With an exciting vision and a new appreciation for an old art form, the California Water Color Society was founded in 1920. As the country grew, painters found inspiration in the expansive western lands and were, in their way, pioneers of a new spirit.
In 1921, a prominent group of Los Angeles artists who sought to elevate the art of watercolor painting formed the California Water Color Society.
Between 1929 and 1948, members of the California Water Color Society, both in their group exhibitions and as individuals, received considerable critical acclaim. This placed the Society at the forefront of the avant-garde art movements of the 1940s through the 1960s and brought it into the national spotlight. Having become a prestigious watercolor organization in the United States and internationally, the name was officially changed to the National Watercolor Society (NWS) in 1975.
The first exhibition was held at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, which later became the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The first twenty-five annual exhibitions were held there. From 1946 through the early 1960s, they were often at the Pasadena Art Museum but also in Santa Barbara, San Diego, and the San Francisco area. From the late 1960s through the 1970s, Laguna Beach Museum of Art was most often the host gallery, in addition to the Otis Art Institute and the Palm Springs Desert Museum. Throughout the 1980s to mid-2009, the annual shows have been held at, in alternate years, the Brea Civic Cultural Center and the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.
Though the Annual Exhibition is the most important event, with an extensive illustrated catalog to accompany it, various other activities have been planned during the year. Throughout the 1950s a biennial drawing and print show was presented. Most years there is a show only for Signature Members. In 1956 the Exhibit of California and Canadian Watercolours was held in both countries. In 1960 Mexico City hosted La Sociedad de Acuarelistes de California. The past presidents were honored in 1976 and 1987 with shows at the Brand Library Art Center.
In January 1993 the NWS exhibited, for the first time, watercolors from its permanent collection, featuring award-winning works from the 1955 to 1985 Annual Exhibitions. The show was held at the County of Los Angeles Century Gallery in Sylmar, California.
Although NWS is obviously an exhibiting society, it is also an educating society. To broaden the collections of watercolors accessible to the public, the Society has loaned twenty-five paintings spanning the early years (1925–1954) to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The selections from 1955 to 1980 were on loan to the Laguna Beach Museum of Art until 1989.
As an additional service to the public, an Associates membership category has been implemented. People who are interested in watercolor, or art in general, may become Associates and attend openings, shows, and Society events. They receive all the NWS publications and may submit work for the juried shows for the same fees as Signature Members. This membership provides an opportunity for involved patronage by those who wish to appreciate, encourage, and support the efforts of the society.
In recent years, in an effort to reach members throughout the country, regional representatives have been organized to stay in touch with broad activities in California. It is a way to plan shows in different areas and to find new locations for travel shows, which are selected from annual exhibitions. Regional invitational shows have been held in Colorado and Arizona.
In 1999, the National Watercolor Society found and purchased a building at 915 South Pacific Avenue, San Pedro, California, 90731-3201. Years of hard work, dedication, and financial support from members and donors paid off when, in October 2010, NWS held its grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Read a more detailed chronology about the decade-long effort here.
This is the Society’s center for offices, gallery, workshops, and a place to house our growing permanent collection. Although construction and most major repairs are now complete, we continue to reach out to the art lovers of the world with fundraising campaign to continue the dream for a proper facility to serve all Water Media artists.