Darwin Musselman Biography

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Darwin Musselman (1916-2001) Darwin Musselman, born in Selma, California, lived in Fresno from 1953 to 1987, Los Osos from 1987 to 1995, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania from 1995 to his death on June 28, 2001.

The following is from Steve Musselman and references a 1999 press release by Franklin & Marshall College for a retrospective exhibition of this artist.

Darwin B Musselman, an artist whose work is most commonly attributed to the "California Style" passed away on June 28, 2001 at age 85 in Lancaster, PA.

Critics, museum directors and collectors have long considered Musselman's

paintings among the finest produced in the West. His paintings vary

widely in style, but all have one common feature -- methodical composition.

After Musselman became skilled in realistic painting and drawing, he

developed his most identifiable style, similar to cubism and abstract


His prominence in the art world in California in the mid-20th century,

primarily through his abstract paintings, resulted in his works helping to

define the "California Style."

Musselman was born in Selma, California, in 1916 and began his art education at Fresno State College, from which he graduated in 1938. He then attended the Art Center School in Los Angeles, where he studied with the portrait artist, Stanley Reckless. He went on to earn an M.F.A. from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, and a master's at the University of California - Berkeley. He was awarded a doctoral equivalency from the California State University system in 1966 and has engaged in advanced study with internationally known painters Lyonel Feininger and Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

Musselman was a member of the American Watercolor Society and the California Watercolor Society, founded in 1920, which in 1975 became the National Watercolor Society with him as a member. He was also on the first certification committee of the American Portrait Society. His work is also included in the book "A California Style," published in 1985.

Musselman has had more than 50 one-man shows in major art museums, has been invited to show in 50 national, international and regional exhibits, and in 60 competitive shows.

A portrait artist since 1940, Musselman has amassed several awards for both

his portraits and advertising illustrations. He was a professor of art, design and illustration at his alma mater, the California College of Arts and Crafts, and also spent 25 years on the faculty at the California State University in Fresno. He retired in 1978 to devote himself to painting.


The following biological profile is taken from the exhibition catalog of Darwin Musselman's most recent exhibition. Mr. Musselman passed away June 28, 2001. The author is Carol Faill, Director of Rothman and Dana Galleries.

A California Style, Watercolors and Oils 1935 1990, Dana Room, Steinman College Center, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, August 28-September 19, 1999:

Franklin & Marshall College is pleased to present this exhibit of oil paintings and watercolors by the California artist, Darwin Musselman. We are fortunate to have on our faculty the person most familiar with Mr. Musselman's work, his elder son, Ronald L. Musselman, Professor of Chemistry. This exhibit demonstrates a stylistic evolution over the prolific career of this seasoned artist. The works on display and those reproduced in the brochure are largely owned by The Darwin and Ethel Musselman

Exemption Trust, and have been selected from a larger body.

Darwin Musselman's paintings vary widely in style but possess one feature in common - a composition that is highly methodical. After developing skills in drawing and realistic painting, the artist established his most identifiable style, one that reflects the influence of both cubism and abstract realism.

Musselman's prominence in the California art world during the mid twentieth

century, primarily through his abstract paintings, helped to define what has come to be called "the California Style."(1)

Darwin Musselman was born in a small central California town in 1916. Fascinated from early childhood with creating images on two-dimensional surfaces, his attention was diverted in high school to the more practical field of engineering. Shortly after his arrival at Fresno State College in 1934, however, he rediscovered his vocation, and subsequently devoted a lifetime to painting.

The earliest works in this exhibition are from the Fresno State years and display a remarkable talent for realistic representation. During his last summer as an undergraduate, Musselman studied with the internationally known artist Lyonel Feininger (18711951), whose work is closely associated with the cubist style.

Upon graduation from college, Musselman attended the Art Center School in Los Angeles, from which he returned to Fresno in 1939 to begin work as a commercial artist with a large advertising agency, where he remained until the Second World War compelled him to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he was employed in the construction of Navy ships. His visual acuity equipped him to direct welding crews who transformed two-dimensional drawings and flat sheets of steel into massive three-dimensional structures; the three years he spent in a shipyard proved to have a lasting influence on his art. His first paintings upon his return to Fresno were industrial scenes reminiscent of shipyards, and patterns of squares and rectangles ("Composition 847").

These orthogonal shapes and urban/ industrial subjects would combine with Feininger's cubism to create Musselman's personal abstract style.

The paintings of 1947 reproduced here are among those which Musselman submitted to competitive shows in northern California, where his emerging style caught the eye of the Bay Area art world. In 1948 he was offered a position at California College of Arts and Crafts, one of the leading art schools in the West.

His style was further refined in the 1950s. "Harrison Street, Oakland" is a fine example of the combination of careful composition and the interplay of orthogonal shapes and urban subjects that best exemplify his mature work. In the late 1940s and early '50s, art critics were beginning to notice these features: "In the Fresno show, we honored clarity of design and elegance of craftsmanship in awarding first prize to Darwin Musselman."(2) "Darwin Musselman does some of the most carefully organized research in watercolor gouache that I have seen. You never know where his subject comes from, but it is always presented with rich elegance"(3) "The Watermelon" (1957) represents a highly evolved example of his prolific, abstract period during the mid-1950s.

