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Jean Goodwin Ames: The Space Between Tiles

Detail of The Old Blacksmith Shop, c. 1927
Jean Goodwin Ames (American, 1903-1986); Santa Ana, California
Oil on canvas; 24 x 28 in.
Gift of the Artist

Lost to Conciseness

Biographies, especially succinct ones, are by nature reductionist, boiling down an entire human life into an easily digestible narrative. Take for example Anthony Heinsbergen, who famously decorated the interiors of some 750 movie palaces across the United States. Few know anything about the hundreds and hundreds of hobby paintings that he created over the years which for a time resided in the Bowers’ permanent collection. The same can very much be said of Jean Goodwin Ames, an artist who is best known for her mosaics and murals created alongside her husband Arthur Ames during and after the Great Depression. As the objects in this post evidence, she was also a landscape and genre painter and illustrator of a high caliber, one drawn to many of the old historic sites of Orange County that attracted her contemporaries. This post explores just one of the lesser-known side of Ames’ work.

Jean Goodwin Ames, mid 20th Century

Substantially Higher Education

Jean Goodwin was born in Santa Ana on November 6, 1903. Little is available on her early life, save for an oft-repeated note about her having been raised in large part on an orange grove. Over her life she studied at several different schools: Chouinard in Los Angeles, Pomona College, the Art Institute of Chicago, UCLA where she earned a Bachelor of Education in 1931 and USC where she earned her MFA in 1937. During the Depression, Goodwin was looking for a way to support herself and started working with Arthur Ames on the Federal Art Project, a WPA era program which paid artists to create public works. She and Ames were married in 1941 and worked together the rest of their lives earning a great deal of renown for large mural paintings and mosaics made with Byzantine glass. Goodwin also taught at Claremont Graduate School and Scripps College. In Claremont, she achieved high positions, acting as chairman of both the M.F.A. and M.A. programs until her retirement in 1969. She passed away on February 12, 1986 at the age of 82.


Gift of the Artist

Forged in History

The first of Goodwin’s works in this post, The Old Blacksmith Shop, is estimated to have been painted in the late 1920s before she turned to modernism. Its firm drawing and strength show the confident character qualities that led Goodwin to take the unpopular road of modernists. As Goodwin studied at Chouinard it is perhaps unsurprising that her paintings would bear similarities to that of other California Scene painters like Millard Sheets who she came to know quite well from both being faculty of Scripps College. This painting, as with the other works featured in this post, demonstrate a strong interest in Orange County history. The shop depicted in the painting is the first frame dwelling built in Santa Ana and the once-home of Jennie English, who married William Spurgeon, the founder of Santa Ana, in 1872.

San Juan Capistrano, 1920
Jean Goodwin Ames (American, 1903-1986); San Juan Capistrano, California
Oil on Beaver Board; 38 x 24 in.
Gift of the Laguna Beach Art Asssociation

California Romanticism

Goodwin’s painting of the collapsed apse at Mission San Juan Capistrano very much falls into the same larger romanticism of the missions as seen in the work of Charles Percy Austin, Charles Rollo Peters, Fannie Eliza Duvall, and more. Exacted with a palette knife and oils, the painting is a bright depiction of the ruined church that uses bold regions of color and the play of light and shadow to great effect. This work was submitted to the Art Students League Annual Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1925 and would likely have been painted sometime during her years studying there, perhaps on break or from a photograph.

Orange County: A Historical Map, 1929
Jean Goodwin Ames (American, 1903-1986); American Association of University Women
Paper and ink; 17 1/2 × 25 × 1/2 in.
Gift of Ruth Jacobs

On The Map

One of the greatest gifts that Goodwin gave to her birthplace is the historical map of the county that she created for the American Association of University Women in 1929.  It is multi-colored and framed by a man and woman of the cloth. The map is surrounded by religious symbolism, but what is more important is that it tracks many of the important early historical ongoings of Orange County such as the founding of Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1776, the landing of the Argentinian pirate Bouchard in 1818, and the year that Madame Modjeska’s home was built in 1890. While the map includes all of Orange County, the countries of Los Angeles and Riverside are also represented in part.

The Goodwin Lens

The artwork of Jean Goodwin Ames was produced through many different methods and mediums. For example, she accomplished a vast range of methods such as ceramic pottery, easel painting, illustrations, murals, mosaics, and sculptures through the masterful use of many materials such as ceramics, porcelain, fresco, and mosaic tiles. Realism, Naturalism, and Representation generally describe her range of styles. The subjects in her work also vary, but focus primarily on human activity, landscapes, mythology, human figures, outer space, and nautical themes.

Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. References are available on request. Information subject to change upon further research.

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Comments 1

Guest - Dennis Brent on Thursday, 28 July 2022 18:28

An exemplary life of Art and Service.
The map of Orange County was wonderful; what a terrific poster it would make! The medallion of the sea breeze in the lower left corner is missing only a legend around Catalina reading, “Here Be Dangerous Tygers”.

An exemplary life of Art and Service. The map of Orange County was wonderful; what a terrific poster it would make! The medallion of the sea breeze in the lower left corner is missing only a legend around Catalina reading, “Here Be Dangerous Tygers”.
Friday, 19 April 2024

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