Collecting the Art of California at Gardena High School, 1919-1956 | September 10, 2021 to January 9, 2022

Over one hundred years ago, in 1919, an extraordinary art collection was born.

At the recommendation of their principal, the senior class of Gardena High School gifted the school with an original landscape painting by Ralph Davison Miller, beginning what was to become a unique, annual tradition.

For nearly 40 years, until 1956, each senior class selected, purchased and donated works of art to the school, ultimately amassing an exceptional permanent collection of paintings in the Impressionist, figurative and landscape genres. Each painting was carefully selected and purchased from an artist of note, often reflecting historical content from that year. The high level of sophistication demonstrated by the students’ choices was the result of the aesthetic discourse and collaboration nurtured by the school.

Today, the Gardena High School Art Collection is widely acknowledged as one of the nation’s outstanding collections of early 20th century California art, with works by some of the state’s most celebrated artists. Through more than 50 paintings, GIFTED traces the history of Southern California art in the early 20th century, when plein-air painting and the Arts and Crafts movement were flourishing, and chronicles the school’s ambitious efforts within the wider cultural scene of Los Angeles at that time.

CMATO is pleased present to present the Ventura County debut of this remarkable and timely exhibition, on view September 10, 2021-January 9, 2022.

GIFTED: Collecting the Art of California at Gardena High School, 1919-1956 is organized by the GHS Art Collection, Inc., in association with the Gardena High School Student Body, and curated by Susan M. Anderson.

Exhibition-related educational programming is generously supported by the Historical Collections Council.

Over the past one hundred years, we’ve witnessed some of the most profound changes in human history: world wars, technological advancements, progress in civil rights and breakthroughs in science and medicine.

What does our collective future hold? CMATO invites you to share your hopes and dreams for the next one hundred years, inspired by the one hundred year anniversary of GIFTED: Collecting the Art of California at Gardena High School, 1919-1956. Visit the Museum to participate!

Along the Arroyo Seco by Wednt

William Wendt, Along the Arroyo Seco, The Gardena High School Collection


Considered one of the most popular artistic styles even today, impressionism evolved throughout the late 19th century in France. At the time, Paris was the center of the western art world and was driven by the French Academy of Fine Arts’ prestigious Salon exhibitions. At the time, a group of artists with now-familiar names including Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, and others, were experimenting with a radically different style of painting characterized by quick, spontaneous brushwork, brighter colors and thick, textured paint strokes. 


In 1919, Gardena High School Principal, John H. Whitley, embarked on a program for students in the senior class that was devised to lend crucial support to their cultural foundation. He encouraged the students to acquire works of art for the walls of the high school as their senior gifts, describing them as “silent teachers”. The students’ first selection, made as a result of a visit to the artist’s studio, was Valley of the Santa Clara, by Ralph Davison Miller. The moody painting of storm clouds hanging over a rocky outcropping is of the lush agricultural river valley in Ventura County, running from the San Gabriel Mountains west to the Pacific Ocean. 

Ralph Davison Miller, Valley of the Santa Clara, The Gardena High School Collection

Timelapse Video: Exhibition Installation

Video: Our hardworking team installing nearly 50 paintings in preparation for CMATO’s exhibition, GIFTED: Collecting the Art of California at Gardena High School, 1919-1956.

For their generous support of this landmark exhibition and related educational programming, CMATO wishes to thank:


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