Upon becoming a member of the faculty of Fresno State College in 1953, Musselman felt the pedagogical urge to illustrate a variety of styles for the benefit of his students. He had long been fascinated with the trompe l'oeil technique, particularly that of the American painter, William Harnett (18421892). His painting entitled "Widmung" (now in the permanent collection of the Oakland Art Museum) won considerable recognition and, as a result, Musselman was invited to submit several paintings of a similar style to an Oakland show entitled, "Bay Area Realists." Consequently, he produced many more trompe l'oeil paintings, "Studio Door" being an example.

Musselman, as the artist-teacher, conducted two student art history tours to Europe in the early 1960s. There, he was strongly influenced by the richly varied, urban environments ("Sacre Coeur de Montmartre"). At the same time, however, his interest in the natural beauty of California was renewed, particularly the Sierra Nevada mountains and the rugged Pacific coast, and he painted numerous "rocks and stream" and "waves on the rocks" images during this period. In both of these subjects, European cities and California waters, he included orthogonal shapes. (These tend to be sharp edged in the European, and softer edged in the Pacific Coast subjects.)

By the end of the decade, Musselman was exploring amorphous, non-objective images, taking the representation of pure shape to its logical extreme. (Note for instance, the large canvas entitled "Textural Variations in Red and Black".)

By the 1970s Musselman had been painting realistic desert and other western landscapes for decades, and it was natural consequence that gallery owners began requesting western scenes, very much in the vogue nationally at the time. While in the past he had never emphasized a human presence in his landscapes, he began now to study contemporary Native Americans, ranch hands and their tools, and the vestiges of early frontier civilization. "Bull Riding Gear" and "Crystal Ice Co." reflect this direction.

The western subjects were in many ways a continuation of his realistic work of previous decades. As a result of his new interest in human subjects, Musselman began receiving portrait commissions and portraiture became the focus of his work in the 1980s. He won several awards for his portraits, again attributable to his experience in composition. He was also active in portrait societies until diminished health required him to retire.

Best known for his works in oils, Darwin Musselman was also an accomplished watercolorist. He worked in both opaque and transparent watercolors, as well as egg tempera. Several of his latest works in this exhibition, executed when he was 74 years of age, are transparent watercolors (a challenging medium which allows no correction of error). "Pennsylvania Winter" and "Ad Space" are two examples of his work in transparent watercolor.


1. "The California Style: California Watercolor Artists 19251955," Gordon T.

McClelland and Jay T. Last, Hillcrest Press, Beverly Hills, 1985.

2. Alfred Frankenstein, San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 12, 1947.

3. Emil Kosa, Jr. American Artist Magazine, March, 1950


Following is the artist's obituary in THE FRESNO BEE, July 8, 2001, by David Hale:

Longtime Fresno artist dies in Pennsylvania

Darwin Musselman, a painter and teacher who touched the lives of art lovers and students for nearly 50 years in Fresno, has died in Lancaster, Pa.

Musselman, who was 85, died June 28 after a brief illness. A native of Selma, he spent most of his life in Fresno as a graphic arts professor for 25 years at California State University, Fresno, and as an artist who was internationally recognized.

Musselman and his wife, Ethel Walker Musselman, a Fresno native, left the area for the cooler climes of Los Osos in 1987. She died in 1994, and he moved to Lancaster shortly afterward to be near a son, Ronald, and his family.

Musselman began his career as an exhibiting artist in the mid-1930s while a

student at Fresno State College. His work at that time was represented by landscapes and portraits.

His work was distinguished by its diversity of subject and media. Sometimes as an object lesson to his students, first at Fresno High School and later at California College of Arts and Crafts and Fresno State by 1953, he tried his hand at just about every style known to mainstream of art -- realism, super-realism, cubism, abstract expressionism, trompe l'oeil and still

life -- all of them with commercial success.

"I've been interested, almost from the beginning, in trying almost everything," he told an interviewer. "Partly, it was a way of keeping up the interest. But it also is a matter of the challenge, of solving problems, rather than doing the same thing over and over again."

Besides producing countless award-winning paintings, Musselman paid his dues as a commercial artist in public service. He designed the official seals of Fresno County, Fresno State, the California State University system, a California governor and the plaza fountain at the university. He was a

founding member and a past president of the Fresno Art Center, predecessor to the Fresno Art Museum, and served on its board of trustees. Still, he may have been proudest of his influence on

several generations of San Joaquin Valley students.

"Darwin was my first art teacher at Fresno State; that's where I met my husband Robin Gay McCline," says Sue McCline of Fresno. "He was a wonderful teacher. It was because of Darwin that I became an art major, and Gay went on to architectural school at Cal."

Musselman's last exhibition was a 55-year retrospective in 1999. His son,

Ronald, a member of the Franklin and Marshall College faculty, organized the exhibition.

Besides Ronald, survivors are a son, Steven of North Easton, Mass., a daughter, Carol Woods of Lexington, KY., seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Private interment will be in Los Osos. The family requests that remembrances be made in the form of donations to the Fresno Art Museum.

Biography courtesy of AskART.com

California Watercolor