Stanford celebrates the lasting impression of artist and educator Pedro de Lemos

Pedro de Lemos was the first curator of the Stanford Art Gallery, which is celebrating its centennial this year. An exhibition honoring de Lemos’ leadership and art is scheduled to begin in October.

Pedro Joseph de Lemos (1882-1954) was a visionary and guardian of art at Stanford.

As the first director and curator of the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery (now the Stanford Art Gallery), de Lemos transformed the exhibition space into one of the most important artistic venues in California. He also served as director of the Stanford University Museum (today’s Cantor Arts Center) after it was damaged in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Art Gallery Entrance (Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery, Stanford University), pencil, charcoal and white pastel (Image credit: Courtesy of the Stanford University Archives)

De Lemos’ impact, along with the centennial anniversary of the Stanford Art Gallery, will be celebrated as the Department of Art and Art History presents Lasting Impressions of Pedro de Lemos: The Centennial Exhibition, which runs from Oct. 3 through Dec. 3.

The exhibition will host a reception beginning at 5 p.m. on Oct. 5. Robert W. Edwards, art historian and exhibition curator, will give a public lecture at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 25.

“Thanks to the exhibition, the department gains a stronger sense of its historical foundations – of who this important predecessor was and how his presence can still be felt on campus,” said Alexander Nemerov, professor and chair of the Department of Art and Art History.

De Lemos resigned the directorship of the San Francisco Art Institute in 1917 to come to Stanford, where he directed the art gallery and museum for nearly three decades. He raised the art gallery’s status by co-hosting major traveling exhibitions from the East Coast and curating more than 190 displays of regional artists – 40 percent of whom were women painters, printmakers or photographers.

De Lemos is credited with being one the leaders of the American Arts and Crafts movement. From 1919 to 1950, de Lemos served as editor-in-chief of the national art education magazine, School Arts Magazine, and became a leading figure in art education, design and applied arts.

Pedro de Lemos’ etching of the Stanford University Arch, also known as the East Arch (Image credit: Courtesy of the Stanford University Archives) (Image credit: Courtesy of the Stanford University Archives)

In addition to designing the façades of numerous buildings (including the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park in 1929), sponsoring several art organizations, and reviving Native American arts through new indigenous schools and popular exhibitions, he displayed his own prints and pastels across the United States, where they received great public acclaim.

Experimentation and innovation

“With over 70 framed works on paper and a selection of artifacts from a distinguished career, Lasting Impressions of Pedro de Lemos offers a retrospective of one of America’s preeminent artists,” said Edwards. “As a devotee of the English Romantic movement and a student of Arthur Wesley Dow, another leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, de Lemos believed that the primary force in art creation was nature, which provided countless examples of line harmony, space composition and unencumbered design.”

“In his etchings, aquatints and color block prints,” continued Edwards, “he often abandoned contemporary aesthetics for semi-abstract compositions that were shaped by his theories on the psychology of color.”

At the time, etchings, aquatints and color block prints were considered esoteric and expensive disciplines that were taught at a few established art schools and universities.

Edwards observes that de Lemos’ curious perspectives and juxtaposed forms were partially influenced by Japanese art. He says, “With their haunting tonalities and velvety silhouettes, his many night scenes in pastel, which are remarkably similar to works by Odilon Redon, become both mystical and autobiographical poems.”

In a series of publications illustrated with his own art, de Lemos radically simplified the methods of printmaking, often relying on equipment and materials found in the average home. These techniques, combined with his unconventional theories on color, resulted in an explosion of print exhibitions across the country. His printmaking methods became the accepted curriculum in art classes across North America and Great Britain.

De Lemos also popularized the use of pastels, which had diminished markedly at the turn of the 20th century. He devised a new system for applying the crayons, as well as an invention to create pastels at night, which Edwards describes as “a clever device that uses ambient light to reflect an image at night onto paper, thus allowing easy sketching.”

Old Pines at Monterey (California), color block print (Image credit: Courtesy of the Paula and Terry Trotter Collection)

A brother’s gift

The Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery was one of many substantial gifts to the university from Leland Stanford Sr.’s younger brother, Thomas, and it was the keystone building of the university’s second quadrangle in 1917.

Intended to house Thomas’ donated art collection – and built in just two years with his gift of $80,000 – the rectangular building had a roof that was more than half glass, which allowed natural light to stream into the interior. After de Lemos’ tenure at the Stanford Art Gallery, subsequent stewards continued to display rotating exhibitions in the space.

In 2000, the gallery’s exterior arcade underwent renovations to repair moderate structural damages suffered in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and to seismically strengthen the entire structure. Along with the repairs, restoration and reproduction of period fixtures such as the arcade lighting globes and interior laylights was completed. The same renovation restored the frosted glass panels in the ceiling and returned the space’s original natural light.

Media Contacts

Robin Wander, University Communications: (640) 724-6184, robin.wander@stanford.edu