Turning a chore into an obsession

Nancy Dustin Wall Moure never expected to become a collector of books on pre-1945 California art -- or the author of two books on California art. But as “low man on the totem pole” as a curatorial aide the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s American Art department in the late 1960s, she found herself fielding queries from county residents.

“We would get these letters saying ‘Here is a photograph of a painting that I have over my couch, do you know who this is?’ They were nuisance letters, that’s what they were,” says the 60-year-old Glendale resident. “And since we were the county, we had to answer those letters. And I would go to the library to find the information, and there was no information because no one had written about these guys.”

Moure was later promoted to assistant curator at LACMA, a position she held from 1968 to 1983, after which she spent about six years as a computer programmer before drifting back into the art world, writing articles and books and organizing exhibitions on a freelance basis.

But it was her early tour of nuisance duty that led to 15 years of collecting books, press articles, brochures and letters related to California artists. “I really became compulsive,” she says. Moure focused on pre-1945 art because that year loosely marks the beginning of the popularity of abstract versus representational art. “I think there’s also a spirit to it, there is sort of an upbeat nature to it, and a great interest in the landscape because California has such a variety of landscape,” she says of early California art.


Moure’s “Dictionary of Arts and Artists in Southern California Before 1930" was published in 1975, and her 560-page volume “California Art: 450 Years of Painting and Other Media” was published in 1998. Now, she is donating the Moure Library -- more than 1,000 books, 6,500 slides and other memorabilia dating back to the 1550s -- to the Laguna Art Museum.

During her years at LACMA and beyond, Moure organized several exhibitions for the Laguna museum, including 1997’s William Wendt exhibition, “Southern California Artists 1890-1940" (1979) and “Loners, Mavericks and Dreamers: Art in Los Angeles before 1900" (1993). She chose the Laguna Art Museum because of the museum’s longtime interest in California artists.

“I had always intended to donate them, they’re in my will,” Moure says of the estimated $40,000 worth of materials that will be housed with the museum’s existing book collection. “But I thought, when am I going to die? Why should I sit on these things selfishly for 30 years?”

-- Diane Haithman