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Sam Hugh Harris (1919-2018)


  • Artist, poet and writer, Sam Hugh Harris painted in the great traditions of Modern Art including Impressionism and Symbolism. He was one of the longest standing members of the reputable Carmel Art Association. At a young age, Sam started his vocation under the tutelage of his father Sam Hyde Harris (1889-1977) who distinguished himself as an early California plein air landscape painter. Sam graduated from the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and the Carmel Art Institute, studying figurative and still life painting. He was the pupil of John Cunningham and Alexander Archipenko and befriended John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath). He was also part of a group of Monterey artists called "The New Group". Sam lived, painted and exhibited in Paris and Rome throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 

    Sam Harris was born in Los Angeles, California in 1919. The son of well-known California plein air artist, Sam Hyde Harris, he settled on the same vocation at an early age. Sam Jr. would often venture out into the local landscape to paint and learn from his father. After high school, and during The Great Depression, Sam received a four-year scholarship to the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles on the strength of his painting and early etchings (some of which are in The Lost Art Collection). At the Otis Institute he studied with Ralph Homes, George Biddle, Alexander Brook, Edourard Vysekal, and others.

    Sam was drafted into World War II and served from 1941-1945 in the US Air Force. While stationed in China he studied Chinese brush painting under Professor Dong of Kumming, learning the art of silk and rice paper painting. While stationed in India he painted several large murals for the US Special Services. Sam would also paint portraits of his fellow soldiers as a way of earning money. During his time in India, he was introduced to meditation. Later, Sam would have a significant spiritual practice (Anthroposophy) which would play an important role in his artistic and personal life.

    After the War, Sam moved to Monterey, CA with his wife Gertrude and studied at the Carmel Art Institute with John Cunningham and Alexander Archipenko, among others. He rented a small studio on Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey and often painted the harbor and boats. There he would meet John Steinbeck (the author of Cannery Row and The Grapes of Wrath) and Ed Ricketts (the famed ecologist and philosopher). Sam exhibited with other Monterey artists known as “The New Group” at the Pal Wall Gallery in Monterey.

    Sam supported his young family by designing and building homes and carving custom furniture. He was an avid sailor and he designed and built various innovative sail boats. He raced with the Monterey Yacht Club and once sailed to Mexico with his brother and fellow artist, Pat Carey (whose work is also in the Lost Art Collection). Sam was a bon vivant with a bohemian spirit. In Carmel he sang with various choral groups and joined a folkloric dance troupe. In 1963, after a long illness, his wife Gertrude died at a young age.

    At this point, Sam decided to radically change his life. He sold his house and moved to Paris with his young daughter where his art career flourished. He lived in the Latin Quarter and drove a little 1100 Fiat. He exhibited in one-person shows (including at the Rothschild’s Chateau) and made much of his living with commissioned portraits. During his five years in Paris, he met an Italian woman from Rome named Silvana. They explored the French countryside in their Fiat and peddled around town on a tandem bicycle they picked up at the flea market. On one of their excursions, they ventured to Mont St. Michel, where Sam painted a significant oil of the island commune. Eventually their romance turned into a marriage and in 1969 they moved back to Carmel, California. With them they carried approximately fifty paintings from Paris.

    In 1973, Sam and Silvana would live in Rome and he would exhibit widely throughout the city selling portraits, city scenes and landscapes. Many of those paintings from Paris and Rome are in the Lost Art Collection. Over the decades, Silvana and Sam would shuttle back and forth between California and Italy where Silvana had an extended family. In their Carmel home Sam painted an enormous mural of Rome as a gift to Silvana.

    Sam Hugh Harris painted in a style that reflected many of the great traditions of Modern Art, including Impressionism. He employed aspects of Symbolism to express his Anthroposophical spiritual beliefs. Sam was one of the longest standing members of the Carmel Art Association and painted into his final years. He died in Carmel, in 2018. Over the course of his ninety-nine years, he consistently painted self-portraits. We are fortunate to present many of these, spanning the 1940s through the 2010s.

    Exhibition Highlights:

    1944: G.W.V. Smith Gallery (Massachusetts, USA)
    1946: Carmel Art Association (Carmel, CA)
    1950: Pebble Beach Art Gallery (California, US)
    1951: Anthroposophical Society (New York, USA)
    1954: Crocker Art Gallery (Now the Crocker Museum, Sacramento, CA)
    1965: OCSE, Château de la Muette (Paris, France)
    1966: Galerie de la 16ème (Paris, France)
    1972: Balleria “Il Babuino (Rome, Italy)
    1975: Galleria “La Fornarina” (Rome, Italy)
    1991: Sala Santa Rita (Rome, Italy)

    We would like to thank Colleen Harris, his niece and the Carmel Art Association for bringing the work and story of Sam Hugh Harris to Lost Art Salon.
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