HASSEL SMITH CHRONOLOGY
1915 Born to Hassel and Helen Adams Smith, Sr., on April 27th in Sturgis, Michigan, a small factory town between Detroit and Chicago. The family adopted another boy, Lewis, same age. Mother contracted tuberculosis.
1918-1923 For mother's health moved to Denver, then Los Angeles, San Mateo and Mill Valley, California. Moved back to Sturgis, where his father worked for the Kirsch-Rod Company. "I have done a lot of traveling back and forth across the United States by every known convenience except horse... I think it is a significant part, a pattern of my life that I have constantly moved, from one place to another. "
1929-1932 After one year of high school in Michigan, he returned to San Mateo, California, graduating from San Mateo Union High School.
1932-1935 "I went east again to attend Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois a suburb of Chicago. My intention was to become a chemist. I did well enough in this subject, brilliantly, in fact. However, German, required in those days for a science career, defeated me. I changed over to Art History and English Literature, a wise choice as it turned out. Here begins my actual art career, my love affair with painting. The enlightened (for those days) course description for Art History at Northwestern included 'practice so we did some painting, sculpture not being an offer. "
While at Northwestern he was exposed to painting at the World's Fair in Chicago and the Diaghilev Company of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, directed by Massine.
'I had simply not dreamed that such a thing was possible. It had an enormous influence on me... within a very short time I encountered many of the recognized masterpieces of modern art, not only in painting and sculpture, but also in the ballet. I had no hesitation whatsoever in liking them and committing myself to them. " "... Lautrec, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Seurat, Monet, Cezanne, (all wonderfully represented in the Birch-Bartlett collection), Miro, Brancusi, Leger, Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian, Dali... I was wowed by them all and have been a confirmed modernist ever since. "’
1936 Received his B.S., Cum Laude, from Northwestern University with a double major: Art History and English and intended to go to Princeton to do graduate work in art history. Returned to the Bay Area and enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute). Was permitted to join Maurice Sterne's elite painting and drawing class in which he remained for nearly two years. "Sterne's approach to drawing from the model (nature) was a revelation. I have no hesitation in saying that to whatever extent my intellect has been engaged in the joys and mysteries oftransferring visual observations in three dimensions into meaningful two dimensional marks and shapes, I owe to Sterne. "
1937 Left the CSFA with Jack Wilkinson. In San Francisco, lived in the San Remo Hotel at Chestnut and Mason (still there) then moved into a studio on Montgomery Street previously occupied by Maynard Dixon. They painted outdoors. "We also attempted to arrange figure compositions in the manner ofPoussin. "At night he drew in the WPA life classes and frequented the Black Cat where he met Henri Lenoir, Hilaire Hiler, Mat Barnes, and others.
1939 Employed by the California State Relief Administration, supervised a single men's caseload in Skid Row in San Francisco. Lived with his brother, Lewis, in a boarding house in the Haight-Ashbury district. "It was a very good experience... shattering. " "I had a proper little studio on Steiner Street and in off hours and weekends got on with the painting. "'
1941 Received an Abraham Rosenberg Fellowship for independent study and moved to Angel's Camp in the Mother Lode of the Sierra foothills. "With Richard Hackett, I painted out of doors very much in the spirit of the great peasant painters. Van Gogh, Cezanne, Pissaro and in a countryside very like in climate andappearance to that of the south of France."
1942-1944 Went to work for the Farm Security Administration of the US Department of Agriculture. Sent to Arvin, California, issued food stamps. Met and married his wife, June Meyers, a social worker in the migratory labor program. "This is an episode in my life that requires its own book — and I'll not get into it here — but it had a profound influence on me. Suffice it to say that in off times and while living in the Arvin Farm Worker Community I managed to do a lot of drawings in the cotton and tomato fields." - "... it seems to me that the drawings that I began to make in the valley of field workers and so on, seem to me to be among the first things which I consider to have really quite significant quality. "
1944 The FSA was phased out by Congress, and he was transferred to the Forest Service. Spent the remainder of the war as a timber sealer on the Macenzie River in Oregon.
1945 The war over, he and his wife returned to the Bay Area where he taught at CSFA as an assistant to Ray Bertrand in the lithography workshop.
1945-1951 Douglas MacAgy (wife Jermayne was Assistant Director at the Legion of Honor Museum) became the new director of the CSFA and re-organized the staff and program. Hassel joined a distinguished group that included Clyfford Still, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Jean Varda, Clay Spohn, James Budd Dixon, Robert Howard, Walter Landor, DorBothwell, Squire Knowles, Ansel Adams, Richard Diebenkorn, and others. Summer visitors included Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, William Hayter, and others. - "I think the point that I would like to make most especially is that for many of us who were on the staff, the experience was as much, or even more, a learning experience than a teaching one, "
Students during this period included Frank Lobdell, Deborah Remington, James Kelly, Sonia Gechtoff, Adelie Landis (Bischoff), Lily Feniebel, Roy deForest, Ernest Briggs, John Hultberg, Julius Wasserstein, Jack Jefferson, and Madilene Diamond (Martin), among others.
