RHE — Driving south on Hawthorne Boulevard just past Silver Spur Road, it may be easy to miss the great work of art depicting the equestrian community of Rolling Hills Estates by Millard Sheets. However, the mosaic mural, created in 1974, recently received a facelift. The unveiling today at 10:30 a.m., showcases its refurbished glass medley.
The mosaic work, first commissioned by Howard Ahmanson, owner of Home Savings of America, was designed by California-based artist Sheets and executed by his colleagues Nancy Colbath and Denis O’Connor. A stained glass window, which features a horse ring, people, sheep, dogs and peacocks, at the rear of the bank was created by another of Sheets’ longtime colleagues, Susan Hertel, who co-designed the artwork.
“What Dad tried to do in the artwork for these buildings is create a subject matter that was specific to each area,” said Sheets’ son, Tony. “He first became well known as a painter in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. He got into architectural designs and doing murals in homes pretty early on and … his approach to it was art in architecture, not art on architecture.
“The tendency is to add art to a building after it’s designed. He made the art an integral part of the whole thing,” he added.
Sheets also designed a piece in Pasadena with the Rose Parade theme, as well as the first Home Savings bank, which displays beachgoers, sailboats and seagulls, located on Wilshire and 26th St. in Santa Monica.
“Ahmanson hired him to do the first buildings … They built the first branch on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, and it paid for itself in two weeks of new deposits,” said Tony, himself an artist, who curates much of his father’s work.
It took two weeks beginning last spring to remove the 12-foot-by-37-foot mural’s 36 mosaic panels, which were retouched by Carnevale and Lohr Inc., owned by Louis Carnevale. It was a fitting match in that Carnevale in the past had worked on original Sheets pieces. Carnevale’s work also can be seen at the Getty Museum and the Cathedral of our Lady of Angels in downtown Los Angeles.
“[The mural] is a great composition of that area. Rolling Hills [Estates] is obviously horse country and there are riders on horseback … and there’s a few dogs trailing the horses,” said Jeannie Denholm, who oversaw the project. “I was kind of the voice for the restoration of the mural … on the art historian side of it.”
The restoration itself took about six months to complete.
“It’s a beautiful artwork, frankly,” RHE Mayor John Addleman said. “There’s all too much, ‘off with the old, on with the new,’ and you lose a lot of heritage — a lot of beauty that way, and I’m delighted that they’re going forward and making it the way it was before, because I thought it was marvelous.”
Washington Mutual obtained Home Savings in 1998 and 10 years later, JPMorgan Chase acquired WaMu’s banking operations.
“I began this conversation to preserve the mural with Washington Mutual back in October 2008 and then through that transition, Chase came in. Because of their involvement in the arts, [they] were very quick to commit to restoring this,” Denholm said. “As a participant in the business community … there’s a responsibility to add to the aesthetic of the cities and to also support the arts.”
Regarding the restoration, Tony said it was a fabulous idea.
“It’s more than just about Dad; it’s a period of time when the art and architecture made a real statement, and I think it’s important that it survives,” he said, adding that he supports the California Arts Preservation Act, which prevents the destruction of fine art.
“After some initial struggling, [Chase has] worked very closely with me to maintain the art,” Tony continued.
When he isn’t creating sculptures and maintaining his home in Oregon, Tony heads the Miller Sheets Center at the L.A. County Fairplex in Pomona.
Beginning Feb. 14, the Pasadena Museum of California Art will host the exhibit “Millard Sheets: the Early Years.”
For more information, visit www.millardsheetscenter.org.