Good design is a great combination of common sense, unusual imagination, clarity of purpose - with a prerequisite knowledge of structure, values, color, aesthetic insight and a deep reverence for the love of life." - Millard Sheets
Millard Owen Sheets is perhaps the best known California Scene painter, as his charisma, charm, and raw talent propelled the California School into the national spotlight. Born in Pomona, CA, Sheets set out as an artist early in life. His watercolors were accepted for exhibition in the annual California Water Color Society shows while Sheets was still a teenager, and by nineteen years of age, he was elected into membership. At the Chouinard Art Institute, he studied with Clarence Hinkle and F. Tolles Chamberlin, and was hired to teach watercolor painting before he even graduated. He received his MA from Otis Art Institute. Sheets was the driving force behind the revival of watercolor in California, and viewed the medium's quick drying, fast moving qualities as both artistically liberating and an apt reflection of the mood of a modernizing nation.
Sheets epitomized the role of artist for the people. He chose to capture subjects that depicted urban and rural people in humble everyday life, in landscapes and scenes inspired by California and his world travels. He truly expanded what it was to be a regionalist painter by extending his reach into the public domain. Although he is arguably the greatest California watercolorist, his talents went beyond painting. He was an illustrator national magazines and handled production design for Columbia Pictures. Early commissions in the 1930s allowed his the opportunity to travel in 1935; his democratic gaze never wavered from the subjects that he most revered in life: people and landscape.
After receiving his degrees and serving in WWII, he developed large public works though his studio for architectural design. His projects included the mosaic dome and chapel at the National Shrine in Washington DC, the mosaic library tower at the University of Notre Dame, the mosaic facade of the Detroit Public Library, mural at the Rainbow Tower of the Hilton Hotel in Honolulu, and murals for the Los Angeles City Hall. Sheets designed artistic decoration for the Offices of Home Savings of America branches throughout California, until his death in 1989. These prominent commissions earned Sheets, who was also a member of the National Academy of Design, decorated distinction as a design visionary.
Millard Sheets had an architecture career that garnered as much respect as his painting practice, designing over 50 Home Savings banks and at least 70 buildings total, if not more. Assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso, Adam Arenson, has compiled a list of the banks that Sheets has executed in an preservationist effort. Those buildings that are still standing still standing can be toured using a map created by Curbed LA.
Millard Sheets paintings are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, the Chicago Art Institute, the National Gallery in Washington D.C.; the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco; and the Los Angeles County Museum, and many other institutions.