About Milford Zornes

MILFORD ZORNES (1908-2008)

Milford Zornes was born in rural western Oklahoma, a few miles from the small town of Camargo. When Milford was seven years old, the family moved to Boise, Idaho. His mother, a former school teacher, taught him to draw as a child, but it was not until his late teens, when the family moved to California, that Zornes received any formal training in art at San Fernando High School. After graduating from high school, he sold photographs to various magazines, including Popular Science, Scientific American and Popular Mechanics, as well as writing a few articles. Milford moved to Santa Maria, California were he attended Santa Maria Junior College. During his year there, he rented a room in the home of two art teachers who recognized his talent and encouraged him to become a painter, but he was resistant. Instead, he decided to study architecture and moved to San Francisco.

In 1929, Zornes attended Otis Art Institute (now Otis College of Art & Design) where he later taught art. In 1932, he attended Pomona College and took classes with Millard Sheets at Scripps College in Claremont, California. He also took private classes with F. Tolles Chamberlin. While attending Pomona College, Zornes became part of the California Scene Painters movement. During the Great Depression, he and his colleagues began painting in watercolor because of the medium’s versatility, inexpensive cost and ease in transporting to paint on site. The immediate drying qualities of the paint allowed for few mistakes, but artists like Zornes mastered the medium. During this time he worked on murals as part of the WPA program of the New Deal, one a mural for the post office in his hometown of Claremont, California and in El Campo, Texas.

During WWII, Zornes was drafted into the U.S. Army and was assigned to be an official Army artist. He traveled through China, Burma and India painting landscapes and the local people with only a few actual military scenes. He also drew numerous portraits of U.S. Military staff. After the war, most of the California Scene painters went their separate ways in their approach to art, even though they continues to work together and socialize. Over a lifetime Zornes taught watercolor workshops nationally and internationally, his subject matter often being drawn from his extensive travels. He not only taught workshops, but personally mentored many artists. From 1955-66 he served as the art director for the Padua Hills Theater in Claremont, California.

Zornes married Gloria Codd in 1935 and had one son, Franz. In 1942, he married Patricia Mary Palmer, to whom he was married 66 years, and had one daughter, Maria. Despite contracting macular degeneration in his mid-80’s and with deteriorating vision, Zornes continued to paint up until his death. At age 96, he completed a large tryptic for East Los Angeles College, as well as continued to hold workshops and art demonstrations. On January 26, 2008, one day after his 100th birthday, he gave an art demonstration at the Pasadena Museum of California Art in Pasadena, California, standing for two hours in front of a crowd of 250 admirers.

James Milford Zornes died on February 24, 2008 at his Claremont, California home. His paintings are represented in the collections of many museums and private collectors in the United States. He was president of the California Watercolor Society and was selected as a member of the National Academy of Design for which he was extremely proud.

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