The Art of Charles M. Stevenson, Mendocino, California

This blog is dedicated to the appreciation of the life and art of Charles M. Stevenson of Mendocino, California, 1927-2004. It is a place where memories and pictures of Charles' life and art can be shared among old friends, as a gathering spot for fellow collectors of his work, as well as a place for those who are new to his life and work and just want to learn more. All images on this site unless otherwise stated are fully and strictly copyright by Matt Leach.

11/8/09




Charles Stevenson circa 2001
Charles Stevenson (1927-2004)
by Carol Goodwin Blick


Charles Stevenson photo Charles Marchant Stevenson III was born in Washington, D.C. to Mildred and Charles Stevenson II. At the age of fifteen, Stevenson won a scholarship to the Corcoran Academy of Fine Art which he attended for seven years before enlisting the United States Navy. During his tour of duty, Stevenson was illustrator for the morale magazine "All Hands" and art director for the magazines "Naval Training" and "Training Bulletin". Afterwards, Stevenson continued his education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and the University of Pennsylvania.

After college Charles Stevenson worked at many things. He was a stained glass window designer at a factory in Patterson, New Jersey, an art therapist in a mental hospital in Hartford, Connecticut and an advertising artist for department stores in Dallas and New York City and worked independently as a muralist and portrait painter in San Francisco. During his last four years in San Francisco, Stevenson created and ran Stevenson Graphics, a successful fifteen-man advertising art agency.

The bare bones of Charles Stevenson's biography to this point conceal a life-long exploration of hermetic philosophy and sacred geometry, an interest in myth, a search for the spiritual within the mundane. In 1961 Stevenson closed the San Francisco chapter in his life and moved to Mendocino. He said, "I came because I wanted to change my life, to be more artistic...Dorr Bothwell was already here, and I just packed everything up in the back of my car and came up and I've been here ever since."

Dorr Bothwell introduced Stevenson to Bill Zacha who took one look at his work and offered him a solo exhibit at the Bay Window Gallery and a job teaching at the Mendocino Art Center.
Stevenson's fine academic background, the years of practical application of his skills, his natural talents and creative vision made him an especially inspiring teacher. He taught at the Art Center for many years.
Mendocino Art Center's Stevenson studio was the gift of Charles Stevenson's parents.

Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's use of the golden mean or golden ratio, Charles Stevenson worked in serigraphy and large format acrylic painting, producing dynamic portraits, landscapes and visionary work, all with occasional flashes of impish humor. Stevenson most often painted on a surface of gessoed cheesecloth on wood, which he described as "a smooth surface which holds paint well."

The subjects of Charles Stevenson's work reflect his spiritual and philosophical explorations, his many visits to Japan, England, Egypt, Greece, Italy and France, especially Paris and Monet's gardens at Giverny, as well as places and people closer to home, for example, the headlands of Mendocino and such lifelong friends as Bill and Jennie Zacha, with whom he shared a passion for community and for theatre.

Bill and Jennie's daughter Lucia remembers, "I think I first met Charles - Chuck is what we all called him then - in the studio when I was six or seven. I know I was seven when he painted my portrait. He was magical. I was supposed to be picking flowers and there I was, out in a field with all these wild mustard weeds, yet when he was finished I was picking beautiful flowers."

Between 1974 and 1984, Stevenson designed the magnificent stained glass angel windows at the Episcopal Church of Saint Michael's and All Angels, Fort Bragg, California. The artist's murals can be seen at the Methodist Church of the Good Shepherd in Richmond, California and at the non-denominational Piedmont Community Church in Piedmont, California, where he also designed the altar cross for the children's chapel.

In the mid-1980s, Charles Stevenson joined with gifted young Mendocino painter Matt Leach to form Stevenson Leach Studio.

