Obituary: Barbara Beretich

Grande dame of Claremont art scene, sculptor, influential gallery director


Barbara Beretich, a force behind the Claremont art scene for more than 50 years, died in her sleep Friday, June 15, surrounded by her art and the animals she loved. She was 82 years old.

Considered by many to be the grande dame of Claremont’s illustrious art and culture community, Ms. Beretich made a significant impact by helping foster not only the appreciation of art but contributing substantially to a regional art movement that some now refer to as the “Claremont School.” She was a noted artist in her own right, creating an extensive body of work in multiple media, most notably sculpture.

Barbara Beretich was born on March 25, 1936 in Chicago. Her family moved often and she spent parts of her childhood in Chicago, San Diego, and Ohio. She attended the University of Illinois, majoring in art, graduating in 1958. She took a trip to Europe in 1960, where she was introduced to a number of influential artists of the time, including Francoise Gilot, who would become a lifelong friend.

From 1962 to 1965, Ms. Beretich attended Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University), earning her MFA in sculpture. While attending CGS, she met Millard Sheets, who would become a mentor. In 1966, a grant enabled her to live in Paris for a year, studying sculpture and painting independently. In Paris she worked and created lithographs at the famous Mourlot Studios, an exclusive printing house frequented by Picasso, Leger, Matisse, Miro and other noted artists of the time.

She began to make a name for herself, painting and sculpting commissions for portrait or architectural studies. She also worked with the Millard Sheets Studio, designing sculptures for several of the studio’s architectural projects.

From 1973 to 1978, she served as the director of Gallery 8 (organized by Millard Sheets and named for the eight partners who financed the project). Gallery 8 showcased numerous significant and emerging Claremont artists as well as important international artists that Ms. Beretich often debuted. She then founded Galeria Beretich.

Under her direction, Galeria Beretich became an innovative space that personified Ms. Beretich’s desire to share her love and passion of art with others, often hosting art openings and salons that drew a broad cross-section of personalities comprised of not only the who’s who of Claremont’s burgeoning art scene, Claremont Colleges students (and their presidents), but the Hollywood elite as well. At these “happenings,” Ms. Beretich would hold court and her cats Otis and Coco would often welcome and escort guests as they arrived.

In the mid 1980s, she traveled to India and Europe, where she studied sculpture in Italy. It was during this time that she enjoyed one of the most prolific periods of her career. She was extraordinarily active, acting as curator of the Edward G. Robinson Collection, as well as serving as an independent appraiser and curator.

Not necessarily one to promote her own work, Ms. Beretich focused her energies on creating groundbreaking exhibitions that drew art collectors from as far away as the East Coast and even Europe. Her own art was exhibited in several exhibitions and she created a number of sculptural commissions for institutional and civic entities.

In recent years, after a brief hiatus, she began to express her many gifts and talents with enthusiasm, appearing in several solo shows and curating an exhibition of women artists she admired.

To quote Millard Sheets, her teacher and mentor, “I believe that art has always existed at the very core of life, as necessary and as nourishing as food, as natural as love.” Ms. Beretich exemplified that thought and had the gift of inspiring others to share her passions, her friends shared, adding that she longed to see a lively center created to nourish the appreciation of art and serve as a resource for artists.

A celebration of life will be held at a future date. 


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