1947 Saw Still's exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. "... and it had a tremendous effect on me and various other people as well.., Rothko and Clyfford Still were at the time great friends and they had a lot of influence on the younger people, including myself. " - "Clyfford Still's very greatness resides in his magisterial denial of ordinary humanity. Ennoblement of man, through struggle, is the core of Smith's art. They have always been very different painters... For example, between Smith's deft, elating brushwork, happily enlivened by swift improvisation and witty line, and Still's almost brutal application of paint. "
First Artist in upper story at #9 Mission, a historical landmark and legendary studio building for over twenty years. Artists who worked there included Bernard, Hatofsky, Lobdell, Jefferson, Briggs, Safford, Neri, Brown, Hack, and Wasserman. First major one-artist exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California. His son Joseph was born and they went to Eugene, Oregon where he taught at the University. His old studio mate and painting companion Jack Wilkinson was on the staff there.
1948 Returned to the Bay Area and went back to work at CSFA. They lived in Point Richmond with Robert and Mary McChesney, Ed Corbett and Weldon Kees. Group exhibition "Park-Bischoff-Smith," San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
1952 Part of a group forced out of CSFA by the new Director, Ernst Mundt. Taught Arts and Crafts at Presidio Hill School, children's art classes at Mission Community Center, weekly seminars at his Potrero Hill district home, and painted in his #3 Mission Street studio.
1953 Exhibitions at the East-West Gallery, San Francisco, founded and run by Ethel Gechtoff; also at the King Ubu Gallery, Five Years of Painting and Sculpture, founded by Robert Duncan, Jess, and Harry Jacobus. Acquired apple orchard in Sebastopol, Sonoma County, built studio, worked orchard, continued to paint.
1955 Included in exhibit organized by Walter Hopps, Ben Bartosh and others including the Six Gallery scheduled for Barnsdall Park, moved to Merry-Go-Round Building on Santa Monica Pier, titled Action I.
1958 First exhibition at the Ferus Gallery founded by Walter Hopps and Edward Kienholz in Los Angeles, meeting Voulkos, Altoon, Bengston, Moses, and others. ".. .as a friend Jermayne MacAgy, I'm sure you know a good deal about Hassel Smith, painter,man, legend as a renegade, teacher and leading free spirit of art here in the far west. Hassel has caused some furious storms and in my opinion with the four finest artists to come out of the west, Diebenkorn, Lobdell, Corbett, Smith."''
Began exhibiting at Jim Newman's Dilexi Gallery in San Francisco.
June Meyers Smith died.
Began to make his living from painting sales.
1959 Hassel married Donna Rafferty Harrington. She had two sons. Mark and Stephen. Their son Bruce was born in 1960. "Soon we had Bruce, so we made up a family and have been together ever since. "
First exhibition, New Arts, Houston, Kathryn Swenson, Director. "Charles Gimpel saw my work in Houston and started to show the paintings in London, and he arranged for my paintings to be shown in New York (1961) with Andre Emmerich. " "The reason I went to England was a direct result of showing in London. "
1962 Went to England to live for one year in Mousehole, a Cornish fishing village.
1963-1965 Returned to California as Lecturer, Art Department, University of California at Berkeley.
1965-1966 Moved to Los Angeles, California, as Associate Professor, Art Department, University of California at Los Angeles.
1966 Offered a position at the West England College of Art in Bristol, England, where he was Senior Lecturer until 1978.
1967 Received an award from the National Endowment for the Arts for "Distinguished Service to American Art."
1973-1975 Visiting Professor, Art Department, University of California at Davis.
1977-1980 Instructor, San Francisco Art Institute.
1978-1979 Principal Lecturer, Bristol Polytechnic, Faculty of Art School, and the Cardiff College of Art, Wales, England.
1981 Award for "Outstanding Achievement in Painting" from the Art Commission of the City and County of San Francisco.
Guest Artist, San Francisco Art Institute. "... and I feel that I can live in one place and yet not abandon all my contacts in the other. "
1984 To the Bay Area for an exhibition at the Paule Anglim Gallery.
1985 To the Bay Area for an exhibition at the John Berggruen Gallery.
1986-1987 Produces lithographs and monotypes at Magnolia Press, Oakland, exhibited at the Smith Andersen Gallery.
1988 Awarded the Cunningham Endowed Chair, College of Notre Dame. "To put it very briefly, it means as far as I'm concerned I'm bringing the painting into much closer relation with music, the dance with verse, and the other various discursive art forms in which rhythmic sequences play a role. "
1991 Awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the San Francisco Art Institute.
1988-1997 A prolific period of painting at Home and Studio in Rode, Somerset, England until December 1997 when Hassel was forced to stop work due to Ill health.
2007 After a long and full life, Hassel dies on January 2nd at Sutton Veny Nursing Home, near Warminster, Wiltshire, England.
March 2nd 2008 from 3pm - Celebration of the life and work of Hassel Smith at San Francisco Art Institute
Hassel Smith interview by Paul Karlstrom, 9/5/1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Chronology, written by Hassel Smith, 12/10/1987.
Allan Temko, Hassel Smith Painting 1954-1975.
Letter to Mrs. Kathryn Swenson from Walter Hopps, 10/20/1958. New Arts Gallery Papers,
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.