Lomaland’s Creative History Shines at the San Diego History Center

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In 1897, Katherine Tingley established her utopian cultural and communal experiment, The Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society, nicknamed Lomaland, on a chaparral-covered ridge on San Diego’s Point Loma peninsula. Under Tingley’s leadership, this dusty, seaside plot of land was transformed into a lush, vibrant “White City” that became a center of learning, culture and social reform.

Tingley’s Theosophist vision placed a strong emphasis on cultural pursuits and attracted artists from the United States and abroad. As the community developed, many artists came to live and work at Lomaland, including Grace “Gay” Betts, Maurice Braun, Benjamin Gordon, Leonard Lester, Marian Plummer Lester, Reginald Willoughby Machell, and Edith White.

Maurice Braun, Point Loma, c. 1930, oil on canvas, San Diego Unified School District Collection, IL2012-1-5

Influenced by Tingley’s teachings in myriad ways, the group’s artistic output was not limited to a single medium.  In addition to creating fine art, Lomaland artists also produced furniture and interior decorations for the community’s unique structures, as well as illustrations for Theosophist publications. Others produced craft-based goods that were sold in the Woman’s Exchange and Mart, which provided income for the community. Many artists also taught at Tingley’s Râja-Yoga Academy, a progressive school where students were instructed in the conservative academic art tradition.

To showcase this remarkable artistic legacy, on October 18, 2019, The Path of the Mystic: Art and Theosophy at Lomaland opens at the San Diego History Center. 

The Path of the Mystic: Art and Theosophy at Lomaland will feature a selection of artworks, objects, photographs and archival documents from the San Diego History Center’s collections that bring to light Lomaland’s remarkable artistic legacy, and how Tingley’s utopian experiment profoundly shaped San Diego’s cultural landscape. 

Reginald Willoughby Machell, The Prodigal, c. 1895, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Iverson L. Harris, 74.9.1

A highlight of the exhibition are the large, elaborately carved oak doors created for Lomaland’s Temple of Peace by artist Reginald Willoughby Machel. Standing over 12-feet high, the doors have not been on view since the 1990s. 

The exhibition will be on view through April 19, 2020.

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Michelle Stansbury is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle writer. Feel free to reach out to her at [email protected] with story ideas!

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