Milford Zornes, 1908 - 2008 The passiing of an Icon
by Jim Salchak
On Sunday morning, February 24, Milford Zornes passed away. Just two weeks before, he celebrated his 100th birthday at a party attended by an overflowing crowd where he lectured on his approach to designing a painting and did a painting demonstration.
Milford Zornes encouraged the artists that founded Watercolor West to establish a society that would promote and exhibit purely transparent watercolor. He was their mentor and assisted them in many ways. For many years he has been an Honorary Member of Watercolor West.
Milford Zornes was born in Oklahoma in 1908 where he spent his childhood on a farm. When his grammar school class was asked to tell what they wanted to do when he grew up, the young Milford said he wanted to travel all over the world and paint pictures and he has done just that. Moving to California in the 1920s, he entered the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. In 1931 he was awarded a scholarship to attend Pomona College in Claremont where he was able to study with Millard Sheets at neighboring Scripts College. By the time he graduated he was a member of the California Water Color Society (now NWS) and one of the earliest exponents of the California Style. His watercolor landscape scenes of California and the Southwest were included in the California Group traveling exhibitions as well as many other shows throughout the country. In 1934, one of his paintings was selected by President and Mrs. Roosevelt to hang in the White House.
As a leading figure in the California style watercolor movement, Zornes received much attention for painting outdoors on large full sheets of paper, applying sweeping broad washes of transparent color, and leaving planned areas of white paper. Essentially, he and the other members of the group were painting with watercolors in new creative ways, as opposed to the English tradition of using watercolors to add color to detailed pencil drawings.
Through the years Milford Zornes had established an international reputation as a highly influential teacher of painting and design. In addition to conducting painting workshops throughout the world, he taught at Pomona College, Otis Art Institute, University of California at Santa Barbara, Riverside Art Center, and the Pasadena School of Fine Arts.
For many years Zornes had very limited vision but he continued to sketch and paint. These later paintings are so beautifully designed that many believe they are his best work. Many found it absolutely amazing that this wonderful master was still conducting workshops as he approached the age of 100 years with the vigor and clarity of a person half his age.