A Community of Artists: Laguna Beach and Los Angeles, 1918-1922

Laguna Trees    / Oil on Board / 24.375 x 30.25 in.

Laguna Trees  / Oil on Board / 24.375 x 30.25 in.

Following the Sierra trip, Edgar Payne invited Conrad Buff to live with him and his wife in their new home in Laguna Beach. Buff spent the winter of 1918 sketching in the afternoon and cooking in the evenings. In a period full of creativity and camaraderie, Buff spent time with other California painters such as Jack Wilkinson Smith, Elmer Wachtel, Frank Cuprien, and Mabel Alvarez. Never comfortable with promoting himself, perhaps his interactions with these artists inspired him to pursue the next step in his artistic career.
In 1920, Buff worked up the courage to show his paintings to the associate curator of the Los Angeles Museum of Science, History, and Art. The associate curator, Mary Marsh, was also an artist and had studied with Birger Sandzen. They began sketching together and a romance ensued that led to a lifelong creative partnership and marriage. With Mary’s support, Buff exhibited in group shows and in 1921, had his first solo exhibition at the Los Angeles museum. Work from this time shows that Buff began painting on larger canvases with small color dots in lines of defined shapes.
Conrad Buff and Mary Marsh’s marriage in 1922 brought significant changes for them both. Mary left her job with the museum and moved to her husband’s small house in Eagle Rock. Although Buff continued house and decorative painting, his social circle grew thanks to Mrs. Buff’s bright and outgoing personality. They established a group of influential, artistic friends including Edward Weston, Henrietta Shore, Clarence Hinkle, and George Stojana. Buff gained further contacts and alliances by joining the prominent California Art Club. After his first entry into a CAC exhibit was juried out, he felt due to the painting’s modernist tendency, he worked as an active CAC member to champion progressive painting.