Man Evolves.

Art, artists, prison art

Sacramento Art Gallery News

December 13, 2014

A concern that I have expressed lately is that works of art that we produce today do not live on in history.  Works of substantial merit that sold well a half century ago are often now forgotten.  Some examples are the works of Alexander Nepote, Maxine DalBen, Victor Heady and Raymond Rowley King.  They are all dead and buried now, but their paintings should not be.  All four had shows that sold well at Barrios Gallery here in Sacramento in the mid-1960s.

Nepote’s specialty was oil on canvas landscapes done high up in the Sierra-Nevada mountains.  Canvas size would be related to portability.  To my recollection, they were in the range of 36 to 48 inches in width.  Since the value of the dollar has change rather much since then, let us just say that a single work of art would cost about a month’s wages.

DalBen painted rather larger works with many of them drawing inspiration from the ambiance created by tule fog in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  Of the Delta Series, only two small works remained when I visited her in Stockton at the location of her Harlequin Gallery.  The larger pieces had all been collected at perhaps two months wages apiece.  Maxine thought that they most probably were in homes along the Central Coast of California.  I drove by the Harlequin building the other day.  Nothing is being done with it.  Perhaps, one day, the building will be re-purposed, and during demolition a treasure trove of he works will be discovered in her up-stairs store room.  Last thing I heard was that that store room had been re-purposed as a pigeon coop, courtesy of a hole in the roof.

The largest work by Victor Heady that I ever saw sold for around $300 (in 1964 dollars).  Early on, he tended to work on smaller areas.  The largest in our collection is 17″x25″.  In recent times, his resale prices have begun to rise.  A large seascape in a collection in Sacramento has remained there despite offers in the thousands.  The painting of a fisherman’s shack sold on eBay recently for two or three thousand, and a smaller, early work is being offered there for just under $700.  Vic’s early works should be available here in Sacramento as well as in The City.  The market for works that he painted at his studio in San Miguel are not well know to me, nor do I have a clue as to the prices of them.

Though his paintings can be found in many places around the world, many works by Ray King can be found in Sacramento.  By happenstance, we were driving home along American River Drive when i noticed one of those bright yellow “Estate Sale” signs.  I entered through the garage in to a very large house with many rooms, walking past a lot of framed “artwork”, most of it quite dreadful.  As I entered the last room, I quipped aloud that I now knew where all the bad art went when it died.  The I saw it on the wall.  Grossly over-framed, it was a goache on paper work by Raymond Rowley King.  Sunday was the last of three days of the sale, and everything was half off the tag price.  The piece itself is 23″x17″, and cost me fifty big ones … half a Benjamin … $50.  D will probably charge me five times that much just to re-frame it.

I carried it immediately to the woman taking the money, then took it out and put it in the vehicle, then returned in hopes of finding something that I had over-looked.  There was a bunch of framed crap pilled up in the laundry room next to the garage.  Odds and ends were scattered throughout the house, many of them hanging on walls.  In one large room the was a huge rectangular patch of dust on a wall indicating that the house had been gleaned one piece either by relatives or a fortunate buyer.  Many pieces appeared to be copies of well-known impressionist works.  I stopped to puzzle over one piece in an entryway, dodging the efforts of two people to move a king-size bed set out the front door to a waiting van.  I took it off the wall, where it had been hanging by a single, short nail.  It was oil on canvas, not recently painted, and in a post-impressionist style.  The signature was not one that I recognized.  Thinking about it now, I believe that I had seen it in a local venue that caters to new money that buys houses in the “Fabulous Forties”, then tries to pretend to be old money.  I finally left it and went to look around the room where the money lady had her desk.  I discovered a selection of 33-1/3 records.  Some were Time-Life compilation trash.  Others were earlier recordings of high quality for their time.  Twenty-one of them set me back eight rocks.  When I catalog them, I’ll sent a list to Sean Bianco, in case he might have interest in transcribing them to digital media for his collection.

Records tucked under my arm, I was passing through the laundry area to get out through the garage when I decided to take a close look at one un-framed item leaning against the baseboard.  The piece was of a young girl’s head and shoulders.  The background was in the umber stain commonly used by prison artists at Vacaville Medical Facility in the 1960s.  A piece of rough irregular canvas, torn along three edges, had been glued on to the smooth side of a piece of 1/4″ thick, single-sided Masonite, with not all of the smooth side of the Masonite covered up.  Strands of jute were separated from the edges of the canvas and glued alongside.  The umber stain was over-all.  The face of the child borders on the Keene model, but no quite so exaggerated … and not weeping either.  She seems apprehensive.  Commercial pieces have been generated in recent times that come close to this, but they are seldom dated (this one had a date in the 1960s) along with the signature.  Moreover, if there is a signature, it is usually much more clear … not concealed in a jumble.  The torn canvas seemed a little gimmicky, but in prison at times scraps are all you have.  What the hell!  I went back and bought it for $2.

Carol and I puzzled for a while over the signature.  I photographed it, put it in to Photoshop to blow it up and compare it with signatures of know prison artists of that era … Gus Bouquet, Joe Ullery, even Victor Heady.  We just couldn’t make it out.  Then I remembered that I had an ultra-violet light left over from faking some science demos at VBS.  Once I turned on the light, the name popped right out … Sample.  It was by Richard Lauran Sample.  The date also came up clear.  It had been painted in 1963.  Two scores in one day.


I would like to be able to share images of the newly acquired pieces, but Microsoft has found a new way to screw people who use WordPress.  The files cannot be uploaded.

To view older entries go to