Former Fullerton College Artist in Residence James Milford Zornes died last week from complications of congestive heart failure. He was 100 years old.
“If you work honestly and work for yourself with true integrity, you can serve as a way of thinking and creating,” Zornes said in a March 1999 article for The Hornet.
“When [Zornes] came as Artist in Residence, he never stopped working,” said Art Department Office Secretary Terry Santana.
One of Zornes’ intimate friends was FC Art Professor Marciano Martinez.
“Some faculty doubted his ability as Artist in Residence because he was so old,” Martinez said referring to Zornes’ residence at age 92. “They said he needed a bed by his side. But he worked so hard, and was so dedicated, we had to force him to stop and take lunch breaks.”
Martinez explained his long connection to Zornes, whose gallery works scatter Martinez’s hometown of Claremont, California.
“He would show his paintings and gave lessons at my high school,” Martinez said. “I always loved his work.” Martinez spoke of a trip to Utah, where Zornes spent the entire drive sketching.
“When I asked him why he kept drawing mountains all his life, he said you never know when you’ll see something new,” Martinez said.
Zornes was best known for painting vivid watercolor scenes of grassy landscapes, rugged hillsides and beautiful beaches. Zornes was born in Camargo, Oklahoma and moved to Idaho at a young age, eventually settling in California in his teens.
Following high school graduation, Zornes moved to Denmark, where he attempted a career in photojournalism, selling photographs to Popular Science, Scientific American and Popular Mechanics.
Advised that journalists needed formal training, he returned to school, eventually abandoning journalism for art.
Following graduation from Pomona College, Zornes continued his artwork and painted for the federal Public Works of Art Project during the 1930s.
He married Gloria Codd in 1935, and had son Franz before they divorced. Zornes’ second marriage to Patricia Mary Palmer would survive the rest of his life, and produce daughter, Maria Patricia.
After his Public Works projects, Zornes served as a military artist from 1943 to 1945 during World War II for the Government. Several of his paintings are displayed in the Pentagon.
Zornes was always quick to point out the diverse new landscapes his military career allowed him to visit. “I find I must go continually to nature,” Zornes said in a 1963 manuscript from American Artist Magazine. ” … If an artist is honest to the influences which have shaped his work and honest in his interpretations, personal style will emerge.”
Zornes taught through the last days of his life, giving his last seminar at his 100th birthday party at the Pasadena Museum of Art.
“He had been talking about his 100th birthday for a long time,” Martinez said. “It was very successful. He painted a picture, donated it to the gallery and someone bought it for $5,000 on the spot.”
Zornes’ work is currently on display at Pasadena Museum of California Art.