. For instance, John O’Shea and his wife, both leading spirits in every step of the community’s art life, landscaped the garden on Dolores Street and planted everything themselves. We can only hope that Members now and those to come will appreciate what valiant souls those pioneer artists were. The CAA stands as a memorial to them.

On December 10, 1933, the CAA celebrated its annual “Thumb-box Sketches” show in its new home. By February 1934 the Articles of Incorporation were adopted, officers elected (Oakland-based artist/educator/designer Pedro J. Lemos served as the Association’s first president), dues set at $1 per month, and Artist Members felt fortunate indeed, knowing they still had $198.24 in the bank and a building free of indebtedness.

Following is a description of what the earliest visitors to the CAA found once they climbed the characteristic Carmel stone steps and walked through the large sculpture garden to our door: The Carmel Art Association galleries have a charming and presentable appearance. The CAA maintains a hospitable, open door visiting place for all comers. It is a sales gallery only when a visitor finds something so appealing that he feels he must take it away with him; then everything is done to make it possible for such a lover of art to acquire his heart’s desire.

This “appreciation and understanding of art, with no pressure to buy” environment still applies today within these historic walls, as does our need to consistently sell artwork and raise funds to sustain our mission. Our visitors—some 16,000 each year—still arrive from around the globe to see our exhibitions—always new each month. Our rigorous jury process by a vote of the artist-applicants’ peers is still based on requirements very similar to those upheld by our pioneer founders. And as the decades pass, we continue to add multi-generational supporters to our family of art collectors.


A few things have changed since 1927. Our historic “home” has undergone two major renovations and expansions, the first in 1937 to add an addition to the north side and the second in the 1960s to update and upgrade our facility. Our record keeping has moved onto computers. And since the mid-20th century, Artist Members have given the art world abundant new interpretations, rich techniques and fresh styles, boldly advancing the Association into the 21st century.

In August 2012, the CAA displayed an “historic portraits” wall featuring forty of our earliest Artist Members—mostly at work in nature or their studios. This installation served as a tribute to the legacy of those creative and progressive early Artist Members who helped ensure that the Carmel Art Association would survive to celebrate its 85th Anniversary. These vintage-sourced photographs include the legendary Salvador Dali who was indeed an early CAA Artist Member. While he lived here on the Monterey Peninsula, he gave generously of his time to help jury the then-annual competitive art exhibition open to high school students from throughout California, sponsored by the Carmel Art Association and mounted in the Beardsley Gallery each May.


Since August 8, 1927, over 550 artists have joined the Carmel Art Association. Currently the CAA represents over 100 of the area’s finest active professional painters, sculptors and printmakers. As you visit our galleries today, imagine those artists whose portraits will be included on a wall of history and legacy when the Carmel Art Association celebrates its 100th Anniversary on August 8, 2027.”

Visit Carmel Art Association

Dolores Street between 5th &, 6th Ave

Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921



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