Discover Trailblazing Early California Artist Nellie Gail Moulton in New Retrospective

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The exhibition Who Was Nellie Gail Moulton? Pioneer, Artist and so much more, will be on view daily from March 13 – May 31, 2020, at Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens, San Clemente, California.

Nellie Gail Moulton, circa 1920, photographed at Three Arch Bay, California.

The name “Nellie Gail Moulton” may be recognizable to anyone familiar with Southern California history, but who was the woman whose name has become synonymous with the development of the arts and cultural environment of Orange County?

Nellie Maud Gail was born on December 8, 1878 in Irving, Kansas, the daughter of John and Prudence Gail.  After her mother’s death, her father brought the family to Southern California and where he became the manager of El Toro Mercantile Store and postmaster for the town of El Toro. After earning her teaching credentials,  Nellie worked as a teacher in the Charleston school district near Seattle, Washington prior to joining her family in California where she met her future husband, Lewis F. Moulton

An enterprising young rancher, Moulton, in a partnership, developed what was then known as Rancho Niguel, and married twenty-nine year old Nellie Gail in 1908. Together, the Moultons established a lasting presence in Orange County continuing to expand their operation which centered on raising sheep and dry farming, a successful enterprise which in time became known as the Moulton Ranch.

Nellie’s artistic endeavors began at a young age, a passion she pursued throughout her life with the ranch serving as one of the finest backdrops for any artist. During her long career she continued to hone her craft with notable California artists and friends such as William Wendt, Anna Hills, Frank Cuprien, and Edgar Payne who inspired her work as an en plein air artist which she used in capturing the lush countryside and the majestic vistas of early California and the American West. An avid sketch artist, her drawings, a number of which are seen in this exhibition, inspired many of her finest oil paintings.  She was a member of Women Painters of the West, and a lifetime member of the Laguna Beach Art Association (Laguna Art Museum) and served as the latter’s president from 1948-49.  As an avid traveler, Nellie viewed the world through her travels, rich and rewarding experiences captured in her artwork.  

Nellie Gail Moulton, Santa Anita Racetrack, c. 1940. Oil on artist’s board. Collection of Stephanie Hibbits

Nellie Gail Moulton belongs to a larger movement of early California female artists who were often marginalized for their work and now are being recognized for their accomplishments and commitment to the arts. Her work is included in public and private collections throughout California and she was given a retrospective in 1968 by the Laguna Beach Art Association. Recently her work was exhibited in Something Revealed; California Women Artists Emerge, 1860-1960 at the Pasadena Museum of History. Her philanthropic work as a founding member of the Laguna College of Art & Design, her contributions to the building of the Moulton Theatre for the Laguna Playhouse, and her generous endowment donation to Chapman University (which was then Chapman College), serves as a lasting legacy of her generosity and devotion to the arts.

This retrospective exhibition of her art, the first in over 50 years, showcases the life and artistic career of a confident, powerful and truly trailblazing woman in California history in the context of Casa Romantica’s Spanish Colonial Revival-style gallery.

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