DARROW + Friends: a celebration of life

In the middle of a pandemic surge, how do you safely honor the life and art of some of the most influential Southern Californian artists to emerge from Claremont during the mid-twentieth century? What started out with a Claremont family sorting through the estate of their late father and grandfather, has since turned into DARROW and Friends, a pop-up gallery in the Claremont Packing House, which turns out to be so much more than an art exhibition and sale.

When the community mourned the loss of noted artist and teacher Paul Darrow in November 2019, the Darrow family held a private family service, intending to plan a community memorial for the near future. Any plans were put on hold when only two months later, the family was blindsided by the sudden passing of Paul’s oldest son, Chris Darrow, in January of 2020.

The community honored the legacy of Chris, artist, musician, and author, on March 7, 2020, the weekend before the stay-at-home order was issued in southern California. Plans for a public memorial for Paul Darrow would have to wait.

It only takes a few moments with Mahlea Jones-Bergmann, granddaughter of Paul Darrow, to understand how and why this celebration of artists is a beautiful and needed tribute, especially during this time. Longtime COURIER subscribers and Claremont residents should be familiar with the life and work of Paul Darrow, patriarch of the beloved Darrow tribe. What many don’t know, is the story of how Darrow, with the help of the WWII G.I. Bill and first wife Nadine, became part of a collective of artists during the ‘50s and ‘60s led by Millard Sheets, who all helped turn Claremont into an epicenter for art in southern California. The exhibition provides a tiny glimpse into the stories, works and impact a small portion of these artists from Claremont had on the Los Angeles art scene.

The idea of an exhibition started with a discussion between Mahlea and Paul Darrow’s youngest son and artist, Eric Darrow. Mahlea explains that the two began, “talking about some of the Maloof furniture we were keeping in storage. The furniture pieces started the conversation. We still have my grandfather’s estate in Laguna and a lot of his art as well. We started to think about these things that we have, that had been part of a collection and separated at some point.”

The Darrow family decided they needed help, someone with expertise in both mid-century era art history and furniture, as well as a personal connection to the family, with a deep knowledge of the history of local artists and their art. Mahlea says she brought up David Shearer, “because I knew about his company and I had met him through my uncle Chris. He came to mind and I knew his love for mid-century furniture and art.” Claremont Heritage director David Shearer, an art and design consultant on the side with his company OBJCT Art + Design, was hired by Chris Darrow in 2019 to help Mahlea catalog and document Paul Darrow’s work.

David Shearer recalls their first discussion. “First the family contacted me about the Maloof pieces. Then Mahlea and I were talking about this as an opportunity to kind of honor Paul and show his work, he and Nadine’s work, and the art and furniture they had collected.” Mahlea, Eric and David worked together to select the pieces that would be shown, with original Paul Darrow artwork that spans his entire career. Mahlea remembers going through Paul Darrow’s studio and storage, “we saw some of the abstract paintings from the ‘60s. I had never seen them before. Some of them were still rolled up. It was a feeling you discovered a treasure.

Mahlea describes what the show means to her and those who have shared their experience of the show with her, “I feel like I’m sharing so other people have the opportunity to see art from him and also my grandmother, and the people in the community who are fans of the artists in the sho. It’s a mental break from what is going on, and who knows with COVID if we’ll have a proper memorial for my grandfather. For my family, it’s just another way of honoring him or remembering him and also sharing the family heritage and legacy. But I know he would really love that we are talking about art in the midst of a pandemic.”

In 2002, Paul Darrow told the COURIER in an interview that art was therapy in the Darrow home, as he put it, “Art helps get me through the rough spots.”

The DARROW and Friends exhibition and sale features art, including early and never before seen work by both Paul and Nadine Darrow, as well as their personal collection of furnishings and art by notable Claremont artists, including: Sam Maloof, Harrison McIntosh, Rupert Deese, Paul Soldner, Karl Benjamin, Tony DeLap and Peter Voulkos.  Every piece of artwork and furniture in the exhibition has a story, with select pieces for sale.

The show can be viewed virtually at www.PaulDarrowArt.com.

NOTE: Select Works from the collection may be available for acquisition by private or museum collections. Please contact David Shearer ds@objct.com or (909) 270-7703 for more information.


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