Like his friends the Zachas, at least equal to his artistic gifts, Stevenson had great generosity of spirit. He gave unstintingly to his community, both time and resources, sponsoring exhibitions, concerts and plays, making grants to local artists, musicians and writers as well as making several large bequests to the Mendocino Art Center. He expressed his love for theatre, both onstage as an talented actor and behind the scenes, directing plays and designing opulent sets for productions at the Mendocino Art Center's Helen Schoeni Theatre and for the Gloriana Opera Company. In 1994 The Mendocino Art Center presented The Charles M. Stevenson Retrospective.

In his last years, Charles Stevenson hosted a monthly Second Saturday salon at his house on School Street in Mendocino. Andarin Arvola shares this glimpse: "His studio/home was a rough and tumble two-storey house with a whimsy of unexpected charm and delight tucked into every corner. At the end of a short winding path into the dense foliage of the backyard was another structure, a room of windows. There were often art projects displayed there as well. An old ornate metal bed made up with fall leaves looked especially inviting."

One of Charles Stevenson's final gifts is the memory of those special evenings where food and wine were plentiful, young artists exhibited new work, local musicians performed, poets gave readings and all were welcome.

Zacha's Bay Window Gallery offers a selection of Charles Stevenson's works for sale as well as a growing archive for art lovers and scholars.



Carol Goodwin Blick is the Archivist for williamzacha.com where this essay first appeared.

Copyright © 1995-2009 Zacha's Bay Window Gallery • 45110 Main Street • Mendocino, CA, 95460 • 707-937-5205 •









Stevenson Giclee Fine Art Prints



"Seasons" by Charles Stevenson 
casein and oil on canvas, 36" x 48"
private collection (Germany)


In the 1997 while Charles and I were still working together, we chose a series of  paintings to make fine art giclee prints from. Our goal was simple: To make the finest state of the art prints possible.

The paintings were professionally photographed as 4 x 5 and 8 x 10 transparencies, scanned in very high resolution, then we spent several days "cleaning up" the images in Photoshop. When we got the first artists' proofs back from the printers, Old Town Editions we were overjoyed with the quality, richness and incredible detail.

Now, after 12 years, Charles has passed away from making our lives wonderful, but giclee prints are still available through Charles Stevenson's website, williamzacha.com. They can be printed on fine art watercolor paper or on giclee artists' canvas in a variety of sizes. They can't of course be signed by Charles, as they are printed fresh and on demand, but every print will be personally proofed by Matt Leach to the original Stevenson / Leach proofs, and can be signed on request by "Matt Leach of Stevenson / Leach Studio".

The gallery currently has four very large prints in stock (35" x 47", one each of the images depicted here. They are printed in archival inks on archival Somerset Velvet watercolor paper. We would like to offer more giclee prints in the future, in sizes ranging from full sheets (35" x 47") to half sheet and quarter sheet sizes.





"Mendocino Afterglow" by Charles Stevenson and Matt Leach
acrylic on three panel screen, 104" x 80", 1990
private collection



Mendocino Afterglow was Charles and my first collaborative artwork in 1990 after after working together on a number of stage sets for The Gloriana Opera Company. I first had the idea of painting this large three panel screen, saying to Charles that the view of our little town from across Mendocino Bay is so beautiful; why don't we do a large "architectural" painting of the view, as if the viewer is looking out a window, so we can share the view with others?

Charles liked the idea, so we acquired three hollow core doors for the base-panels, coated them in cheesecloth and gesso, took many photographs for reference, laid out the lines of the "window frames", masked off the areas that were not part of the "view", chose a color scheme, and started painting together.

Once the view through the windows was completed, we masked off the windows and stripped off the masking on the foreground "interior. It was Charles idea to paint the foreground with a contrasting image of the same view, scaled down, in the evening light.

When that was done, we striped off all the masking and added finishing final touches such as the thin lines of sunset light around the window frames. Finally we protected the surface with a clear coat and I added a simple oiled pine frame and brass hinges to link the panels.

