Hilbert Museum of California Art Opens at Chapman University 7

Mark and Janet Hilbert’s generosity provides a one-of-
a-kind museum.

The Hilbert Museum of California Art is the only museum in the country to showcase the work of the California artists who visually captured the history and culture of the Golden State from the 1920s to the present day.

After collecting California Scene paintings for nearly 25 years, Mark and Janet Hilbert decided they wanted to share their passion with others and create their own museum. Remembering visiting the Chapman University campus when Mark’s nephew was a student and noting the impressive public art, Mark contacted the university, and a museum was born.

The Hilberts made a major gift of their California art, valued at approximately $10 million, in addition to $3 million toward establishing a museum on campus to display the collection to the public.

“Building the museum at Chapman University is the perfect union of synergies,” Mark says. “The ties with Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts and the art and history departments will be very important to us. The setting here in the historic City of Orange, with it Old Towne district right in the heart of Southern California–all this combines to make Chapman the perfect home for our collection and the new Hilbert Museum of California Art.”

Janet relates that the collaboration has been a good one.

“They have welcomed us with open arms,” she says.

The Hilberts recognized early on in their art collecting that the California Scene art movement was largely overlooked, admittedly by many art experts.“In the mid-twentieth century, there were more artists working in Los Angeles than anywhere in the world,” Mark says.

Mark shares that during the Great Depression (1929-1939), the movie studios were voraciously hiring artists for set design, backdrops (large watercolors, since oil glares when photographed), cartoon animation, poster design and advertising. The phenomenon continued through the 1960s. The full-length animated movies, a concept developed by Walt Disney, was another source of work for artists.

“These very same artists created fine art on weekends and evenings and during times when they were between jobs,” Mark says. “They left behind a treasure trove of paintings through their families and only in the last 25 years are they beginning to surface.”

Mark said he and Janet found themselves attracted more and more to paintings that tell a story or have a narrative.

“We find that people are drawn to these paintings,” Mark says. “They relate from the heart.”

The collection includes a large variety of subject matter, including California Scene paintings, still lifes, landscapes, western art and portraits. The various mediums are oils, watercolors, pastels, mixed media, drawings and lithographs.

Mark relates, “The entire sweep of art will show the state’s development from farming to car and surfing culture to the entertainment and leisure juggernaut it is today.”