Credit: Courtesy

With its many splendid illustrations, this beautiful volume is a significant scholarly biography in coffee table book format. B. Byron Price has poured decades of research into this narrative of Edward Borein’s eventful life. As an American artist, an irrepressible booster of all things Western, and a Santa Barbara local with firm ideas about what this city represents, Borein offers a unique opportunity to reimagine the roots of our civic culture. 

For example, when Borein and his wife, Lucile, began looking for a home site in 1923, they decided against Santa Barbara, Montecito, and Mission Canyon in favor of the Mesa. For miles, their only neighbors were the artist Carl Oscar Borg and his wife, Madeline. 

Unlike the Borgs, who lived in a house based on a historic Spanish church in Zuni, New Mexico, the Boreins rejected the Spanish Colonial revival as inauthentic. Instead, they built La Barranca, a single-story home and studio complex based on the indigenous Hopi dwellings that Borein had sketched for years. The Boreins hired Hopi artisans to construct the adobe to confer further legitimacy to their aesthetic.

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At one point, Borein suggested to Lucile that they should abandon standard door frames and enter and exit the house on ladders, in full Hopi style. Although this was a joke, Borein was sincere in his complex and heartfelt Western sensibility, even to the point of drawing distinctions between Native American and Spanish Colonial versions of authenticity.

Reading Borein’s story in Price’s fine-grained and lavishly illustrated account, one encounters some early indications of the peculiar blend of hedonism and asceticism that would come to characterize life in Santa Barbara. As a pendant to the Historical Museum’s permanent gallery of Borein art and memorabilia, Edward Borein: Etched by the West is a beautiful object. It also stands as a window on a world at once exotic and intimately familiar.

Purchase Edward Borein: Etched by the West on the Santa Barbara Historical Museum’s website here.

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