In 1995, "Mendocino Afterglow" won first place in "The Artists' Magazine" international landscape competition.






"Full Moon" by Charles Stevenson
acrylic on canvas, 36" x 48"
private collection









"Backstage" by Charles Stevenson
acrylic on canvas, 48" x 36"
private collection









Charles Stevenson: The Art of the Portrait
by Matt Leach


It was rather fascinating to watch Charles Stevenson's process of doing portraits. Sometimes he had known the model for a long time, and had some idea of the the model's life. If he didn't know his model, he would interview first and get some idea of life, loves, interests and the model's general spirit.

Charles sometimes began with an idea of an image, but not always. The process often began with a photo session, sometimes involving costumes, but sometimes with just the subject's streetr clothes. During the photo
sessions, new ideas often evolved from the initial ideas.

Afterward Charles sorted and studied the photos (35 mm slides) to see which pictures inspired him the most. As he did this, he also thought in terms of the multiple layers of images that he was famous for.

Charles would start with the main, strongest image in the composition, and then slowly build the layers. It's amazing the effects Charles achieved painting with this technique. Some of the paintings look almost "Photoshopped", with their multiple semi-transparent overlays, but back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s Charles painted the old fashioned way: with a brush.

Even after Charles started using computers in the 1990s, he only used them as another tool. The real compositions were still done on the canvas.

Here are a few of Charles Stevenson's portraits.


Charles Stevenson Self Portrait
acrylic and oil on canvas, 36" x 36", 1960
private collection

Planning the reference photos for this self portrait Charles set up a sheet of glass to represent the plane of the canvas, then had a friend shoot the photos through the glass.






Portrait of  Thorkild Thompson
acrylic and oil on canvas, 36" x 36", 1967
private collection


One of my personal favorite portraits by Charles, showing the local sheep ranchers' gentleness with the lamb, with the town of Mendocino in the background.







Portrait of Dorr Bothwell
acrylic and oil on canvas, approximately 48" x 30", 1964
private collection

Dear Dorr was the only person living in Mendocino Charles knew when he
moved there and, even then, they had only recently met. But Dorr told Charles about Mendocino, so he packed what little he had in his old station wagon, and moved to Mendocino. The night that Charles arrived, Dorr introduced him to Bill and Jenny Zacha, who were just starting the Mendocino Art Center. By the time the evening was over, Bill had found a place for Charles to rent, some work, and would represent Charles in Bill's gallery. It must have been quite a day for Charles.

Charles painted Dorr in her element: painting in her studio.







Portrait of Matt Leach...
acrylic on panel, approximately 48" x 38", 1994
photo by C. G. Blick


After a few years of working with Charles I got to know his techniques and what inspired him. Charles owned this huge comical model paintbrush, and during one long day of painting, I felt a need for some creative exercise. I put Peter Gabriels' "Steam" on the stereo, cranked up the volume, grabbed the big brush and started moving to the music like an improvising martial artist. Charles grabbed the camera and started shooting. Seeing what he was doing, I started inventing a series of strong poses to the music that I thought he might like to use in a painting.

It took Charles's insight though to paint some meaning into my antics. Here is Carol Goodwin Blick's interpretation of the painting. It took Carol's insight to finally show me what this painting may mean:

"Charles Stevenson's creative collaborator in Stevenson Leach Studio is the subject of Portrait of the Artist: Matt Leach as a Young Man in the Computer Age. The young artist is pictured as a solitary ronin, armed only with his brush, doing battle against the incursions of the computer age, fighting for the survival of ancient traditions."




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Mendocino, California
In the years between 1989 and 1998 I had the honor of working with Charles Stevenson, first as an apprentice and then as his business partner in fine art. He had been looking for a young artist to whom to pass on his philosophy, his skills and knowledge about painting and I had been wanting to learn painting from a master. We formed Stevenson/Leach Studios, we painted together and as they say...the rest is history.