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The Creative Impact of The Hilbert Museum

Photo courtesy of Estefania Rosas taken at the entrance of The Hilbert Museum

Museums are treasure troves of history, creativity, and shared moments that shape our culture in countless ways. They're where you can dive into everything from natural history to fashion, TV, art—you name it, there's probably a museum for it. In California, where cultural diversity intertwines with stunning landscapes, the presence of museums is especially enriching. We're fortunate to have such a valuable educational experience available to us right here at our campus. Located beside Marrion Knotts Studios at Chapman University is The Hilbert Museum of California Narrative Art. A place dedicated to celebrating the diverse stories and artistic flair of our state.

You might be wondering, what exactly is The Hilbert?

Photo courtesy of The Hilbert Museum titled "4 Raindrops," by Mexican American Artist Carlos Almaraz. It was made in 1981 and is a gift of The Hilbert Collection.

In November 2014, the university announced a significant donation: a valued collection of California art worth over $7 million. This generous gift, combined with a $3 million contribution from Mark and Janet Hilbert, paved the way to establish a welcoming museum that will remain permanently accessible to the public.  The Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University was then officially founded in 2016 and has one of the world's most extensive collections of California narrative art. Thanks to these philanthropic efforts, the museum stands as the sole institution dedicated to tracing the history of the Golden State from the late 19th century to the present day. It achieves this through an impressive array of works by prominent California Scene artists, as well as Hollywood studio artists and animators.

The Museums Collection

Photo Courtesy of The Hilbert Museum. The artwork featured is named "If I had the wings of an Angel." The art piece draws connections between the Great Depression and the reality of every day life.

The museum contains over 5,000 art pieces, including oils, watercolors, drawings capturing urban and industrial scenes, coastal views, and stunning landscapes depicting life in California. Remarkably, it houses one of the most extensive private collections of Disney art and additionally showcases works by renowned artists such as Norman Rockwell and other 20th-century artists, whose pieces have been acquired by the Hilberts since before 1992. Moreover, the museum is committed to featuring a diverse range of art, achieved through a combination of permanent collections and rotating temporary exhibitions.

There was an expansion

On February 23, 2024, The Hilbert unveiled its recently expanded space to the public. A bold project that spanned three years. The renovation saw the facility grow from 7,500 to an impressive 22,000 square feet. The revamped museum now features two buildings housing 26 galleries with rotating displays. It's become a vibrant hub, featuring amenities such as a café, a community room for lectures, classes, and events, a research library, and an outdoor courtyard adorned with native gardens. More than just an art gallery, the museum has become a gathering place for creative individuals to come together, share ideas, and engage in discussions about art.

The museum's mission

Featured on The Hilbert Museum's website, their mission states

The museum holds a deep commitment to the art of visual storytelling, with a mission to engage, educate, entertain, and inspire visitors of all ages. Through continuously changing exhibitions, publications, lectures, concerts, and other public programs, they seek to enrich the appreciation and understanding of California's distinctive history, people, and places.

The Exhibits

Photo courtesy of The Hilbert Museum. It is used to highlight "Mary's Blair's Wondering: Imagining Disney Alice," exhibit.

FEBRUARY 23, 2024 – SEPTEMBER 7, 2024

The Hilbert Museum is known for its creative exhibits, and one of its most beloved showcases is "Mary Blair's Wonderland: Imagining Disney Alice." Although not permanent, this exhibit highlights the vibrant and stylized approach to "Alice in Wonderland" (1951). It captures Mary Blair's use of bold colors and simplified shapes, creating a visually striking and modern interpretation of Lewis Carroll's classic tale.  As stated by the museum, “Her whimsical and surreal design choices, evident in the curious landscapes and fantastical characters, infused a playful and dreamlike quality into her concept art for the animated film. However, over time, as Disney evolved, it shifted away from Blair's distinctive modernist style, returning to more traditionally rounded character designs that had proven successful in the past.” Still, Blair's distinct aesthetic on works such as the Wonderland project is lauded by art and animation aficionados alike. As further stated by The Hilbert, her legacy is one that cannot be forgotten, serving as a testament to an artist's power to enhance storytelling through their unique visual enchantment. “As exemplified in the Hilbert exhibition, her innovative approach to color and form not only left an indelible mark on the film but also solidified her legacy as a pioneering force in animation concept art within the Disney canon.”

Courtesy of The Hilbert Museum. Photo is used by the museum to highlight the Norman Rockwell exhibit. The exhibition includes original Rockwell paintings, drawings and artist prints selected from The Hilbert Collection. It is on loan from the Bank of America Collection.

FEBRUARY 23, 2024 – SEPTEMBER 7, 2024

The Hilbert Museum is also known for such additional exhibitions such as "Norman Rockwell: Capturing the American Spirit," which delves into Rockwell's prolific work during his tenure at the Saturday Evening Post in the 1950s.

Photo courtesy of The Hilbert Musuem. This painting of the Laguna Crystal Cove was given as a gift to the institution.

Additionally, they house a permanent collection of California Art, which showcases a diverse array of oil and watercolor paintings, as well as prints, spanning from the late 1800s to the present day.

How does this relate to CCI, specifically at chapman?

The presence of a museum right on our campus is a vivid illustration of the interconnectedness and mutual influence within the creative industries. Our university and the museum serve as distinct yet complementary educational platforms. With its focus on California narrative art, the museum offers a window into the past, shedding light on how the artists of California interpreted forces and movements that have shaped the California we know today. The museum's inclusion of a Disney exhibit not only honors the pioneering achievements of one of the most innovative entertainment companies but also explores the diverse avenues Disney explored in animation during a specific era. Mary Blair’s exhibit offers a glimpse into the animation styles of the past and their evolution to the present day. 

Photo courtesy of The Hilbert Museum. The photo features the radio exhibit titled "Art of the Airwaves." One of the radios on this exhibit was worth $350 back in the 20th century which is equivalent to a Ford car today!

Additionally, one of the museum's notable highlights is its exploration of the role of radios in the 20th century. By presenting authentic radios from the past, the museum showcases their significance, cost, and the perception of some as luxury items. The integration of art, animation, and technology within The Hilbert Museum provides visitors with a comprehensive experience right here at our doorstep.

The museum operates from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 am to 5 pm, and admission is free with an online reservation available here. We encourage you, CCI students, to take advantage of this educational opportunity and get the chance to explore various sources of learning. If you visit The Hilbert, remember to share your experiences with us on Instagram @chapman_cci 

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