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‘Missions of Will Sparks’ on Display at Santa Barbara Historical Museum

Acclaimed exhibition of works by the renowned painter on view until June 26

Just two weeks remain to experience “Missions of Will Sparks” at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.

This selection of works by Sparks, internationally renowned “painter of the missions,” will be on view until June 26. The acclaimed exhibition includes the complete Alma de Bretteville Spreckels collection of Sparks’ final mission suite with paintings of California, the Southwest and Mexico.

A painter, etcher and muralist, Sparks became one of California’s premier artists, known for his mission and nocturnal adobe scenes. 
Born in St. Louis, Mo., Sparks showed artistic talent as a child, selling his first painting when he was 12. He attended the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, and then went to New York and Paris to the Academies Julian and Colarossi, where he studied with Jean-Leon Gerome, Henri-Joseph Harpignies and William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

“In honor of a last request by the artist, this suite of paintings has been preserved intact for more than 70 years,” curator Daniel Calderon said. “We are thrilled to display a unique collection that is both a survey of popular and lesser known mission sites, as well as a retrospective of the career of the artist himself.”

The popular exhibition reveals an interesting history of the missions, drastically different from the preserved churches, protected landmarks and museums these buildings serve as today. In 1834, the Mexican government secularized the mission system, and by the late 19th century the missions had drastically deteriorated. Sparks was one of many early California artists drawn to paint the missions in large part because of the dilapidated state of these structures, as their rustic and time-worn features exemplified Old California charm and nostalgia. The images created by these early artists and their contemporaries influenced the first movements to preserve and restore the missions.

“The mission remains one of the foremost symbols of our great city,” museum Executive Director David Bisol said. “The Santa Barbara Historical Museum is proud to feature an artist who worked tirelessly to promote the restoration of these beautiful structures.”

After “Missions of Will Sparks,” the museum will feature an exhibition highlighting recent gifts, its collecting focus and the community’s support. “Treasures: Recent Acquisitions to the Permanent Collections” will feature artwork by noted Early California artists such as John Edward Borein, Carl Oscar Borg, John Marshall Gamble, Alexander Harmer and John Nelson Marble, along with the work of more contemporary local artists such as Ray Strong and Richard Schloss.

Visitors will also see a wide array of objects, from an early hand-carved carousel horse by Gustav Dentzel to a rare 18th century Italian bench owned by Mexican Commander of Alta California Mariano Vallejo. “Recent Acquisitions” will open Saturday, July 16 and run through January.

Visit the museum 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Entrance is complimentary, donations appreciated. The Santa Barbara Historical Museum is located at 136 E. De la Guerra St. For more information, click here or call the museum at 805.966.1601.

— Dacia Harwood is a media consultant for the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.

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