It’s nearly Christmas, 1912. Want a nice gift for your spouse? There’s an art auction in Santa Rosa, and the paper says original oil paintings would be sold “at a remarkably low figure.” You might even know the guy who painted those landscapes – he’s S. Tilden Daken, “the Sonoma County artist.”
Other painters blew through Sonoma county with brushes and easels in the first few years of the Twentieth Century, most notably Carl Dahlgren, who was hired in 1908 to paint Burbank creations by one of the publishing groups trying to write a series of books on Burbank’s plant breeding. Dahlgren also found time for at least one landscape painting and some sketching on the river (“oh, in your coundy it iss beautiful, b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l!” he raved to a reporter for the Press Democrat in his Danish accent) but he was still a visitor, working out of San Francisco. Daken lived here with his family on Chestnut street (off Sebastopol Ave.) and rubbed shoulders with Santa Rosa’s hoi polloi; when the Press Democrat ran a silly 1909 scavenger hunt contest to promote downtown businesses, there he was as question #91, between the Gamble Brothers grocery store and the Harper Hair Dressing Parlor. “What is the name of the eminent artist who came to Sonoma county three years ago and established a studio and school of art?”
The art studio could be found on Fourth street, but there never was a “school of art.” He had moved to Santa Rosa in late 1908 hoping to establish an art institute affiliated with a national association of art schools. Plans never advanced past the drafting board, but he was so convincing the Chamber of Commerce included his architectural drawing of the proposed building in its hyped 1909 “Illustrated Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity” promotional book. Lack of funding probably killed that project but he stuck around, painting redwoods and valleys and geysers and more. Sonoma county is “b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l,” after all. In summertimes the family, with two baby daughters born here, enjoyed painting excursions to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.
Daken also was the focus of a 1911 promotional campaign to distribute prints of three of his Sonoma county views to selected parties in the Midwest and Eastern states with the goal to hopefully “induce them to come to this favored section to make their homes.” The printing was done by the Santa Rosa Republican, which patted itself on the back in announcing “This is the most extensive 3-color cut work ever done in Sonoma county…It is superb in every way.” In truth, the printing is terrible; with poor registration and the colors oddly washed out, the prints look like the sort of crappy halftone found on baseball cards from twenty years earlier.
Amazingly, researcher Bonnie Portnoy – Daken’s granddaughter – has a mint-condition copy of the 1911 “Sonoma County Beautiful” portfolio. With permission the prints are reproduced below and a higher resolution copy of the entire brochure is available at the Comstock House digital library (DOWNLOAD). Bonnie writes and curates the tildendaken.com website and has penned articles about Daken for the Sonoma Historian. She has unearthed a trove of information on him and is preparing a full biography.
There was apparently no East Coast tour by the artist following distribution of the art portfolio, but Daken was busy anyway; “For some time past Mr. Daken has been making displays of the Sonoma county scenes throughout the state, at county fairs and industrial exhibitions, particularly the one at San Jose, where he spent some weeks,” the Republican reported. A particularly fine painting, “View of Russian River from Guernewood Heights,” was often exhibited and won awards.
But these must have been lean times; until the 1912 auction, there are few mentions in the papers of paintings sold. One of the few known commissions during these years was a pastoral scene painted on the “drop curtain” for the theater at the Union Hotel in Sonoma (now on display at the Depot Park Museum). Before moving to Santa Rosa he lived in Glen Ellen for a couple of years, and in the Sonoma State archives Bonnie Portnoy found he was sued by a storekeeper there for an amount due of $27.35 – about two weeks’ average household income at the time – and to settle the paltry debt, he had to turn over two paintings. Adding to his misery, he was summoned back to court because he still owed $2.70 in fees.
The 1912 auction marked the end of his reign as “the Sonoma County artist” and the Daken family returned to San Francisco. This was also apparently the year the Comstocks closed “The Gift Shop” in downtown Santa Rosa, where they sold work by members of the local Arts and Crafts Guild as well as artwork from many pioneers of the emerging Arts and Crafts style. It is left to you, Gentle Reader, to ponder why the town’s only two purveyors of fine art both closed studios while Santa Rosa was enjoying its first truly prosperous year since the Great Earthquake.
It turned out his six years in Sonoma county were an idyl in an otherwise bold, tempestuous life. In 1913 he left his family behind and moved to Mazatlan, where he was caught up in the Mexican Revolution, wounded a couple of times and imprisoned as a POW. His marriage ended after he had an affair with Sophie Tucker (“The Last of the Red Hot Mamas”). There were years in Hawaii where he designed a custom diving bell so he could paint underwater
landscapes seascapes. He painted headhunters in New Guinea and silent film stars in Hollywood. He wrote short stories based on his restless adventures.
Examples of his art can be viewed at the tildendaken.com website, but he created an estimated four thousand paintings – if it were possible to view them all and spend just one minute looking at each, it would take nearly three days straight. Until he died at age 59 in 1935, his brushes must have been never dry for a single moment.
ELEGANT THREE-COLOR WORK BY REPUBLICANDaken’s Art Portfolios Ready for Public Distribution
The REPUBLICAN office has turned out some of the most artistic printing ever done north of San Francisco in an Art Portfolio issued for Samuel T. Daken, the Sonoma county artist. The work is done in three colors, and represents some of the splendid paintings from the brush of the artist. This is the most extensive 3-color cut work ever done in Sonoma county and it shows the ability of the REPUBLICAN mechanical force to do the best work that can be done.
