Serra Museum by Everett Gee Jackson

Scroll down to access oral history interviews with influential San Diego artists, or click the name of the artist. All interviews below were recorded on audio cassette. Indexes for many of these interviews, as well as additional audio interviews with local artists, are available in Special Collections.

View more images below.

Image credit: "Serra Museum, San Diego," by Everett Gee Jackson, Smithsonian American Art Museum.


Belle Baranceanu, painter and teacher:

Belle Baranceanu was born in Chicago, Illinois, July 17, 1902. She attended the Minneapolis School of Art, and in 1926 moved back to Chicago to study under influential painter Anthony Angarola at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Baranceanu is best known for her large murals, which graced San Diego buildings such as the La Jolla Post Office, Roosevelt Junior High School, La Jolla High School, and the Balboa Park Club. These murals were commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression.

In this interview totalling approximately 30 minutes, Baranceanu discusses her family background, recollections of the San Diego art community in the 1940s-1960s, and her murals and teaching experience.

Interviewed by Margaret Price on March 18, 1980, eight years before Baranceanu’s death. For photographs of the artist, check the images section below.

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Warren Beach, artist and museum director:

Warren Beach served as Director of the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery (now San Diego Museum of Art) from 1955 to 1969. Prior to that he was the assistant director of the Columbus Ohio Gallery of Fine Arts.

In this interview totalling 49 minutes, Beach discusses what the name change from Fine Arts Gallery to Museum of Art means to him, and the museum's membership in various associations. He also talks about his education, his family, his first impressions of San Diego, and his 1955 visit to Peggy Guggenheim in Venice. Beach spends a considerable amount of time discussing his work as museum director, including his relationship with the Board, his work with various committees, and arranging the museum's major exhibitions on French, Spanish, and Mexican art.

Interviewed by Myra Alleger on March 19, 1980.

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Homer Dana, sculptor:

Homer Dana was a sculptor and lifelong personal assistant to Donal Hord, a celebrated San Diego sculptor known for such pieces as "Aztec" (a.k.a., "Montezuma" or "Monty") at San Diego State University and "Guardian of Water" at the County Administration Building. Because Hord suffered from rheumatic fever as a child and could not do some of the heavy work required in sculpture, Dana became his assistant. The "Aztec" statue, commissioned in 1936 by SDSC President Hepner through the Works Progress Administration, is an integral part of the San Diego State campus and its identity, and currently resides in the Prospective Student Center.

In this interview totalling 1 hour and 20 minutes, Dana discusses Donal Hord's life, including how he and Hord first met, trips they took, and their working relationship. He also discusses specific sculptures including "Aztec" and "Guardian of Water", as well as reminiscences of other artists and discussion of local sculpting trends.

Interviewed by Margaret Price on March 17, 1980. For photographs of the artist and some of his work, check the images section below.

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J. Milford Ellison, watercolor painter:

J. Milford Ellison was born in Sioux City, IA on September 16, 1909, and studied at numerous schools including Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, Chouinard Art School, and San Diego State College. After working as a commercial artist in Chicago, Ellison came to San Diego in 1928 and worked as a freelance artist. He graduated from San Diego State in 1932. He later taught in local public schools from 1933 including Point Loma High School and Western University. Ellison died in La Jolla, CA on November 21, 1993.

In this interview totalling 54 minutes, Ellison discusses his early life and education, and his various jobs including advertising work, printing for the San Diego Union, and as an engineer in charge of camouflage and boobytraps for the Army during World War II. He also reminisces over other local artists, and his own artistic influences including Millard Sheets, Edward Bowden, and W. Phillips.

Interviewed by Paul & Rita Kress in June of 1980. For photographs of the artist, check the images section below.

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Everett Gee Jackson, artist and teacher:

Everett Gee Jackson grew up in the rural east Texas town of Mexia. He learned to paint in the impressionist style at the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating in 1923. That same year Jackson traveled to Mexico with fellow artist and friend Lowell Houser, moving from Guadalajara to Guanajuato to Oaxaca to Mexico City. After returning to the United States, Jackson settled in San Diego and began working at the Art department at San Diego State College, where eventually he became department chair in addition to being recognized as one of San Diego's most important artists. The campus graduate student art gallery bears his name, and one of his best known works, Serra Museum Tower, San Diego, hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Jackson died in 1995.

In this interview totalling 89 minutes, Jackson discusses his education, his early trips to Mexico, and his marriage. He also talks about his meeting muralists Diego Rivera and Clemente Orozco, and the influences of Mexican artists on his painting style. Jackson discusses San Diego at length, including his tenure at SDSU as a professor and chair of the Art department, his introduction of pre-Columbian art history courses to the curriculum, and how he juggled teaching, painting, and social life. He concludes the interview with some observations on teaching and studying painting, and an explanation of his personal painting style.

Interviewed by Paul & Rita Kress on February 3, 1981. Note: a 1992 interview with Jackson is also available.

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Leda Klauber, artist and patron:

Leda Klauber was born in San Diego, CA on September 28, 1881, and stayed here for her entire life until her death on May 10, 1981. Leda was the sister of artists Alice Klauber and Ella Wormser. Her work includes landscape and still life paintings in watercolor and gouache. Klauber was one of the first members of the Asian Arts Committee and the Art Guild at the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery (now Museum of Art).

Download the PDF transcript.

In this interview totalling 32 minutes, Klauber discusses her recollections of the the San Diego and La Jolla art scenes in the 1930s through the 1950s. She also talks about the Art Guild and Asian Arts Committee of the San Diego Museum of Art, as well as her interest in Japanese prints and her experience studying with painter Charles Reiffel.

Interviewed by Christine Oatman and Grace Miller on February 10, 1979.

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Ilse Ruocco, artist and professor:

Ilse Hamann Ruocco was born in Spandau, Germany, but spent the majority of her life in San Diego. She studied art at UCLA and Columbia University, and joined the San Diego State faculty in 1934, teaching painting, ceramic arts, and industrial arts. Ruocco was considered an expert in interior design and textile design, and taught at SDSU for a total of 33 years, becoming a Professor Emeritus of Art. She was also the wife of Lloyd Ruocco, the celebrated architect known for designing buildings such as the Design Center on 5th Street, the Geophysics Building at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the San Diego Civic Theatre. Ilse Ruocco died in 1982.

In this hour-long interview, Ruocco discusses her involvement with the Allied Artists and Allied Craftsmen councils, her life with Lloyd Ruocco, her education, her career as professor a SDSU, and her involvement with other artists and craftsmen.

Interviewed by Margaret Price on December 1, 1980. For photographs of the artist, check the images section below.

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View more images below:

  • Belle Baranceanu working on a WPA mural
  • "Progress of Man" mural by Belle Baranceanu
  • Donal Hord and Homer Dana (right) at work on the facade for the San Diego Librar
  • "Guardian of Water" sculpture by Donal Hord. Photo courtesy of SanDiegoYesterday
  • A child rests on the iconic "Aztec" sculpture created by Donal Hord
  • "Shadows on the Path" - watercolor painting by J. Milford Ellison.
  • Alta and J. Milford Ellison at SDSU Homecoming 1981
  • "The Charcoal Burners" - oil painting by Everett Gee Jackson, 1926.
  • Ilse Ruocco