George Demont Otis,
American Impressionist

george demont otis
This website contains over 600 images of art by George Demont Otis

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American Impressionist

-- 85 Paintings in Color,
10 in Black & White, 114 Pages, Softcover, Glossy, Squarebound --

California Catalogue Paintings

He Painted With Reverent Realism - by Bill Early, 1960

Reprinted with permission from the Independent Journal, February 13, 1960

Striving for perfection in painting, many artists are happy indeed for the accurate portrayal of the three dimensions, length, breadth, and depth. Einstein believes in a fourth dimension. The popular interpretation is that it is the factor of time.

George Demont Otis has pictures in which he defines his conception of a fourth dimension-infinity.

8-12-1950 Independent Journal

Otis paints Mt. Tamalpais from the
marshes of Greenbrae near his studio.

On a winter day in 1893 a 14-year-old boy went to a blackboard in Chicago's Beale School and drew his conception of the Christmas story. The teacher was impressed.

"I wonder," she asked, "if you would mind doing this in some of the classrooms upstairs?" The youngster concentrated, and four more blackboards soon were filled with the handiwork of George Demont Otis. His obvious talent so excited the teacher that she brought it to the attention of her husband, United States Senator, James Akins.

Not long thereafter, the senator presented young Otis a full scholarship, with no strings attached, to the Chicago Art Institute.

For Otis, orphaned at the age of 6, it was the start of a long and illustrious career as a painter of the American scene. Still very active at 80, he works today out of a charming Kentfield studio-home which he and his wife, Clara, built themselves in 1934 at 907 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

The Otis' guest books are crammed with the signatures of nearly 40,000 visitors from all corners of the world. Many hundreds of them are happy possessors of an Otis canvas. Noted primarily for his landscapes, Otis is represented in 79 private art collections at home and abroad and in seven national and three foreign galleries.

Unlike most painters, he has succeeded in earning a living from the sales of his work. He enjoys teaching, but has never been forced into it to make ends meet.

It has been said of art that its function is the creation of beauty and its main purpose is to give pleasure. Painting for reverent realism for more than six decades, Otis has fulfilled these aims. Residents of many states, their homes graced by Otis landscapes, will testify to this.

Otis tells of a young woman who returned to his studio one day with a small painting she had purchased from him. She shook it excitedly in front of his face and said breathlessly, "My brother says if you can get a piece of good work like this, you should go back and get a bigger piece of it!" She did.

An outdoor painter, Otis is probably more familiar with Marin's rural byways than most lifelong county residents. On the back of each of his paintings he affixes a statement telling precisely where, when and how the original work was done and listing its appraised insurance value. He retains a copy of the statement for his own files.

After his customers have selected a painting, Otis lets them take it home on a trial basis. He wants them to be certain of the room in which they plan to hang it. On request, he will go to customer's homes and assist in the placement of his works.

His eagerness to be of service can be traced back to his early painting years, when he received invaluable help from some of America's foremost artists. Notable among them was John F. Carlson of Woodstock, New York.

"Carlson helped me as an artist, a teacher and a friend," Otis recalls: "He gained inner satisfaction, strength and joy by helping others and sharing his knowledge with them."

Otis also was profoundly influenced by the eminent Winslow Homer and George Inness, as well as Thomas Moran, a painter whom he knew in the Southwest, and Wellington J. Reynolds, who gave him life class instruction.

Otis considers complete mastery of drawing an indispensable prerequisite for accomplishment in painting.

"A large building," he observes, "requires a firm foundation. For painting there must be the firm foundation of drawing. One cannot tell a beginning art student simply to go ahead and paint."

Otis believes every artist should own his own studio. To him, the studio is more than a workshop; it is a consecrated wellspring of creativity.

Early in his career he "learned to cross the threshold of my studio with reverence, as though I were entering a shrine set apart for me . . . This same reverence accompanies me at all times when I contact any part of nature that seems suited for that day's work."

Otis' love of trees has been demonstrated again and again in his prolific outpouring of landscapes. Trees, to him, are "God's greatest work."

