On May 19, nearly 200 guests celebrated the opening of the Edward Borein Gallery at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum with a jovial Western-themed affair. After the traditional ribbon-cutting, guests toured the new gallery, which is located behind the gift shop in what had been administrative offices. Sparkling wine was flowing and spirits were high as this marked the culmination of the idea conceived 10 years ago to establish the first-ever permanent gallery for this legendary artist of the American West.
Borein lived in Santa Barbara for more than 20 years before his death in 1945 and left a legacy of paintings and etchings that depicted the old West as he experienced it firsthand as a cowboy at the beginning of the 20th century. The gallery showcases some of the best of Borein’s oil and watercolor paintings and a large selection of his etchings. As appropriate for a historical museum, the exhibit also tells his extraordinary life story as a cowboy, an artist, and a community figure. Borein organized the first Old Spanish Days Fiesta Parade and the Rancheros Visitadores riding group.
Often with projects of this magnitude, there are several people mentioned as significant players. Not so with this one — everyone I spoke to pointed to Marlene Miller, sometimes with a quick addition of her husband, Warren, as the key figure(s) responsible for the gallery’s creation. The only exception was Marlene, who praised many people who were part of the village who made it happen, most significantly, her husband and the donors and lenders of the art work for the inaugural exhibition. The capital campaign began 10 years ago, but the intensive effort began when Miller became president of the museum in 2013.
Marlene spearheaded the capital campaign that raised nearly all of the roughly $500,000 needed for the project. She also curated the exhibit and was even spotted hammering away during the installation. Miller owned the Arlington Gallery for 30 years, until 1995, when she became a private art dealer until her retirement last year.
According to Miller, the Museum’s new gallery gives “Borein the recognition he so justly deserves as an artist who accurately interpreted an important part of our past.” The other two major Western artists of the first half of the 20th century, C.M. Russell and Frederic Remington, already have their own museums. Miller shared how she “became entranced with Borein’s depictions of the American West and was captivated by his personal story, especially his many contributions to the Santa Barbara community,” and felt strongly that his work deserved permanent recognition in Santa Barbara.
A festive reception in the attractive museum courtyard allowed for lots of mingling before guests partook of the scrumptious barbecue dinner from Country Meat Market & Catering. During the short program, Mayor Helene Schneider praised the exhibit and thanked all those who made it happen. Board President Sharon Bradford remarked about how exciting the moment was, given how she has heard about the Borein Gallery every day since joining the board four years ago. She thanked Marlene and Warren for their vision and perseverance to make this happen.
Among the guests were Heloise Power, who personally knew Borein and shared how back in his day, everybody knew Ed. According to Power, Borein had a gallery in El Paseo and liked to sit outside to greet passersby. She also remarked how back in the 1930s and 1940s, “if a bride did not get at least twenty Ed Borein prints, she was nobody.”
Part of the three-room Borein Gallery will be permanent, part will rotate with artwork from the museum’s own collection of several hundred pieces and with pieces on loan.
The gallery, along with the “In the Saddle” exhibit, “Missions in Watercolor by Edwin Deakin” exhibit, and the museum’s signature exhibit, “The Story of Santa Barbara,” are open to the public and free of charge. The museum is located at 136 East de la Guerra (closed Mondays). For more info about the Borein Gallery or the museum generally, go to sbhistorical.org.
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By Gail Arnold