Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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Famous Artists Who Lived and Worked in CV

The Crescenta Valley was a natural attraction for painters from all over the world. It had, of course, beautiful weather, not to mention a remarkable clarity of light. In the period around the turn of the century, Los Angeles, and Pasadena in particular, was a magnet for the arts. The turn-of-the-century Arroyo Seco was a hotbed of activity in the Arts and Crafts Movement, which today survives in the form of the pervasive Craftsman-style architecture.

The California Art Club of Pasadena was a huge influence internationally, and an entire art movement called California Impressionism developed here. An offshoot of California Impressionism was the “California Plein-Air School” of painting. Plein-air is a French term meaning “outdoors.” It’s used to describe the act of setting up an easel outside in the sunlight, and painting the natural landscape spread before the artist. It was common for artists then to study in Europe, the birthplace of Impressionism, and then bring their skills to California (and CV) where the light was so much better. Many of them stayed.

Hanson Puthuff is perhaps the most famous California Impressionist from CV. He lived here in La Crescenta in the teens and ’20s when he was in his prime, and the Puthuff family is often mentioned in old local newspapers for their community involvement. Puthuff was the quintessential California Impressionist, using a bright palette and broad brushstrokes. Many of his works have “Crescenta” in their titles (“Mountains near La Crescenta,” “Mist Clearing, La Crescenta” and simply “Crescenta”). His work is very valuable today, and there are entire commercial galleries dedicated to just his work.

Eugene Franquinet was a Belgian artist who moved to CV in 1911 and lived here until his death in 1940. He lived for some time in the servant’s quarters of the Gould Castle, and the castle was no doubt at some point a subject of his paintings. Painting titles include local subjects such as “Wildflowers, La Crescenta” and “Rancho San Rafael.” Two interesting painting titles that I haven’t been able to find images for (but would love to view) are “The Post Shack, La Crescenta” and “Crescenta Lake.”

Another famous painter (in his time, but not today) to call CV home was Stephen Seymour Thomas. He was born in Texas, and in the late 1800s went to Paris to study. There he met and married Helen Haskell, the niece of Benjamin Briggs. At the onset of WWI, Helen inherited some of her uncle’s land. They moved to CV, and Stephen set up his studio on Rosemont, just above Foothill. Although Thomas enjoyed plein-air painting and was prolific, he gained his fame from his work in portraits, which displayed just a hint of impressionism. He painted all the rich and famous of his time, including President Woodrow Wilson, and was the go-to portrait artist for the wealthy. His work lives on locally in several portraits of his wife which he donated to local schools and organizations, and in the architecture of St. Luke’s Church, which he designed and helped build.

Other famous artists who painted plein-air landscapes in the clear Crescenta Valley atmosphere were William Wendt, Edgar Payne, Guy Rose and Conrad Buff.

A later artist that lived here was Barse Miller who gained his fame as a watercolorist in the ’30s and ’40s. He had a distinctively bold use of color and shadow that was a perfect match for an unusual assignment: “Combat Artist.” He participated in several battles during WWII, and painted the scenes he witnessed. A local subject he painted was of mail delivery by Model-T Ford in La Cañada. That painting was featured at the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Crescenta Valley has continued to be a desirable location for artists, many of whom found ready work at the Disney Studios, such as Josh Meador and Ralph Hulett. Ben Abril is another local artist who gained fame.

Artists continue to be attracted to CV, many because of ready access to the entertainment industry. These are but a few of the artists that have painted beautiful pictures of our already beautiful valley.

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

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