An Exhibit on the life and work of George Mathis
January 22 - April 30, 1999

Visit the finding aid for the Mathis Photo and Art Collection.

George Mathis (1909-1977) born in Seattle, Washington, spent much of his early life in Hoquiam, where his father managed a clothing store. In his youth, George Mathis suffered from Pagett's disease, which deformed the structure of his wrists, elbows, and knees. Often confined indoors, Mathis turned to drawing. He attended Washington State University, where he majored in art, and studied under the western landscape painter William T. McDermott (1884-1961). In the course of his career, Mathis became an artist who was nationally renown for his work on the Old West and Space. This collection of photographs, artwork, and historical ephemera, was donated to WSU Libraries in October, 1991, by Jean and Carol Mathis, wife and daughter of the late George Mathis



After graduation from WSU in June 1932, Mathis moved to Oakland, California, to attend a commercial art school. He opened a small studio and worked as a commercial artist and art teacher for the next five years. In describing his first years after graduation (at the height of the Depression), Mathis wrote that he traded his art for everything from shoes to dentistry.

While living in the Bay Area, he met his future wife, Jean, who was producing marionette shows with her brother. George Mathis soon joined the marionette troupe and assisted by painting scenery and building puppets. Jean and George married in 1936, in Oakland, California; they had one daughter, Carol. From this point on, George Mathis concentrated more and more on depicting scenes of San Francisco, Carmel, Monterey, and Yosemite.


In 1948, the Mathis family relocated to Nevada City, in the heart of California's historic mining district. The primary motivation for this change was George's growing urge to recreate western history through his art. Here George and Jean began working in lithography, which eventually turned into a thriving business.



Mathis focused his attention on rendering subjects of the Old West, such as railroads, historic buildings, gold miners, and Pony Express riders.

Friday House

In 1960, the Mathis family moved to Coloma, another Mother Lode town, where they completely remodeled a Victorian-style house dating to the Gold Rush era (numerous photographs and sketches of the remodeling are housed in the archive). They named their restored home "Friday House," after Jean's maiden name. Here they both lived and operated an art gallery and studio, where they sold many products of lithography and George's numerous historical drawings and sketches. George Mathis became generally, and affectionately, known as the "pictorial historian of the Mother Lode.




Between 1959 and 1970, George Mathis' artistic career took a new course when he began work in Sacramento for the Aerojet Corporation, America's largest producer of rocket engines (Aeroject built the rocket engines for the Apollo and Gemini missions, as well as the Polaris, Delta, Titan, and Minuteman systems).


Mathis' work for Aeroject gained widespread exposure. At a time before computer graphics, his renderings of the Gemini and Apollo missions were broadcast on television and printed in newspapers and magazines.

Mathis often termed his work "engineering concepts" rather than "artist's concepts," since engineers studied his creations to visualize their proposed projects.



Mathis kept this scrapbook with clippings
from articles on his published works.