1935 – Principal Sidney Davidson urges senior classes to purchase paintings from local artists as their gift to the school. First painting Snow Scene by Thomas hunt is purchased.
1937 – Taking advantage of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Federal Art Project, (the visual arts arm of the Great Depression-era New Deal Works), two mosaic murals were sponsored by the School, Board of Education, and community. Jean Goodwin and Arthur Ames were hired to create the two mosaics that were constructed in an inner quad of Robin’s Hall. The school and community contributed $100 for the materials.
The Girls on the Beach – mosaic mural by Jean Goodwin
1938 – Ruth Stoever is hired as librarian and along with Mr. Davidson continued the tradition of purchasing local art as senior class gifts, lasting until 1945 with the purchase of Edgar Payne’s The Great White Peak.
1946 – Miss Stoever suggested to Mr. Davidson that the school present an annual professional show of Southern California Artists so students could be introduced to local, original art and the local artists could have a venue to showcase their work.
The Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce agreed to sponsor the shows with $300 in purchase prize money. Each year an oil and watercolor were purchased.
The Great White Peak – by Edgar Payne
1960 – The Newport Harbor Art Exhibits grew to include upwards of four hundred entries per year. The now Mrs. Ruth Stoever Fleming retired as librarian but continued overseeing the art exhibit. By 1963 the exhibit had become a nationally recognized competition.
By the mid-60’s, many of the entries were too modern to suit the local community. Abstracts and nudes were entered into the show and the district decided they would no longer support the exhibit.
1966 – Mrs. Fleming, acknowledging that the purposes for which she had created the show had been fulfilled, acquainting high school students to the works of California artists, and so the shows were discontinued.
Untitled – by Guy Williams
The final oil painting purchased from the art exhibits in 1966.
After the art shows ended, the collection of paintings were divided among the district’s four high schools and were rotated every two years. The nine paintings that were senior class gifts remained at Newport Harbor. Over the years, supervision of the paintings became unclear and the importance of the collection faded away. By the early 80’s few in the district knew of or remembered the annual art exhibits. Many of the paintings were hung in administrator’s offices and some were stored carelessly in closets or offices.
In 1938, John McGinnis, Newport Harbor’s librarian, was examining old yearbooks and started reading about Ruth Stoever Fleming and the Art Exhibits. He decided to inventory the art collection. Over the next year, McGinnis would retrieve and restore all 56 of the paintings.
On June 12, 1984, the School Board officially renamed the collection in honor of Mrs. Fleming. The paintings were all return to the school libraries and in 1985 Mr. McGinnis published a book titled: Changing Times / Changing Styles: The Ruth Stoever Fleming Collection of Southern California Art which documented the art collection and the history behind it.
Horses by the Sea, Carmel – by Millard Sheets
Purchased by the Senior Class of 1985 and added to the collection.
2003 – NHHS’s Robin’s Hall is deemed to be seismically unsafe and is vacated. The Library paintings were placed in storage. Librarian Kelly Bourgeois works with architects to design new library, including ample wall space to showcase the paintings.
2008 – Robin’s Hall is demolished and construction begins on new building.
2009 – New library is opened and all 56 paintings are returned to the walls of the library where the journey began 75 years earlier!
2013 – Senior Classes of 2013, 2014 & 2015 donate their senior class gifts to purchase staned glass windows for the arched windows in the Library Reading Room. Two of four windows are purchased with the class funds.
Read more about the stained glass window project here.