About Milford Zornes

The Early Years

Milford Zornes was born in 1908 in Camargo, Oklahoma. From an early age, he exhibited artistic talent. The drawing at the right, believed to be his sister, was created when Zornes was age 10. The attention to detail is amazing and demonstrated a commitment to his passion for art.

In 1928, 20-year-old Milford Zornes hitchhiked across America from his native Oklahoma, worked on the docks of New York, and after earning his ticket, shipped out to tour Europe. After his return to America in 1930, Zornes settled in Los Angeles, studying art with F. Tolles Chamberlin and Millard Sheets.

By 1933, Zornes was receiving awards for his watercolors which he produced for the Public Works of Art Project. He was honored with a one-man show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and one of his watercolors was chosen by the Roosevelts to hang in the White House. He became president of the California Watercolor Society.

Milford Zornes Drawing

World War II

Zornes was drafted into the Army after the outbreak of World War II and assigned to be an official artist in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operation. Many of his watercolors and drawings became property of the U.S. Army and remain housed with the Pentagon’s war art collection.

After the war, Zornes settled in Claremont, California to paint, teach, and travel. In 1963, he purchased the former home and studio of Maynard Dixon in Salt Lake City, Utah to use as a location for regular watercolor workshops. Zornes was a much-admired instructor, having taught at several institutions, including Pomona College, Otis Art Institute, and Pasadena School of Fine Arts. He invented a traveling classroom, taking his students to exotic destinations for his painting workshops, including China, Alaska, Mexico, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and Hawaii.

Milford Zornes attended his 100th birthday party, a celebration of his lifelong artistic career, on January 26, 2008, at the Pasadena Museum of Art. He died less than a month later February 24.

A Lifetime of Painting on Location

“I could not claim to have painted great watercolors on location. That would be a matter of opinion. But I am sure that I have painted many of my best ones that way because the adventure of that brief hour or two, entranced by a scene or a dramatic gesture of nature, an effect or mood or form is what I look for. I have, because of my drafting and painting skills combined with emotional response, been able to transcend a mere cerebral attitude to art. Each to his own. I treasure my own experience and I recommend the dedicated practice of being there, feeling and living and being a part of the subject matter out of which form and design is abstracted. If you want to paint, learn to paint. Study. Learn color structure, perspective and know your medium. Be skilled in draftsmanship. Learn to paint as you learned to read and write. It is your graphic language. Then paint to learn. This is the reason to paint. Explore your world through observation, imagination, invention and experience. Your paintings are not a product or manufactured goods. They are a record of your journey, your life adventure. As such they do have value. A painter has the skill and the insight that can enrich other lives and lead them to discoveries of their own. The painter embodies in every picture that he paints, the reason for all the arts – painting, sculpture, literature, music and architecture – to feed peoples souls. In every day thought the arts take second place to science, technology, law, religion and politics but take the arts away and nothing would remain but the dross of life. As an individual I paint with a sense of responsibility to the whole meaning of art.”

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