Sunday, January 5, 2014

Hubert Arnold II: Later Years and Art (146)

This post continues the profile of Hubert Arnold begun in post 145.

  He had a long-standing interest in ceramic objects--especially pots--as sophisticated art in a time when objects made of clay were considered mere “craft” rather than “true art.” He also happened to be in the Northern California milieu in which artists such as UCD’s Robert Arneson were challenging that conception. And as is known, in the decades after WWII, the products of artists such as Arneson led to redefining at least some clay objects as “high art.”

   Arnold made a significant contribution to this shift when he became, on a worldwide scale, a collector of clay pots and related ceramics. He traveled to many countries in search of those of the finest quality and assembled over 1,800 pieces that he kept in carefully nested cardboard boxes that filled his modest 1930s cottage at 533 E Street in Davis.

   In the late 1980s, he donated this collection to the Crocker Art Museum, which held a major exhibition of it in 1989. Then and now, the collection is valued in the millions of dollars.

  The catalog of the exhibition has several especially interesting pages on him and on the collection that I reproduce here captioned images 5 through 9.

  Other of his collections included antique cameras and piano sheet music. The latter focused on “sentimental music from the turn of the century” (Image 10). Moreover, he was an accomplished pianist.

   As can be seen in the contrast between the photos of him in the previous post and in this post, he changed his “persona” as the years went on. The emergence of the counter culture perhaps encouraged him to move somewhat in that direction. He grew a remarkable beard and often wore bib overalls.

   He was a regular at the countercultural Blue Mango restaurant and Davis’ pioneer organic grocery, The Natural Food Works. Socially, he moved in what might be called the Davis “peace left” (as distinguished from the more locally-oriented political left).

   As a distinctive and colorful person, he attracted representations of himself. These include the rather “ethereal elder” photo by Jeffery Briggs published in the Crocker exhibit catalog (Images 1 and 6). And there is, of course, Donna Billick’s wonderful stoneware sculpture titled “Portrait of Hubert A. Arnold,” which greeted visitors at the 1989 Crocker exhibit (images 2 and 9). (Alas, this amazing sculpture is owned by the Crocker and seldom on pubic view.)

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I knew him as a chat-on-the-street neighbor and we exchanged remarks on topics of the day over some twenty years. In one period, he owned a very sociable parrot that rode on his shoulders and head without tethering during his frequent walks about Old North and the Downtown. Then one day it was gone. I asked him what happened to it. He replied that a young man he knew had admired it for a long time and seemed to love it, so he gave it to him.

He died at age 82 on October 20, 1994. His memorial service was held at the Davis Friends Meeting House.