Ernest Clayton Collection

Ernest Clayton Collection of California Wild Flowers

California poppy
California Poppy
The Ernest Clayton Collection of California Wild Flowers consists of 200 watercolors painted between the years 1942 and 1952. The San Francisco Public Library purchased the first set of watercolors in the mid-1940s. Clayton continued adding to the collection through 1952. Mr. John Thomas Howell, a botanist at the California Academy of Sciences, facilitated the purchase.

The majority of the watercolors have been digitized and are availalbe in the online database. There are three lists that serve as guides to the collection: the first is a numerical index (PDF 260K) with the common name and botanical name, the second list is organized alphabetically by the common name (PDF 316K), and the third list is an alphabetical list by botanical name (PDF 261K). Clayton consulted Howell on the correct spelling and botanical names as well as the identification of the plants.

Letter from Ernest Clayton
Letter from Ernest Clayton
The watercolors are painted on white paper mounted on black board. 9½" x 4½" to 10½" x 5½" and the black boards measure 12" x 7". The first one hundred watercolors were affixed to the black boards with tape at the corners. The second one hundred watercolors were held in place with adhesive on the backsides, but the adhesive has eroded over time. The last fifty of the watercolors have a penned black border around the artwork. The artist signed the watercolors in pencil as "E.Clayton" along the bottoms of the stem or leaf. Clayton penciled the common name and botanical name, the number of the watercolor in the series and, frequently, the year the watercolor was completed. Clayton sold the watercolors as well as presenting them as gifts to family members and friends. Biographical Note - Ernest Clayton was born in London in 1868. He graduated from the South Kensington Art School, and studied at the British Museum. He received training in animal painting form life at the Gardens of the Royal Zoological Society as a pupil of the English artist Irving Montague. Clayton immigrated to the United States in 1894 from England. From 1898 to 1904, he was a resident of San Francisco while working as a glass designer for California Art Glass, Bending and Cutting Works. In 1905 Clayton relocated to San Anselmo in Marin County and became president and manager of the Sierra Glass Company in San Francisco. Sierra Glass Company handled art and decorative glass of every description, with a specialty in memorial windows and glass signs. The 1930 U.S. Census has Clayton listed as a glass artist. During the World War II, Clayton's daughter worked in the Marin shipyard. Clayton himself came out of retirement and joined the war effort by working as a shipyard draftsman in the Marin shipyard. Simultaneously, Clayton worked on the California Wild Flowers Collection. Prior to his death in 1956, Clayton resided in San Anselmo at the home of his daughter, Mrs. T. J. Donnelly.

The complete collection of watercolors may be viewed when the Photo Desk is open.

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