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WPA children's art at Things of Montecito

April 26, 2010 |  7:32 am

Picnik collage
I rarely expect a bargain on Coast Village Road in Montecito, a resort where Charlie Chaplin built a hotel and Oprah Winfrey has a hideaway. On a recent visit, however, I discovered Things of Montecito, a consignment store specializing in furniture and accessories from Santa Barbara County homes. Despite its rather nondescript name, Things of Montecito had a fantastic collection of odds and ends.

Among them were portfolios containing these mostly anonymous works of art from 1935-44, above, priced at $100 each. Flipping through them, I was astonished at how bold and modern they looked.

If you're the type of art critic who is fond of saying, "My kid could do that," here's the back story: They were, in fact, made by children. The paintings and drawings are part of dozens created by students at the Flint Institute of Art, a Works Progress Administration institution that spanned the Depression and World War II eras in the industrial city of Flint, Mich. The youngsters were taught by the Czech painter and muralist Jaroslav Brozik.

IMG_2240 copyThese works on paper, some in pencil, left, are not only visually arresting but also emotionally charged. As historical documents, they depict an uncertain world as seen through the eyes of children. Just look at that imposing suit-and-tie businessman with the pencil behind his ear and the cigar in his mouth.

The styles ranged from naive realism to Expressionism and there is more than a touch of paranoia and political commentary. (Who are those blue-hooded creatures, above, and what do they want?) 

Thanks to the devoted attention of the collector who consigned them, the pieces are in good condition considering their age. Some have minor flaws and ragged edges that can easily be hidden by a good frame. 

The drawings and paintings are not currently on the store's website, but the owners are happy to answer questions by phone or e-mails sent to tzr7@cox.net.

Things of Montecito, 1187 Coast Village Road, Suite 6, Montecito. (805) 845-8411

--David A. Keeps

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Photo credits: David A. Keeps