His father was world-renowned artist and teacher Millard Sheets, for which the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts at Fairplex is named. Sheets oversaw the WPA construction of the 12,000-square-foot gallery in 1937. Known then as the Fine Arts Building, it was renamed in his honor in 1994.
Today, artist Tony Sheets runs MSCAF with the same goals his father set for exhibits that brought the worlds of art and history to L.A. County Fair guests each September.
This year is no different with his plans for From the Industrial Age to the Computer Age: Three Centuries of Artistic Innovation, presented at MSCAF during the 2010 Fair, Sept. 4-Oct. 3.
The youngest of four, Tony Sheets spent many summers (just as he is now) preparing the gallery for Fairtime. Siblings Owen, Carolyn and David also did their turn working at the Fair. He even has a photograph of Carolyn sitting on the base of the Lawrence Tenney Stevens sculpture, Monument to Young Farmers of the Nation that graces the gallery entrance.
“We started as soon as we could be of use as helpers,” he said, and remembers he was 10 or 12 when he began. Tony recalls working in the mornings and then going to play on the fairgrounds in the afternoon with friends, and there were occasional visits to the drag strip (now the Auto Club Raceway) to catch the action.
“Of course, as high school students, all our friends knew where all the holes in the fence were to get into the Fair,” Sheets said with a grin. “Back then, everybody went to the Fair.”
Back then, he was in the middle of the microcosmic art world of Claremont, where “artists made a living as artists and taught on the side.” Those artists brought practical lessons of the “business of art” into high school classrooms and art studios of the Claremont Colleges.
Those artists also taught Tony Sheets various mediums of artistic expression – enameling from Jean Arthur Ames, sculpture from Albert Stewart, watercolor painting from Phil Dyke, ceramics from Paul Soldner. After two years studying landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, Sheets worked for the next 12 years in a full-time apprenticeship with professional artists, architects and with Walt Disney, who had become one of his father’s close friends.
Sheets is an accomplished designer, painter, sculptor, metal worker and teacher, and is much in demand with independent commissions, rescuing his father’s murals when demolition threatens the buildings they grace, and working each summer to prepare the Sheets Center for the Fair.
He applies many of his father’s philosophies about the gallery as he plans exhibits.
“Dad would involve many of those artists and include their art in exhibits,” Sheets recalled, and he’s doing the same in 2010. One artist – John Svenson, 83, who carved The Ranchero onsite in the Court of the Redwoods in 1954, will demonstrate woodcarving. He joins more than 40 other artists who will be demonstrating a variety of art forms from watercolor to oil painting, ceramics to stone carving and metal sculpture, from glass work to jewelry making and more.
Sheets credits the understanding his father had of Fair audiences with the gallery’s success through the decades. “He offered such a broad scope of art, something for everybody,” he recalled. “He gave them something that the rest of the Fair didn’t.” He’s continuing that tradition with the 2010 exhibit, From the Industrial Age to the Computer Age: Three Centuries of Artistic Innovation.
Working models of landmark technologies – the steam engine, the printing presses, the history of photography, and more – show how new materials – stainless steel, titanium, plastics, synthetic fibers, and acrylics – revolutionized art and expression.
MSCAF can almost be considered the “Smithsonian West” as it transports visitors through time from the early 1700s to the 20th Century on a journey of discovery. It is no coincidence that MSCAF is a proud part of the Smithsonian Institution Affiliation Program. Through this partnership, the Center shares with the community the Smithsonian Institution’s artifacts, programs and expertise.
MSCAF is supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.
For more information about From the Industrial Age to the Computer Age . . . Three Centuries of Artistic Innovation at the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts at Fairplex, visit www.lacountyfair.com.
The L.A. County Fair is Sept. 4-Oct. 3. Hours are Sunday, Sept. 5, 10 a.m.-midnight; Monday, Sept. 6, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Wednesdays, noon-10 p.m.; Thursdays, noon-11 p.m.; Fridays, noon-midnight; Saturdays, 10 a.m.-midnight; and Sundays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Under the direction of the Los Angeles County Fair Association, Fairplex is home to the L.A. County Fair, the largest county fair in the world, as well as The Learning Centers which encompasses Fairtime Learning, The Child Development Center, The Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC), the Junior Fair Board, and the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts. Fairplex also operates a diverse hospitality business with the Sheraton Fairplex, McKinley’s Grille, KOA RV Park, Finish Line Sports Grill, Cornucopia Foods, and the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel and Conference Center (opening 2011). The campus is also home to the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum and the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona; horse-racing and Barretts Equine Limited; as well as the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition. For more information, please visit www.fairplex.com.