Editor’s Letter | Preserving the Land

The Oak Group is one of Ray Strong’s best legacies

By Kristin Hoerth

Santa Ynez Range, ca. 1980, by Ray Strong. Courtesy of David Parker.

Santa Ynez Range, ca. 1980, by Ray Strong. Courtesy of David Parker.

This story was featured in the February 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

This month, as part of our annual celebration of landscape art and artists, we are pleased to share an excerpt from a beautiful new book by author Mark Humpal on the late California painter Ray Strong (1905-2006). Strong’s career in fine art was a long one, and it was influential in many ways: in the impact of his paintings themselves, in the hundreds of students he taught, and in the schools and galleries he helped establish over the years. But one of Strong’s most lasting legacies is the Oak Group, which he founded with fellow painter Arturo Tello in 1985, and which endures to this day.

As Humpal writes, Strong and Tello were initially inspired by the circle of Impressionist painters who coalesced around Camille Pissarro in France in the late 19th century, called the Société Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs et Graveurs. “Strong and Tello imagined forming a similar association,” Humpal writes, “for monthly group painting excursions, opportunities to informally share ideas and offer critiques, and organizing their own exhibits. They named their enterprise the Open Airing Klub, or OAK for short.”

The Oak Group, as it became known, held its first exhibition in 1986 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History as a fund-raiser for the museum. Its second exhibition followed a few months later and “benefited the Carpinteria Valley Association in their fight with commercial developers who threatened to restrict access to Loon Point,” Humpal writes. “They earmarked half of their show proceeds to the association to assist with preservation efforts. Though initially organized for camaraderie and support in their artistic endeavors, they soon discovered a newfound power to promote environmental causes.”

In the ensuing 30-plus years, with countless paint-outs and exhibitions, the Oak Group has raised millions for environmental organizations and helped to preserve numerous coastal spaces from development. Current members include Michael Drury, John Iwerks, Larry Iwerks, and Skip Smith—all of whom were charter members with Strong and Tello—as well as Meredith Brooks Abbott, Marcia Burtt, Richard Schloss, Thomas Van Stein, and many others. In turn, the Oak Group has inspired other similar organizations, including Southern California Artists Painting for the Environment (SCAPE) and the BayWood Artists. It’s an important legacy borne of Strong’s deep, abiding connection to the land of the American West.

This story was featured in the February 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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