George Gibson – "Tomasini Ranch"

Tomasini Ranch - c. 1950's
George Gibson, (Scotland and California 1904-2001), Tomasini Ranch (c. 1950′s), charcoal, 12-1/2″ x 9-1/2″, on smooth, ivory paper.

    I’ve always been a sucker for a good pencil or charcoal drawing. This one is by California artist George Gibson who was the director of the scene department at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios for such films as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Brigadoon” and “Oklahoma.” This is another one of those works you discover when you aren’t looking for anything in particular. Or one of those media types or genres that you said you weren’t going to invest any more money into but you end up buying anyway. Surprisingly, those kind of finds can be some of the most enjoyable in your collection.

I ran across this drawing while browsing around the old Starry-Sheets Gallery in Irvine, California1 on my lunch break around 1994. I was fortunate at the time to work within just a few minutes drive of several small galleries that stocked some interesting little finds. This gallery was run by the son (David) of California artist, Millard Sheets, who was a keystone of the California School of Painting movement many years ago. I also discovered Roger Kuntz and a few others during my lunchtime visits there along the way.

Beyond the given message of a work of art (if there is any), I find artist’s drawings and sketches more personal than their finished paintings for a reason I find hard to explain. They just seem more intimate, more revealing as the genesis of an idea. As though you are personally viewing the mechanics of the artist’s inner creativity and personality with each drawn line, and I find that irresistibly intriguing.

Whenever I view this work I think HOT! Hot as in hiking through the high desert in the middle of August (don’t ask me how I know this). I can almost feel the heat radiating from the surface of the huge boulders in the foreground like hot rocks in a sauna room. The trees in the background oscillate quietly from the thermals rising off the ground. The out buildings, no longer protected by the nearby foliage, bake from the punishing sun. I can imagine Gibson sitting under his umbrella while sketching this scene in the warm summer air. And I love the realistic textures he was able to render onto the smooth face of the rocks, and the old dead tree in the background.

I confess not knowing very much about the artist before purchasing this piece, but I’d have to make that same excuse for most of my collection. Here’s the short version of his bio from the Fochaberians website:
George Gibson ANA AWS
Artistic designer in US film industry
Director of Art, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Hollywood
President of California National Watercolor Society 1951

George Gibson was born in Edinburgh but brought up in Fochabers where his father worked as a tailor. George’s teacher, Dhuie Tully, recognized his skill as an artist from an early age and helped George develop his talents further.

In 1930, George decided to seek his fortune in America and found part-time work in Hollywood at the famous MGM studios as a scenic artist. As early as 1934, George became Artistic Director at MGM. He changed the way that motion pictures were made in Hollywood. George created the backdrops of many of the famous films -’The Wizard of Oz’ ‘American in Paris’ and ‘Random Harvest’ to name but a few.

On retirement from the studios in 1969, George became a practicing artist in fine arts, particularly landscape painting of California scenery. He continued to paint, exhibit and give classes to eager young students right up to his death at the age of 96.
Here’s the long version in the form of an essay written by art historian, writer and curator Janet Blake.

So years after owning this work and admiring the artist and his soft touch in landscape rendering, it finally dawned on me that I’d never heard of Tomasini Ranch!

My purchase notes mention that Tomasini Ranch was “hidden in the hills of San Luis Obispo.” A search on the web revealed some interesting facts about Tomasini Ranch and the families that owned it, and interestingly enough, Martinelli’s Apple Cider figures into it.

Apparently there were two Tomales High school students in the 1970′s that were getting serious about each other, until their uncle informed them that they were related! Turned out they shared a great, great grandfather together and an interesting genelogical story of Swiss and Italian immigration in Central California is told, including the story of Stephen Martinelli, who in 1868 at the age of 26 founded the Martinelli Apple Juice company in Watsonville.

As a young immigrant, Olympio Martinelli worked for his brother-in-law Louis Cheda, bought the Olema Store with his cousin Attilio Martinelli (who went on to be a county supervisor from 1920 to 1940), and then rented and later bought his father-in-law Battista Tomasini’s Ranch, from which Tomasini Creek and Tomasini Canyon derived their names.

There are more interesting genealogical facts about these pioneers of the Central Valley that are worth a look here. The only other mention of Tomasini Ranch was found in a paper about an E.coli outbreak from pre-washed mixed bagged salad in San Diego and Orange County2 in 2004.

I feel like my investigation into this work is mostly complete, but I lack confidence about the date of the drawing. The 1950′s reference is an estimate based on the style of the out buildings and the truck, but it could be earlier or later by at least a decade.

  1. No longer located in Old Irvine. Last heard (2002) the Starry-Sheets Gallery was located in Pomona, CA, and operating out of the LA County Fair
  2. Investigation of Pre-washed Mixed Bagged Salad following an Outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in San Diego and Orange County, page 26.


  1. Beacuse of such sketch of art, pencil painting still look classy. George Gibson is just a master of it. The message of this art goes deep. Good one.

  2. What a unique piece by Mr. George. We just can't wish for anything more than it. We rarely get a chance to see such master piece.