Viola? (+ Hobart estate update)




The current edition of the Ferndale Enterprise takes note of the story from last week, " Hobart's Children ," and takes issue with what is deemed misinformation regarding the painting above by Viola McBride.

The tangled story of the disposition of Hobart's estate included a brief description of the tours of Hobart's Galleries led by the Kinetic Rutabaga Queens the weekend after the trustee sale:

Throughout they told stories about art pieces that factored into the artist's colorful history, among them a nude self-portrait of Viola McBride, the former owner of the building who essentially brought Hobart to town.
The following weekend, when the Queens returned to lead more tours, they found the gallery basically emptied, the paintings and sculptures gone. The McBride painting had been removed, along with paintings and sculptures from Hobart's living quarters.

Some in Ferndale, including members of the McBride family, questioned whether Viola's painting was in fact a self-portrait. The description came from Kinetic Rutabaga Queen Shaye Harty who, while leading one of those tours of Hobart's Galleries, said,
One of the first things l like to point out is this self-portrait here by Viola Russ McBride. You can see she did it in 1977. I don't know if you know the history, but she was the one who convinced Hobart to bring his gallery from Eureka to Ferndale. Together they did a lot of the restoration on Main Street. Some of the old ladies in town weren't so happy that there were nude portraits in Hobart's gallery, Viola, always a supporter of the arts, wasn't going to have that. So she painted this picture of herself nude and had Hobart put it up right here so people walking by could see a self-portrait of Viola saying, 'Hey old ladies, loosen up a bit.'

In retrospect I suppose it would have been better not to simply accept what she said as fact. From a quick Google search I learned that Viola Russ McBride died in October 1996 at the age of 90. (This came from a UC Davis Magazine obit that also noted, "Ms. McBride was one of the first women students at UC Davis and went on to break other gender barriers as the first woman president of the Humboldt County Cattlemen's Association.")

In 1977, Viola was 71 years old. So, it would indeed seem unlikely that the painting is a self-portrait. How might Shaye have made the mistake? Underneath the painting is a hand-written label that says, "Viola Russ McBride - Presented to Hobart Brown by Andy and JoAnn McBride," and the painting is signed V. R. McBride. Was the label merely identifying the artist?


Shaye tells us that Hobart himself told her it was a painting of Viola. She also suggests that the painting might be Viola's memory of what she looked like when she was younger. "I guess we'll never know," she concluded.

As  noted in "Hobart's Children,"  the McBride painting was among the items that disappeared from the building in the period between the property sale and the court hearing regarding Beltz v. Brown . The nude was reportedly given to the McBride family under the assumption that the painting was merely loaned to Hobart.  A press release received today from Justin Brown and the family trust asks anyone who was given paintings or other items from the gallery to contact trust representatives:

The Hobart Brown Trust would like to ask the public to help recover trust property. In the last year and with the increased activity since January 8th 2009, property has been sold and/or given away from Hobart Brown’s business and home located at 393 Main Street in Ferndale California. Some of this property includes sculptures and other works by Hobart Brown along with pieces by many other artists.  Some but not all items were clearly marked on the back "Property of Hobart Brown," "Hobart Galleries," "Justin Hobart Brown" or "Maggie Brown McDaniel." In addition to the artwork, family photo albums, scrapbooks and family heirlooms are missing, and we are trying to recover these personal items. We apologize if anyone was misled to believe these personal items were available to the public. If you have anything in your possession or know someone who has possession of such items from Hobart Galleries or Hobart's home; if you know where any of our family's legacy may be, please contact the trust at: [email protected] or at (707) 444-3395. We would also like to thank those who have already stepped forward and spoke up in order to return items to the family.

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