Remembering Douglas Donaldson (1882-1972)

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Douglas Donaldson, 1920s
Douglas Donaldson, 1920s

Here is a short account of a family story that only became known to me in recent years.

In the early 1950s after my mother Marion moved to Los Angeles from her hometown of Seattle, she met my father Reed and three months later they were engaged. She was 19 and he was 22. Her Aunt Louise and Uncle Douglas, both then in their late 60s, lived in Los Angeles and she visited them at their Melrose Hill home to share her happy announcement. Upon hearing her news, Douglas or Uncle “T” as he was known, excused himself and went out back to his art studio while Marion and Louise socialized. A short while later he returned and presented my mother with the gift of a wedding ring. 

What’s notable about this story is that Uncle “T” was Douglas Donaldson (1882-1972), a silversmith and jewelry designer who The Magazine Antiques in 2012 called “one of California’s foremost arts and crafts educators” of the last century. In 1924 Donaldson with E.A. Batchelder founded the Arts and Crafts Society of Southern California. Earlier in 1911 he won a gold medal at the Panama-Californian Exposition in San Diego for a covered chalice he designed. Over the years there were other awards. For decades he taught his art to his Los Angeles area students.

Donaldson home (Los Angeles, 1924)
Donaldson home (Los Angeles, 1924)
Covered Bowl by Douglas Donaldson. Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
Covered Bowl by Douglas Donaldson. Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
Los Angeles, 1960. Douglas Donaldson (left) with niece Marion Harris, three of her children and other relatives.
Los Angeles, 1960. Douglas Donaldson (left) with niece Marion Harris, three of her children and other relatives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In recent weeks I learned that a silver covered bowl Donaldson designed is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His work has also appeared at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Oakland Museum, and elsewhere. Interestingly, a few years ago the HGTV show, If Walls Could Talk, featured the Donaldson’s Los Angeles home after the current owners became curious about the history of the beautiful artwork built into and around the home, such as garden birdhouses and fireplace metalwork and other work, much sharing a similar bird motif. Apparently, long before the TV show Portlandia discovered you could make art by “putting a bird on it,” Douglas Donaldson was doing so. But he really was making art!

My mother remembers her uncle now as one of the kindest, most gentle and intelligent men she has known in life.

Douglas Donaldson was a creative soul who brought beauty into the world.

 

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