Theme/Style – Modernism, landscapes, figurative art, illustration
Media – Oil, pastel, charcoal, monotype, etching, lithography, woodcarving
Artistic Focus – A descendant of a German family that boasted an artist in every generation back to a German woodcarver in 1640, Perham Nahl had an eye for the poetic, whether in the natural landscape of his native California, or in the human figure. While his monotypes and paintings were highly regarded and typified the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, he is equally revered as one of the grand figures in the history of art teaching in California, who guided and inspired countless young artists including William Ross Cameron, Gene Kloss, Clay Spohn, California’s Governor Earl Warren, and Cleonike Wilkins.
Career Highlights –
- Perham Wilhelm Nahl was born in San Francisco in 1869, the son of artist Hugo Wilhelm Arthur Nahl (1820-1889), who was a landscape and portrait painter. The Nahls made their home across the bay in Alameda, and Perham Nahl first studied art with his father and his uncle, Charles Christian Nahl (1818-1878), who designed the grizzly bear in the California flag and was one of the first painters of the unexplored High Sierras.
- Nahl continued his art studies in San Francisco at the California School of Design in the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art from 1899 until 1906, and around 1902 Nahl had a studio in what was known as the “Telegraph Castle” on Telegraph Hill. Early in 1906 Nahl was appointed an instructor of drawing in the Department of Architecture at UC Berkeley, but after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Nahl resigned from the university to study in Paris, and at the Akademie Heymann in Munich.
- When he returned to California in 1907, Nahl began his lifelong career in art teaching. He joined Xavier Martinez and Isabelle Percy West as one of the first three instructors at the newly-formed California Guild of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley (later known as the California College of Arts and Crafts, and then the California College of the Arts); and having taught various art classes at UC Berkeley since 1906, Nahl began teaching drawing there in 1912, gaining a full professorship in 1929. He remained with both institutions for the rest of his life. Nahl also taught summer art classes in Los Angeles, at USC in 1917 and UCLA in 1927 and 1929.
- One of Nahl’s best-known works is the official poster for San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, chosen from among 40 entries. Called “rugged, strong and unforgettable,” Nahl’s poster entitled The Thirteenth Labor of Hercules, depicts Hercules as a colossus ripping open the Panama Canal’s Culebra Cut. He also exhibited at the PPIE in both the paintings and etchings categories, and received a bronze and a silver medal. He also received a bronze medal at the Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909.
- Nahl presided over the first exhibition of the Berkeley Art Association in 1907, and exhibited extensively in the early 1900s, in San Francisco with the Sketch Club and at the Paul Elder Gallery. He was an early member of the California Society of Etchers, and was included in their first exhibition in San Francisco in 1913, and continued to exhibit with them for the next 20 years.
- Nahl exhibited with the San Francisco Art Association in 1916, and in their show at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1921; and also at the museum in the landmark 1923 Western Painters’ Exhibition, along with Mabel Alvarez, Edouard Vysekal, Gertrude Albright, Ray Boynton, Rinaldo Cuneo, Maynard Dixon, Lee Randolph, and others.
- Nahl exhibited at San Francisco’s Bohemian Club through the 1930s, and the East West Art Society in 1922. Nahl was included in the “Exhibition of East Bay Artists” and other shows at the Oakland Art Gallery through the mid-1920s; and also exhibited in the first Salon of the California League of Fine Arts in Berkeley in 1923. He also exhibited at the Steckel Gallery in Los Angeles.
- Nahl spent time in Mexico during the early 1920s, which influenced his subject matter; and in Mexico City he and fellow artist Ray Boynton saw the work of Diego Rivera, and were some of the first to promote his work in the United States.
- His interest in Oriental art took him to Japan several times, including an extended study trip in 1928, and he became an expert on Japanese prints and was appointed curator of the Armes collection of Japanese prints at UC Berkeley. He was on the first advisory board at the founding of the Berkeley Art Museum in 1928, and throughout his career he was a frequent lecturer and juror at clubs and universities in both Northern and Southern California. He was also instrumental in establishing one of the UC Berkeley campus’s earliest art galleries in 1934.
- Nahl passed away in 1935 at Stanford University Hospital, after being struck by a car in San Francisco. The Nahl Memorial Exhibition was held at the California College of Arts and Crafts later that year; there is a gallery on the campus that bears his name, and a Japanese garden on the school grounds was dedicated to Nahl’s memory. Another memorial exhibition of his works was held at the University of California Art Gallery in Berkeley in 1936; and there was an exhibition of his work at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, CA in 1989.
- Nahl’s work is in the collections of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, the de Young Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, the Bohemian Club, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Crocker Art Museum, and the California Historical Society.
Selection of Works by this Artist
Bibliographic references are available upon request.