MONTEREY – An important archive of the art and letters of famed Carmel artist Jo Mora is now in the hands of the Monterey History and Art Association.
Prior to his death in 1947, Mora’s work encompassed several different media, including sketches, drawings, paintings, and bronze sculptures. The archives now owned by the association include its art but also diaries, letters and other documents.
Financial details of the Feb. 4 sale were not disclosed.
The arts association already has a collection of original Mora artwork, which it has amassed over the years through purchases and donations and is on display at the Casa Serrano Adobe in Monterey, itself built three decades before Mora was born in 1876.
Peter Hiller, curator of the Jo Mora Trust collection, said that “weather permitting will open the collection up to the public for research and future exhibitions”.
Hiller is also the author of “The Life and Times of Jo Mora: Iconic Artist of the American West” (Bookshop.org: https://bit.ly/3LeWHRj).
Mora explored the California missions, Yosemite, California ranch life, and ultimately the Native American cultures of the Hopi and Navajo in the Southwest. During his travels, Mora documented observations that became the source and inspiration for much of his later work, Hiller said.
“My motivation was based on his versatility, his diversity and his technique,” Hiller said. “The western theme of his work was as broad a definition as you can imagine.”
Mora was born in Uruguay and lived in Spain for a while before moving with his parents to the east coast of the United States before coming west. Hiller said Mora could see how the west was changing and wanted to capture as much of it as possible before it totally changed.
In many ways, Mora was decades ahead of his time in his appreciation of Native American culture. His work with the Hopi and Navajo tribes has been built on mutual trust and admiration. Mora even spent a year living with the tribes.
“He went there with an open heart,” Hiller said. “I don’t know anyone who has immersed themselves as deeply as he did. The Hopi even included it in their ceremonies.
The Jo Mora Archives belonged to the Jo Mora Trust. On Monday, Hiller spoke of becoming interested in Mora in the 1990s. He organized one of the first regional exhibitions of Mora’s work at the Monterey Museum of Art in 1998. At the time, it was the most major museum exhibition that broke attendance records.
“The more interested I became, the more I sought out his work,” Hiller said. This eventually led Hiller to work with Mora’s son, Jo Mora Jr., until Mora Junior’s death in 2006. Hiller then became the curator of the Jo Mora Trust.
One of the things the family trust insisted on was that Mora’s art and papers be kept together. Several institutions wanted either the documents or the art, but not both. So, for Hiller, the acquisition by the art association was in a way the culmination of decades of work.
Hiller will continue to work with the art association to integrate the archive into the association’s existing collection.