Lorenzo Latimer

Lorenzo P. Latimer, a well-known Bay Area landscape painter, was a major influence on Northern Nevada artists, especially watercolorists, during the 1910s and 20s. He frequently journeyed to Nevada to teach painting classes and, in turn, his students became regular exhibitors and art instructors in the Reno area. The Latimer Art Club, which is still active, was named in the artist's honor in 1921.

Below is reprinted with permission from the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly.

Nevada Historical Society Quarterly
Volume 33, Summer 1990, Number 2
Katharine G. Hale

LORENZO P. LATIMER (1857-1941)
Lorenzo Palmer Latimer was a son of pioneering settlers Lorenzo Dow Latimer and his wife Harriet Neeham. Although he was born in California, at Gold Hill in Placer County, Latimer lived in Nevada for so many years, painting and teaching, that some consider him a Nevada artist.1

Latimer's early schooling included the McClure Military Institute in Oakland in the mid-1870s, but his interest lay in painting and he chose art as a career. He studied under Virgil Williams in San Francisco at the California School of Design, later teaching there himself while also conducting art classes at the Mechanics Institute. In 1899 Latimer was appointed chair of the School Committee of the School of Design, by then renamed the Mark Hopkins Art Institute. He held this position for twenty years, during which the name changed again, this time to the San Francisco Art Institute. He was also on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Art Association from 1899 to 1917.2

A member of numerous organizations in the Bay Area (Sequoia Club, San Francisco Art Association, Mechanics Institute, and Athenian Nile Club of Oakland), Latimer found one of his most rewarding affiliations in the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, an organization still in existence. During Latimer's lifetime, its members were all artists, musicians, poets, writers, and singers, and membership required that they make significant contributions of their talents on behalf of the group. The club owned a retreat called The Grove in Northern California; it comprised an ancient stand of redwoods by the Russian River with which Latimer became familiar and which greatly influenced his painting. He wrote a piece for the Overland Monthly that set forth some of his perceptions as an artist. It was accompanied by his depictions of the redwoods and epitomized the lofty goals of the idealistic young men of the early Bohemian Club:

In the midst of such grandeur, such sublimity of nature, how insignificant one feels himself to be. With awe and utter helplessness the rash artist begins the drawing even of the first line and as he goes on he becomes dissatisfied and discouraged then he stops and stares, completely at a loss to know how to proceed. Nowhere does one find such depth of feeling as in a forest of giant redwood trees. I think the Creator never intended that anyone should represent on canvas these noble trees, as they really are, or He certainly would have made them simpler.3

Latimer is known for his oils and watercolors, particularly Nevada and California landscapes. His landscapes and redwood trees won gold medals at fairs and expositions in Chicago and San Francisco. Some of his finest canvases were of Tahoe and Yosemite, and he painted numerous landscapes featuring Nevada's mountains, streams, and valleys, preferring scenes presented by summer and autumn days.

It is not certain when Latimer arrived in Reno, but the Reno Commercial Club, a forerunner of the local chamber of commerce, did hold an exhibition of his paintings in November of 1917, by arrangement of his friend Walter Nagle, secretary of the club.

Latimer's presence in Reno was like a seed. He fostered the growth of the community's artistic and cultural life as few had done before. In 1921, he founded the Latimer Art Club, the first and for many years the only art organization within the state. Latimer also taught private painting classes and in 1931 was instrumental in forming the Nevada Art Gallery, now the Nevada Museum of Art.4

Between 1950 and 1967 the Latimer Art Club sponsored many programs, presenting a carefully selected array of art exhibits, musical evenings, and programs and lectures, all offered to the public free of charge. The club also sponsored many demonstrations in which artists from different parts of the country showed their techniques and working methods. Other programs covered a wide variety of topics—oil and watercolor painting, drawing, oriental rugs, news and science, literature, gardening, music, photography and films, wood-block prints, ceramics, weaving, serigraph, collage, mosaic, and batik—no artistic endeavor, persuasion, or cultural influence was excluded. The records of the Latimer Art Club provide a capsule history of Reno's cultural community during the early twentieth century.5

Latimer was more than a witness to Reno's cultural growth in the first half of the twentieth century. The club that was organized in his name reflected his concern for the entire range of human activity. Curiously, Ren Latimer's brush mustache might have twitched with amusement at club programs with titles such as "Climate as it Affects Our Philosophy," "The Making of Puppets," and "Lumbering around Lake Tahoe."6

The people of Northern Nevada owe a debt to Lorenzo Latimer. The metaphor of the seed is appropriate; his vision for this region and especially for its artistic community grew in the years to come–enlarged by artists and others who had been inspired by his leadership. James E. Church, one of the founders of the Nevada Art Gallery, wrote:

Much of what has been accomplished at the Nevada Art Gallery is due to the Latimer Club as a unit and individual members. They have all served on committees, catalogued collections, worked at the maintenance of the collection and building, arranged exhibits, conducted workshop classes, arranged all but a few programs on art, history, travel, music and many other topics.7

Lorenzo Latimer's contribution to Nevada's artistic heritage began with his paintings and extended into the community as he organized the art club. His legacy and this club survive today, persisting through periods of radical change in the arts and the community itself. Next year the Latimer Art Club will be seventy years old and, although now a small group, it attests to the devotion and the influence of an important Nevada painter.

1. Doris Ostrander Dawdy, Artists of the American West: A Biographical Dictionary (Chicago: The Swallow Press, Inc., 1974), 140.
2. Justice B. Detwiler, ed., Who's Who in California: A Biographical Directory, 1928-29 (San Francisco: Who's Who Publishing Co., 1929), 21.
3. Lorenzo Palmer Latimer, "The Redwood and the Artist," Overland Monthly (July-December, 1898): 354.
4. Marguerite Erwin, Hildegard Herz and Millicent Thompson, History of the Nevada Art Gallery, n.p., n.d., [between 1970 and 1974].
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., p. 3-4 in chapter entitled "Programs and Illustrated Lectures."
7. Ibid., 14-15.

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