"All noble art," Otis has written, "is the expression of man's delight in God's work . . . God has loaned us the earth for our life; it belongs as much to those who come after us as it does to us. We have no right to neglect any obligations that are within our power to bequeath."

If it is a painting you are working upon, make it your best. Leave the finished product with a feeling that something has been added toward the betterment of civilization. . . ."

Over the years, Otis has found that "the value you put upon yourself is the value people accept. In order that a high value may be put upon you, you must know from within that you possess humility, reverence, inspiration, deep purpose, and joy."

Throughout his life, he said, he has tried to use these five "guiding factors" as "the great potentialities that they are. They combine to make you just as great as you will make use of them"

"Many years ago," he added, "I found by observation of others who were successful that in order to achieve greatness or stability or balance, one had to go only one inch beyond mediocrity. But that one inch is so hard to travel that only those who become aware of God in them can make the grade. No one can ever hope to achieve that one inch alone. Just a short study of the Bible proved to me there was a power unseen and unheard, that could direct all."

Otis, who is listed in "Who's Who in American Art," also has deep-rooted convictions about the teaching of art. "From the start," he counsels, "one must teach the student self-respect and belief in himself."

He urges the instructor to regard himself as "another student, a little more able to guide" and as a friend to the aspiring artist rather than a critic or teacher.

"Avoid flattery or synthetic praise," Otis cautions. "Often a class will gain much from an enlightened teacher of truth who has in mind a sense of love and the struggle of youth to attain a common desire."

He believes audible criticism can destroy the student's will or give him a sense of "doing it for the teacher" and not from his own heart.

"Allow one student to help another," he advises. "This brings a feeling of fellowship and confidence. Seek out the better students as monitors and put them to work helping those newly promoted from the elementary to the advanced classes. But never have a teacher's pet; they usually are weak and, many times, become misguided failures."
Otis has written a book, "The ABC-XYZ of Landscape Painting" illustrated with his drawings, it is not to be published until after his death.

A man of diversified talents, he is also an accomplished woodcarver, stained-glass designer, art appraiser and art restorer, as well as a maker and gilder of picture frames.

In his unusual home of English-Norman design, Otis has many pieces of his hand carved furniture and a hearts-of-redwood stairway with an intricate carved design depicting 152 varieties of sea life which he has seen or caught. His fireplace is built of San Francisco paving blocks and railroad ties. The studio-home also contains several fine examples of his stained-glass windows.

Otis has been a designer and painter of scenery for opera, theater and motion picture productions. He was employed in Hollywood by Louis B. Mayer of MGM during the early days of the movies and had a battery of artists working under his direction. Buster Keaton, famed comedian of the silent screen, is a close friend of his.
Born Sept. 21, 1879, in Memphis, Tenn., Otis is the youngest of three children of George and Georgia Etta Otis. Of Scottish descent, he arrived two weeks after his father, a railroad engineer, was killed in a train wreck.
After his mother's death, when he was 6, Otis was taken in by an aunt and uncle in Seldalia, Mo. His brother and sister were sent to the homes of other relatives.

When he was 12, Otis was placed by his maternal grandmother in the home of a South Chicago family. He stayed about a year, then ran away and found a haven with a French family in Chicago. It was during this period that Senator Akins' wife discovered his drawing talent at Beale School.

Otis spent two years at the Chicago Art Institute and another at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Then he went east for several years of advanced study at the famed Art Students League and Cooper Institute in New York City and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

In his early twenties he returned to Chicago, where he helped found the Palette and Chisel Club. Open to artists and sculptors "of proven determination," the club was established on a shoestring in a small basement room. Today, it occupies a multi-million-dollar building. Otis is a life member.

After returning to Chicago, he was commissioned by Mrs. Akins to do a portrait of her elderly father. It was completed in five days and, as Otis remembers, "She fell in love with it at first sight. She had it framed and was going to give it to her father, but he died that day."

For the next several years Otis traveled and painted in the eastern states, keeping his home-studio in Chicago. Always eager to learn, he sought out noted artists who "had what I was looking for." It was the period in which Carlson, Inness, Homer and many others befriended him and shared their secrets with him. "I found," said Otis, "that the greater the man, the more eager he was to be of help."

