Submitted Holly Wermiel
May 9, 2007
the craft of silent movie making had something in common with deaf
artists. I just never thought of it. Hence my enthusiasm for
California art has led me to this deduction. I chose to research
deaf California artists. My research yarn took me to Paris, France.
There, I found two deaf artists living as roommates who would
eventually turn the art world on its ear. Douglas Tilden and
Granville Redmond both had been students of what was once called the
Institute for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind at Berkeley, which is now
called the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, California.
They both had contracted scarlet fever at a young age. Both, when
recovered, were found to be deaf. I can only imagine how it must
have been for them both, to be in Paris and to have had so much in
common. This must have been why they became roommates.
Redmond's paintings and Douglas Tilden's sculptures reflect their
California background. Redmond preferred painting the California
beaches and wildflowers. Tilden's bronze sculptures depicted
California workers and athletes. I had hoped at the outset of my
research, to eventually find some artwork that I might be able to
view personally. It was a romantic notion that I use this assignment
to sleuth through neighboring art museums and perhaps bring some
personal attachment to a piece of artwork on public display. I went
panning for gold in a stream of library books and periodicals to
find tributaries of information that I hoped would lead me to some
placer gold. I assumed that artwork done by deaf artists would be
elusive. I, therefore, doubled my chances by choosing two artists to
research. Now, sitting amongst piles of books and literature, my
research is complete. I can tell you that I found not only placer
gold, but a gold mine of a story and some silver and bronze too. I
found connections with Hollywood, California politics, a world
famous author, and a U.S. President. My first artist, Douglas
Tilden, became the father of California sculpture (Albronda, 1980).
Granville Redmond, my second artist, became a popular California
Impressionistic artist, whose paintings were used in advertisements
and travel guides to encourage visitors to travel west in the early
1900's (O.C.M.A., 2007).
He was even referred to as the Michelangelo of the American West (Sonnenstrahl,
2002). Tilden was born May 1, 1860, which was also the same day the
California School for the Deaf (CSD) opened for students. Tilden
graduated with honors but he didn't want to go to university.
Instead, he wanted to be a mechanic. CSD was not able to find work
for him as a mechanic because he was deaf. The school recognized his
artistic abilities and suggested that he teach art with them. During
his time as a teacher at CSD, Tilden discovered his love for
sculpture. The CSD board of directors was so impressed with his
work, that they loaned him money to study in New York. Tilden felt a
harbinger of fame and left his beloved California to pursue his
ambition to be a great sculptor. Once in New York, he then fancied
further study in the sculpture-mecca of Paris, France. CSD gave
Tilden a second-year loan to study in Paris. It was the year 1889,
and the World's Fair in Paris was presenting the Eiffel Tower to the
world. Tilden presented his bronze Baseball Player to the Salon des
Artistes Fancaises on the Champs Elysee. It was also here in Paris,
that Tilden became active with the deaf community. He organized and
was vice-president of the First International Congress for the Deaf.
And it was also here in Paris, which Tilden roomed with Granville
Redmond who had come study painting due to funding from the CSD.
Tilden made the Bear Hunt and the Football Players among others
before he returned to San Francisco honorably accepted as an
outstanding sculptor. He taught the first sculpture classes on the
Pacific Coast at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. It was there
that he became the first instructor in California to use live nude
models in a university classroom. Tilden's Bear Hunt sculpture is
now located on the main entrance of the California School for the
Deaf greeting all who enter their grounds (CSD, 2007). Hundreds of
students cherish this symbol of the school.
Tilden's famous statue, the Football Players, which was shipped
around the Horn from Paris, was presented to the winner of the
football game between Stanford and University of California,
Berkeley in 1899. Berkeley had defeated Stanford for the first time
the previous year and Mayor Phelan offered the statue to the team
that won two out of three straight games. The San Francisco
Chronicle (Regents of UC, 1899) reported that Berkeley won a second
straight time, thirty to nothing, and the bronze statue went to the
Berkeley campus. The sweetness of victory over Stanford, shaped by
Tilden's hands, is forever on U.C., Berkeley's campus. The Football
Players is in a tree shaded fork in the path near the football
stadium. I was able to take a picture of it after trying to ignore
the homeless person with a middle finger sign language message. Each
time I tried to take a picture from a different vantage point, he
would move in position between the sculpture and me with each
attempt at photography. The man carried a large boom box playing
music at a deafening decibel. I was excited to have found my
treasure and disappointed to see it streaked with a green chemical
residue and surrounded by unappreciative patrons. Its history
seemingly lost amongst the busy students and society's residue.