The three pictures which are reproduced in the colors are “Glimpses of the Sonoma Valley,” “Overlooking the Lowlands of Sonoma County,” and “Redwoods at Sunset.” They are among the best works of Artist Daken, and are to be given free to some persons in an effort to raise funds for an exhibit of Sonoma county scenes in eastern cities.
The portfolios are to be sold at one dollar each. The matter has the hearty approval of the Board of Supervisors.
With the funds thus raised for the disposal of these pictures, an exhibition of the famous Sonoma county scenes depicted on canvas by Artist Daken will be made in all of the principal cities of the east and middle west. Mr. Daken will make this exhibit with the handsome scenes which he has transferred to canvas and it will be a matter of the best kind of publicity for Sonoma county to have these beautiful scenes shown in the eastern states.
All persons should secure some of the portfolios, not only for their intrinsic value and the opportunity presented to secure one of the three paintings mentioned, but because it will enable the beauties of this splendid section to be shown in the east. When the edition has been disposed of Artist Daken will arrange the exhibit at once and start on his eastern journey to give the people there an opportunity to view Sonoma county, and induce them to come to this favored section to make their homes.
The color work done by the mechanical department of the REPUBLICAN office reflects great credit on the force. It is superb in every way, and shows how well all classes of printing can be handled on the up-to-date machinery with which the office is equipped.
For some time past Mr. Daken has been making displays of the Sonoma county scenes throughout the state, at county fairs and industrial exhibitions, particularly the one at San Jose, where he spent some weeks. At this display between ten and twelve thousand people attended daily and viewed the beautiful pictures of Sonoma county scenes and landscapes of different sections of the county.
These three pictures, which are to be presented to the persons purchasing the folios, will be placed on display in the Hotel Overton lobby, where they may be viewed by the people.– Santa Rosa Republican, November 13, 1911INTEREST IN DAKEN DISPLAYPictures May Be Seen at Odd Fellows’ Hall Sunday
The elegant display of paintings from the brush of S. Tilden Daken, the well known Sonoma county artist, is attracting much attention. The display is made at the reception rooms of the Odd Fellows’ building on Mendocino avenue, and many visitors are going in daily to inspect the canvasses. The exhibit will be open on Sunday from 10 in the morning until 9 o’clock at night and Mr. Daken will be present during these hours. An invitation is extended to the public to come in and view these elegant works of art.
Daken is the first artist to paint the beauties of Sonoma county scenes, and he has a number of splendid views of this county, including pretty landscapes from various sections. Some of these are from the Pluton [sic] regions, others from the redwood section and still others from the fertile valleys. Persons can find just what they desire in the Daken collection, and these beautiful paintings will make elegant Christmas presents.
Among the canvases displayed are some of the beautiful Yosemite valley, to which place Artist Daken made a number of pilgrimakes [sic], and whose beauties have been transferred to canvass [sic]. The display is well worth seeing, and none should fail to make a visit to it.– Santa Rosa Republican, December 14, 1912PAINTINGS TO BE AUCTIONEDDaken Collection to Go Under Hammer Friday Eve
The splendid collection of paintings which have been on exhibition at Odd Fellows’ hall on Mendocino avenue, will be offered at auction on Friday evening, December 20th. There are about forty beautiful views in this collection, and it is by far the best that Artist Daken has ever grouped together. It represents a number of beautiful landscapes from Sonoma county scenes and some from Yosemite Valley, which is the ideal spot for artists. In variety the collection is one of the finest that could be found anywhere, and the pictures will be auctioned without reservation. The auction will begin at 8 o’clock sharp and it is more than probable that a large crowd of Santa Rosa and Sonoma county people will be in attendance.
Every one is cordially invited to come in and look over the collection of pictures, whether they purchase or not. The pictures will be sold under the second bid, and this will afford a fine opportunity to get a fine example of Artist Daken’s work at a low figure. Daken is the Sonoma county artist, and has done more with the brush to make Sonoma county popular and prominent than all the other artists combined.
Edward Curtis, the noted art auctioneer of San Francisco, who conducts a studio at 1700 Van Ness avenue, and who is the greatest art auctioneer of the Pacific coast, will conduct the auction of this splendid collection of paintings. Mr. Curtis has conducted large sales of paintings on the Pacific Coast and in the east, and is a noted critic of all the schools of art. One of the large sales which he conducted was that of the collection of the late Colonel Issac Trumbo. This collection of paintings was appraised at $35,000 and was conducted at the St. Francis hotel in the metropolis.– Santa Rosa Republican, December 19, 1912AUCTION SALE OF PAINTINGS ODD FELLOWS HALL TONIGHT
S. Tilden Daken, whose likeness is presented in the cut printed herewith, is known all over the state as the Sonoma county artist. It was he who first produced on canvass in great numbers the many beautiful scenes to be found within the confines of Imperial Sonoma. This evening at 8 o’clock at the Odd Fellows’ Hall, on Mendocino avenue, an auction of his pictures will take place. This will afford an excellent opportunity to get a splendid Daken picture at a remarkably low figure.
[..]– Santa Rosa Republican, December 20, 1912