Rancho Camulos [“Home of Ramona”]; Built 1843, Piru, California; 11″ x 14″, Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell
Since I’ve been interested in history, it was only a matter of time before I started discovering and painting the historic adobes around southern California. Most date back to the early 19th century, with the oldest I’ve found so far having been built c.1806 in what is now Long Beach (this is, of course, excluding the twenty-one California missions built earlier). It’s a great way to study fleeting light and color while keeping your values in check, as most of the adobes have white-washed exteriors.
Hugo Reid Adobe; Built 1839, Arcadia, California; 11″ x 14″, Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell
Mission San Gabriel Museum; Built 1812, San Gabriel, California; 11″ x 14″, Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell
Each building is usually very modest, but many have great stories attached to them, each different from the next. For example, Rancho Camulos was one of the locations that Helen Hunt Jackson visited on her tour of California, prior to writing her famous novel Ramona; the real rancho was included in the book as the fictional Ramona’s home. Subsequently, it became a huge tourist destination in the early 20th century when the book became incredibly popular – everyone wanted to see where Ramona “lived.” It still retains a good sense of what old California probably looked like – tucked in the Santa Paula Valley between expansive orange groves, with cacti and roses blooming around the property.
At another, the Juan Matias Sanchez Adobe in Montebello, California, I met Bud Sanchez, the grandson of the adobe’s namesake, Juan Matias Sanchez (1808-1885). Bud’s grandfather and father both lived to an old age, marrying more than once and producing many descendants. The amazing story that Bud told was that his father was still in school when Lincoln was President! His grandfather would have been about 52 at the time.
There are more and more adobes I’m discovering as I drive around California, each with a unique history that is still with us today. Possibly even more astonishing is that so many are still around, that they haven’t succumbed to earthquakes or other natural disasters, or been destroyed by development. Many were dilapidated and run-down not so long ago. (See more of the adobe paintings on my website, under Paintings > Adobes.)