San Francisco Mosaic

  Portrait of Sheets

Millard Sheets

Millard Sheets (1907-1989) was a true renaissance man. He made is mark on history as a painter, designer, muralist, architect, war correspondent, educator, and arts administrator.  As one of the founding members of the “California Scene Painters” he exerted a lasting influence on subsequent generations of Western painters. At the young age of 22, he had already developed a new style of watercolor painting that was at the forefront of the American watercolor movement during the 1930s and 1940s. That later gave rise to a generation of painters who became known as the California Regionalist school. His illustrious career allowed him to travel extensively throughout Europe, Turkey, Mexico, Hawaii, Israel, Burma, Egypt, Japan, Brazil, Tahiti, New Zealand and Russia. These trips were often extended painting excursions and he also traveled as a cultrural representative or American Specialist for the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, for the US Department of State.

Olive grove: watercolor, 1935  

Sheets used his architectural firm to promote and illustrate his philosophy that art should be incorporated into every aspect of daily living.  Sheets designed interior and exterior plans for over forty Home Savings and Loan bank branches in California. The distinctive modular design that Sheets created highlighted local historical events or natural features, and became synonymous with the Home Savings of America. In 1999 Washington Mutual acquired the bank. Much of this original work was funded through an active and supportive public art program that was part of the Community Redevelopment Agency.

  Tahiti: detail from Home Savings Mural, SF

Mr. Sheets worked with British-born master mosaicist In 1963 he formed his own company, Denis O'Connor Mosaics, specializing in the execution and installation of large-scale mosaic murals. For the next 19 years he worked in association with Millard Sheets to produce over 80 mosaics for the California branches of Home Savings of America. The detailed designs that embellish these buildings leave a legacy of some of the finest examples of contemporary mosaic work in the country. Mr. O'Connor passed away in 2007.

Sheets and O'Connor worked closely with designer Susan L. Hertel, who was with the Claremont, California atelier for many years. An extraordinary example of their collaboration can be seen at the Washington Mutual Bank in San Francisco at the corner of West Portal Ave. and Vicente. (SF Mosaic Guide number 48).

— Lillian Sizemore

Grateful acknowledgments to the Smithsonian Archives, Scripps College, and the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, SF. Additionally, I had the honor of knowing and working with Mr. O'Connor in the last year of his life which allowed me an intimate glimpse into the master works made throughout his career.


Sculpture and Bank mural: Home Savings, SF