Artist Andrew P. Hill

Over the years some great artists have lived and painted here. Of particular interest to me are A.D.M. Cooper (1856-1924), Charles Harmon (1859-1936) and Andrew P. Hill (1853-1922). Cooper was certainly the most prolific and he commanded the highest prices for his paintings. When he was still alive, one of his paintings sold for $60,000, the equivalent of more than $1 million today. In my opinion Charles Harmon was perhaps the most gifted, but my favorite is Andrew P. Hill and, while not well known today, he painted some wonderful local pieces. Of course his real fame is that of the “man who saved the redwoods.” His painting “California Redwood Park” was exhibited during the second year of the San Francisco Panama Pacific Exposition in 1916.

Hill also painted and photographed chickens. I have never known of another artist who used chickens as his subject matter, and I was always curious why any artist would do that. Perhaps I have finally discovered the reason. At one time he was in a partnership known as Hill and Watkins. It has come to light that Mrs. L.J. Watkins fancied thoroughbred poultry. And who was this wealthy Mrs. Watkins? It turns out that she was his mother-in-law, and I believe that she helped him out financially.

While Hill was a fine artist and good photographer, I think he was a poor businessman. Several of his five partnerships were dissolved because of bankruptcy. He was also a man dogged by bad luck; the fire of 1892 destroyed his studio and then came the earthquake of 1906, which completely destroyed the Doherty Building containing his studio. He lost everything, his large collection of photographic negatives, paintings, props, accessories, cameras and furnishings. Even with this he bounced back and painted some wonderful scenes of San Jose and Santa Clara Valley before his death in 1922.

Isn’t it time that this city finally recognizes these wonderful artists from the past? A proper showing of their paintings should be on permanent display in a location where the public can readily see them. The City of Oakland, our much smaller neighbor north of us, has a wonderful gallery devoted to California artists. Why can’t we promote something similar on an equal scale?

Editor’s note: Works by Andrew Hill and other local artists can currently be viewed at an exhibition of the Leonard McKay Collection at the Leonard and David McKay Gallery at the Pasetta House at 1650 Senter Rd., San Jose. The exhibition continues until February 12, 2006 and is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 noon until 5 pm.

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