I was surprised to learn that I lived for 15 years near his
sculpture Oregon Volunteers in Portland, Oregon. School children
from the California School for the Deaf may be interested to know
that President Theodore Roosevelt was given an 8 inch golden replica
of Tilden's bronze Bear Hunt which is now housed in the Sagamore
Hill National Historic Site, Oyster Bay, New York. I had found gold
in my research. I had personally touched his sculpture in Berkeley.
I had become enraptured with his art, and thrilled to learn of his
lofty accolades. But, I was to find that his life had unraveled in
his later years. The earthquake of San Francisco and subsequent fire
in 1906 was a catastrophe followed by the United States entering
into war. Tilden would find that he had lost his financial support.
Tilden was an accomplished and published author with a friend in the
business, Jack London. Tilden wrote a manuscript and gave it to his
friend Jack London. London died ten days later. Tilden's manuscript
was found on London's bedside table on the day London died with
corrective notes. The manuscript was never published. Tilden then
turned to his alma mater for work. California School for the Deaf
would not hire him because he was deaf. The school no longer
employed deaf teachers. Tilden died penniless, with his sculpture
tools within reach before a clay model. I look forward to the day
when I will be able to go to the University of California, Berkeley
Library Archives to read the letters from Jack London and Granville
Redmond to Tilden. I also look forward to my next visit to San
Francisco. It is sure to include a bronze sculpture treasure hunt.
Granville Redmond had been a student at California School for the
Deaf under the tutelage of Douglas Tilden. My research on Redmond
led me to Southern California and the Orange County Museum of Art. I
would learn that Redmond's painting Silver and Gold, is Lesson One
in the publication Imaging and Imagining California for Orange
County's visual arts education (O.C.M.A., 2007). The lesson asks the
students to study Redmond's landscape to learn how the artist used
color to create an illusion of depth. Colors are further studied in
detail to create overlapping shapes and atmospheric perspective.
Students learn to consider Redmond's painting as a good
advertisement for the state of California. The publication notes
that the large tourism industry demand for California Impressionists
paintings coincided with the increase with the state's population,
discovery of oil, completion of railways, and the new film industry.
Redmond, after returning from Paris, located in Los Angeles and
became friends with silent movie screen actor, Charlie Chaplin.
Chaplin gave Redmond a painting studio on the movie lot and
collected Redmond's paintings. In return, Redmond taught Chaplin how
to communicate with sign language and perfected his pantomime (JAMA,
2004). Chaplin also gave silent acting roles to Redmond in several
of his movies, including City Lights (1931).
California School for the Deaf
These two deaf artists were connected through the art-loving
principal of California School for the Deaf. Dr. Warring Wilkinson
saw to it that art education was included in his curriculum. Another
deaf pupil of Wilkinson also became a successful, and awarded
artist. Theophilus D'Estrella photographed California ‘s deaf life
in black and white. He was a good friend and supporter of both
Tilden and Redmond. I had found gold, silver, and bronze, not in the
mineral deposits of the earth, but at the California School for the
Deaf. The paintings of golden poppies, the charm of the silver
screen, the bronzes in San Francisco's streets and parks had all
come from one man's vision to bring the arts to his school for the
deaf. Who knew that the California School for the Deaf had such an
impact on the state of California? I know now, and I have touched
Albronda, M. (1980). Douglas Tilden, portrait of a deaf sculptor/by
Mildred Albronda. Silver Spring, Md.: T. J. Publishers.
Artnet. (n.d). Granville Redmond. Retrieved March 23, 2007 from
California School for the Deaf campus map. (n.d.). Retrieved March
23, 2007, from http://www.csdf.k12.ca.us/campusmap/
California State University WorldImages Kiosk. (n.d.). California
Poppy Fields. Retrieved March 23, 2007 from http://worldart.sjsu.edu/Obj16863$8361
Dabakis, M. (1995). Douglas Tilden's Mechanics Fountain: Labor and
the "crisis of masculinity" in the 1890s. American Quarterly. vol:47
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. (n.d.). Granville Redmond.
Retrieved March 23, 2007, from http://search.famsf.org:8080/search.shtml?artist=Redmond
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (n.d.). Granville Redmond, United
States, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1871-1935. Retrieved March 23,
Orange County Museum of Art. (n.d.) Imaging + imagining California
lesson one: The golden state. Retrieved March 23, 2007 from http://ocma.net/pdfs/redmondWEB.pdf.pdf
Regents of the University of California (1899, Dec 1). Triumph of
blue and gold. San Francisco Chronicle 70(139). Retrieved March 23,
Sonnenstrahl, D. M. (2002). Deaf artists in America: Colonial to
contemporary. San Diego, California: DawnSignPress.
Southgate, T.M., M.D. (2004, October 13). The cover JAMA: Journal of
the American Medical Association, 292(14), p1659-1659.