SIGHTS : Exhibit Displays Process, Product : Show of Cornelius Botke’s work, and the tools he used to create it, does justice to art and history at county museum.


In the modest, but certainly notable ranks of Ventura County artists who have seized acclaim outside the region, the name Botke looms large. Cornelius and Jessie Botke, man and wife, decamped in Santa Paula in 1929 and built up artistic reputations over the next few decades that continue to thrive, posthumously.

The Dutch-born Botke had met Jessie Arms in Chicago and they married in 1915. Together, they worked on murals, including local examples at mortuaries in Santa Paula and Fillmore.

Apart, they veered in separate directions. Jessie’s extravagant and popular aviary paintings, bedecked in gold leaf and created from an iridescent palette, teem with sensuality and flourish. In contrast, Cornelius’ work is of a more austere, muted sort.


Etching was Cornelius’ primary medium. His fastidious craftsmanship and attention to detail, along with a romantic appreciation of landscape, are invitingly explored in “The Etchings of Cornelius Botke,” at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art through the end of the year.

Curated by the museum’s Tim Schiffer, the show celebrates product and process, including preliminary drawings, photographs and a display of tools of the etching trade. A bold presentation consisting of 86 works--the first time all these pieces have been gathered in one public showing--this exhibition dignifies the museum’s often fragile, dual mandate of celebrating both history and art.

While the images here represent Botke’s various travels in Europe as well as in Carmel and other corners of Northern California, a sizable number of pieces hit home. Home for the Botkes was the rural enclave of Wheeler Canyon in Santa Paula. There, they lived, worked and raised a family on ranch land that was also home to fruit trees, poultry and peacocks--in-house models for Jessie’s work.

In the gallery, we see Cornelius, bespectacled and intent at his etching press, in a ‘30s-era photograph taken by another Ventura County-connected luminary, Horace Bristol. Bristol, who spent early years in Ventura County and now lives in Ojai, became well-known for his evocative Depression-era photojournalism, including a project on migrant farm workers, which reportedly inspired John Steinbeck to write “Grapes of Wrath.”

Botke, too, shows an agrarian instinct and a WPA-like pictorial sensibility in many of these works. In “Haybalers,” theme and muscle are provided by the artist’s son William, whose pitchfork is at the vortex of visual energy.

“Plow Team,” dating from 1936, is a heroic, yeoman image of Clarence Marshall tilling the soil, with bowing lines reminiscent of Thomas Hart Benton’s prewar romanticism. The sinewy heave of human labor and the rhythms of the earth are in accord.


Scenes of local note abound here. “Ferndale Ranch” depicts the sprawling plot of land that is now Thomas Aquinas College, outside of Santa Paula. An image of the Santa Paula depot celebrates it as a landmark of relative antiquity.

“Artist’s Barn” commemorates the influential Fillmore gallery and gathering place for the resident art community. But, via Botke’s eye, the point of focus is not so much the gallery itself, but the pepper tree outside.

Trees were an obvious subject of interest for Botke, almost to the point of obsession. No doubt, for an artist of Botke’s exacting eye and hand, trees presented a challenge of depicting both formal sweep and detailed leafage.

In “Grandma’s Backyard,” for instance, the yard in question is viewed from a bird’s-eye, treetop perspective. His Carmel images often played up the gnarled, weeping forms of Monterey pines.

Also seen here are images of old mining towns, in which the isolated clutches of buildings against bleak surrounding terrain make for ripe studies in contrast.

Botke, who died in 1954, left a strong body of work that rewards close-up attention. If detached from the conceptual flow and restless fashion of modernism, his art now basks in a wistful glow and has the appeal of a well-crafted medium.



Although last Friday’s Ventura Artwalk didn’t draw the kindly hordes of last summer’s event, it was nonetheless another successful celebration of the diversity to be found in the artistic outlets downtown.

Between the Botke show at the museum, potter’s guild wares at the Buenaventura Gallery and works by patients at the Turning Point Foundation (that organization’s first involvement in an Artwalk), art took on many faces and attitudes.

Holding forth dauntlessly on the literal and figurative fringes is the marginal-but-mighty Art City II, now celebrating its tenth anniversary.

The current show of mostly 3-D works in its gallery ranges from Dan Cayman’s rusty metal menagerie of apocryphal creatures to Art City “mayor” Paul Lindhard’s sleeker marble inventions, and M.B. Hanrahan’s ironic assemblage, “Trophies”--re: the art object as trophy. Alexandra Morosco’s “Vision Within the Yucca” is a crucifixion of an intriguingly unorthodox sort, evoking Christ’s body with shards of alabaster on a wooden cross and a bronze crown of thorns.

Random Artwalk notes: K.R. Martindale’s had the best spread of food and drink, not to mention some eye-catching works by Michael Kelly. . . . Best Romanticized Vision of Domesticity award goes to watercolorist Jennie Snyder for her elliptically cropped home scenes, fittingly hung in Danica House.

Deaf and blind sculptor Chris Cook demonstrated his work in the window of the Ventura Bookstore, earning the best window display award at City Hall.


Another standout among the window display entries was Paul Benavidez’s ambitious installation at the Performance Studio. “The Changing Paradigm” is a huge blue egg in a distorted stage-like setting, exerting a surreal, mutating presence. This is the kind of work that gives public art a good name.


* THE ETCHINGS OF CORNELIUS BOTKE, through December at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art, 100 E. Main St. in Ventura; 653-0323.

* GROUP SHOW at Art City II, 31 Peking St. in Ventura; 648-1690.

* PAUL BENAVIDEZ’S “The Changing Paradigm,” in the window at the Performance Studio, 34 Palm St. in Ventura; 643-5701.