One of his proudest possessions is a weather beaten six-by-eight-inch paint box he was given by a Chicago art dealer after winning a cash prize for a painting. As a young man, he used the little "thumb box" on his far-flung painting trips.

Little known about Otis is the fact that he spent three summers playing professional baseball in the Southern Association.

"I was the first pitcher in the league to use an out-curve," he recalls. "I pitched two or three games a week and played third base or right field on the days I didn't pitch."

"We wore thin leather mitts with our bare fingers sticking out. In those days the ball weighed about an ounce and a half more than it does today, and the pitching distance was 62.5 feet compared with the present 54. The catcher would stand far behind the batter and would catch the ball on the bounce."

Otis played two 60-game seasons for Nashville and one for the Memphis club. He was paid $250 to $300 a season and $3 for each exhibition game, using the earnings to further his chosen career in art.

During those three summers he executed "hundreds and hundreds" of grease pencil drawings. In the winters he continued to paint, and when his commissions increased he decided to give up baseball.

Working alternately in the east and midwest. Otis became widely known for his diversified abilities. Stage scenery design, art appraisal and art restoration occupied much of his time, and the American Tobacco Co. paid him handsomely for doing large decorative ceiling murals in its retail outlets.

One year a Newark, N.J. millionaire commissioned him, for $2,000, to do a large painting of his wife seated in a chair while the family dog, a Russian wolfhound, rested its head on her lap. She wore a $3,000 white lace gown for the sittings.

After three sessions, Otis invited the wealthy man to see how the canvas was progressing. He told the artist it wasn't exactly what he had in mind.

"I knew then that he wanted me to paint his wife as she had looked as a bride," Otis relates. "In two more sittings I took off about 2,000 wrinkles, then gave them the painting to live with overnight." The next day the husband said he liked the dog and wished his wife looked half as good. She still appeared too old to suit him.

Otis said he just shrugged and walked out with the portrait. Back in his studio, he cut the dog's picture out of the canvas and painted a plain background over what remained of the lace dress. He entered the animal study in a show at the Brooklyn Museum, where it won a prize and was sold the first day.

In the early 1910s, Otis moved westward. Near Estes Park, Colorado, at the gateway to the Rockies, he converted an old barn into a studio that served him for nearly a year. Then, painting at a furious pace and roughing it all the way, he worked his way south along the St. Vrain River.

Scenes of Bryce and Zion Canyons and the great expanses of the Arizona-New Mexico desert appeared on his canvases before his wilderness trek ended in Southern California. His work as a scene designer at MGM came during the next several years.

Still under the spell of the great Southwest, Otis returned to Arizona and New Mexico many times between motion picture jobs, often for months at a time.

Shunning civilization, he lived with-and painted-the desert Indians. Many of them distrusted him at first, but gradually he won their admiration, he said, "by showing no fear."

He studied the customs, arts and religions of seven tribes-Hopi, Navajo, Yuma, Isleta, Acoma, Taos and Pima-and managed to gain a limited facility in their language.

During these desert expeditions, Otis turned out more than 200 meticulously accurate watercolors, only 18 of which he has kept. Among the latter are scenes of Indian basket weavers, sheep herders, turquoise workers and pottery makers.

In 1930, Otis quit his movie work and moved to San Francisco. There, the next year, he met his wife-to-be. They were married in Reno by Judge Thomas F. Moran, who proved to be a cousin of the painter, Thomas Moran, one of Otis' dearest friends.

The Otis' "discovered" Marin County, and their future home site on a motor trip in 1932. After rounding a bend on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Kentfield, they stopped to admire the view of Mt. Tamalpais. Across the street they spotted a sign: "Lots for sale." "We decided then and there to buy," said Otis.

Two years later they began the arduous job of building their attractive and comfortable home. In 1936, they added a gallery and studio on the west side of the house.

"This is the longest time I have ever stayed in one place," says the 80-year-old artist. "I have worked in thousands of places throughout the United States, but I wouldn't trade Marin for the whole bunch."

To the right of his front door is an inviting sign:

Paintings of California
Studio of George Demont Otis
Visitors Welcome



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