SB Historical Society New Exhibition and Holiday Soirée

By Joanne A Calitri   |   December 20, 2022
Kirk Tatnall next to his art on loan for the Clarence Mattei exhibit at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

A pertinent historical and classical portrait exhibition is on view at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum titled, “Clarence Mattei (1883-1945), Portrait of a Community,” curated by the museum staff in conjunction with Santa Barbara historian Erin Graffy. Mattei’s portraits feature local to international luminaries, politicians, film stars, and the elite. His father Felix founded Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, and married Lucy Fisher. They had five sons: Frank, Fred, Clarence, Charles, and Albert. It is said that Clarence studied art in Paris and NYC and was working in NYC when his mother asked him to come to the Santa Barbara area as she was suffering mentally. Thus, he arrived here and flourished in his art as well. 

On view are more than a hundred portraits from his early work (1898) through his latest (1944); mediums are oil on canvas, and pen, pencil, and charcoal on paper. His portraits include Carmen Dibblee Underhill, Charles Albert Storke, Peggy Stow, John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Oakleigh Thorne Jr. of the Las Tejas estate Montecito, Mary Pickford, Katherine Holmes, Herbert Hoover, Henry Pritchett, and Hezekiah Griggs Chase.

While the majority of works on display belong to the museum, some are on loan from members of the artist’s lineage. One such work titled Charles Mattei, an oil on canvas portrait, is courtesy of Mattei’s great-grandson Kirk Tatnall and his wife, Rene. My on-the-spot interview with Kirk provided behind-the-scenes information about this portrait: “I acquired this work of art from my brother approximately 10 years ago, when he moved from NYC to Texas. It was installed in my house and my wife recently had it restored. Now, remarkably one can note the gypsy cap Charles is wearing. The story is that he and Clarence were inebriated and goofing around in the studio together and he threw the hat on to be silly. After the portrait was done, they burst out laughing… but again, this is an urban legend!”

In conjunction with the exhibit opening, the museum held its annual holiday soirée, hosted by Executive Director Dacia Harwood, who said, “The celebration was an opportunity to thank the many members, contributors, and volunteers who make the Museum’s good work possible.” Noted guests were the new owner of Mattei’s Tavern Shamra Strange, andfamily members of the Mattei lineage including Runcie Tatnall, Kirk Tatnall,and Carolyn Tatnall Jopes with husband Doug Jopes.Also noted were Barbara and Art Najera, Marilyn Chandler “Missy” DeYoung, Jacqueline Abbud, Luke Swetland with wife Stacey Byers, Lori and Thad MacMillan, Erin Graffy with husband Jim Garcia, and the SB Historical Museum Board of Trustees: Rhonda Henderson with husband Ben Feld, Sheila Snow with husband Kevin, Ken Mineau, and George Leis with wife Laurie. 



You might also be interested in...

  • Woman holding phone

    Support the
    Santa Barbara non-profit transforming global healthcare through telehealth technology