Opinion Columns & Blogs

How a Los Banos ranch hand found a life at sea

Art, military life and local history will converge during a March 11 presentation about a man from England who worked as a cowboy in Los Banos and then became the most prolific artist in the history of the United States Navy.

The Sunday multi-media presentation takes place in the Merced County Library’s Los Banos branch, 1312 S. Seventh St., at 3 p.m. It’s free and open to all. The life and work of Arthur Beaumont – official artist of the U.S Navy for 45 years – and presented by Geoffrey Beaumont, Arthur’s son.

Geoffrey recently published a book which includes many of Arthur’s paintings and the story of Arthur’s improbable life.

The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Los Banos Library, in coordination with the Los Banos Veterans and the local Milliken Museum. The Merced County Library is allowing the Los Banos branch to be open on a day it’s usually closed for the event.

Geoffrey Beaumont lives in Las Vegas, but will be in Los Banos at the invitation of retired Judge Tomar Mason, long-time resident and once the Los Banos branch librarian. Beaumont is organizing a touring retrospective exhibit of Arthur Beaumont’s works, sponsored by the University of California, Irvine and Irvine Galleries. He has spoken, or will soon, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Tucson.

Arthur Beaumont had an intense appreciation for ships and the sea – all reflected in his paintings and sketches.

But before he went to sea, Arthur Beaumont developed a connection to Henry Miller, the “cattle king.” Miller, along with his partner Charles Lux, was responsible for developing thousands of square miles of land for ranching and commerce in the Los Banos area and beyond.

Arthur Beaumont was born in England and while still a teenager served in the English cavalry. His first love was art, but he loved horses almost as much. In 1909, at age 19, Arthur came to Berkeley, where his brother worked as an engineer, to study art at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art in San Francisco. But Arthur ran out of money to pay his tuition.

The comptroller at the University of California, Berkeley, was Ralph Merritt, who also had a private business as a CPA. One of his clients was Miller and Lux. Merritt told Beaumont he could get a job with Henry Miller.

Soon, Arthur was working as a cowboy on the vast Miller-Lux ranch; then he was promoted to ranch foreman. While working for Miller, he caught and helped convict a group of Italian rustlers near Firebaugh. The Italian gang swore a vendetta against him. I’ll let Geoffrey finish that story during his March 11 talk.

After two years Beaumont decided to leave Los Banos and settled in Los Angeles, where he studied at the Chouinard Art Institute and later taught while starting a freelance commercial art business. Though not a U.S. citizen, he was fascinated by American naval ships docked in the Long Beach harbor, and he often made them the subjects of his paintings.

Admiral William Leahy about the artist and asked Beaumont to paint a portrait of him. Leahy liked Arthur’s painting so much that he hired Beaumont as a naval artist and commissioned him a second lieutenant when Arthur was 42.

That began an extraordinary 45-year career for Arthur Beaumont, during which he completed more than a thousand paintings. He traveled with fleets from 1932 through World War II and beyond, creating sketches and paintings, not from photographs, but from direct observation.

Geoffrey Beaumont admired and loved his father, who often took him out to sea as Arthur sketched and painted. For 10 years Geoffrey worked on “Arthur Beaumont: Art of the Sea,” published in 2016 – a large-format volume of 272 pages, extensively illustrated with color plates and black and white archival photographs. Geoffrey will have copies available March 11 and will even autograph them.

If you’d like to see some examples before then, you can visit Geoffrey’s website, www.navyart.com.

Geoffrey’s presentation should delight anyone who appreciates art, military history or the legends of Los Banos.

John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email john.spevak@gmail.com.