Jack Wisby: Historical Paintings of Marin County
September 25 – November 14, 2021
Co-curated by Elia Haworth and Alfred Harrison
In the early twentieth century, Jack Wisby (1869-1940) painted evocative scenes celebrating the beauty and diversity of Marin County’s landscape. An immigrant from England, he arrived in San Francisco in 1892, and later he and his artist wife lived in many parts of Marin, including Bolinas where, in 1915, they built a home with panoramic views that were often subjects of his paintings.
A prolific and accomplished artist, Wisby painted works that are both a pleasure to the eye and a fascinating window into the region’s past. Drawn from private collections, historical societies, and museums, the paintings in this exhibition presented views we still savor today: a sweeping vista from Mill Valley to San Francisco Bay; Mount Tamalpais seen from Belvedere; rolling hills and ranchland from Novato to Point Reyes Station; Tomales Bay viewed from Inverness; Brighton Beach at Bolinas; and Stinson Beach’s curving coastline.
This exhibition was co-curated by Alfred Harrison, owner of North Point Gallery and one of the Bay Area’s foremost experts on early Bay Area California paintings. A new book by Harrison accompanied the exhibition. It clarifies historic facts and illuminates insights into Wisby’s life, inspirations, and passion for landscape painting. Click here to purchase the book now!
JACK WISBY (1869-1940), Untitled, date unknown, oil on canvas on board, 21 x 26 inches. Courtesy of the Martinelli family.
Marin County is known for the beauty and diversity of its landscape and environmental policies preserving the open lands of West Marin that we enjoy today. Artist Jack Wisby’s evocative paintings celebrate this timeless beauty—the sensual rolling hills, luminous greens of winter, golden browns of summer, deep forests, and the places where land meets water. He also painted historic ranches and charming seaside cottages, often commissioned by the owners. A prolific painter, his work is both a pleasure to the eye and a window into how the region looked 100 years ago.
In keeping with Bolinas Museum’s mission to collect, preserve and exhibit the art of coastal Marin, we were proud to present an exhibition and book of work by Jack Wisby. Along with his wife, artist Mary Anne Fossey, he bought land in Bolinas in 1915 and built their home on Little Mesa with sweeping views of sea and land that were often the subjects of his paintings. The couple were well known in the community and kept their Bolinas house until 1931.
For the exhibition, we were delighted that Alfred Harrison was also interested in bringing a spotlight to Jack Wisby’s art. Harrison’s knowledge and passion for this period illuminate the importance of remarkable artists of the late 19th and early 20th century who captured the region with such vision and skill. It was a great honor to have him agree to co-curate this exhibition with me.
Alfred Harrison is a longtime Bolinas Museum friend and trusted consultant. As a collector, researcher, lecturer, author, curator, and gallery owner with fifty years of experience, Harrison brings intellectual curiosity, deep knowledge, and a sophisticated eye to his projects. This fine catalog is a testament. We are grateful for his scholarship. Wisby’s life is not well documented, and Harrison’s research clarifies facts and illuminates insights into Jack Wisby’s history and inspirations.
In 2007, Harrison curated a handsome Bolinas Museum exhibition that presented the paintings of Thaddeus and Ludmilla Welch and produced the book Pastoral California: The Art of Thaddeus and Ludmilla Welch that accompanied it. Thaddeus Welch was a mentor to Jack Wisby. The Welchs often visited friends in Bolinas and are both renowned for their paintings of West Marin around the turn of the 20th century.
In the planning stages of this exhibition, Bolinas Museum put out a call for Jack Wisby paintings, and collectors quickly responded. Some had purchased his work in galleries or at auctions, while others own Wisby paintings passed down as heirlooms from family members who knew the Wisbys. Dewey Livingston, curator of the Jack Mason Museum in Inverness, California, and his team had presented exhibitions of select Wisby’s paintings in the past. They pointed the way to several private collections in addition to graciously lending a painting of an Inverness scene for this exhibition. We thank the individuals and families who loaned works from their private collections and those who have donated Wisby paintings to the Bolinas Museum Permanent Collection. Thank you to the Mill Valley Library, Belvedere Tiburon Landmark Society, and the Capitol Art Program of the California State Legislature. Also, special thanks to Bolinas Museum’s former Executive Director Jennifer Gately and registrar Kirston Lightowler for their support. Thank you to Laurie Thompson at the Anne T. Kent California Room of the Marin County Library for assistance in research, and North Point Gallery Director, Jessie Dunn-Gilbert, for her contribution to bringing this book to fruition. Thank you to Alfred Harrison for his knowledge, curatorial skill, dedication to early California painting, and outstanding efforts in developing a catalog for all to enjoy.
Curator of Coastal Marin Art and History
Jack Wisby in his Bolinas studio, n.d., photocopy of original gelatin silver print, Bolinas Museum Archives