School district officials are dusting off a collection of Southern California paintings, valued at more than $100,000, and preparing to show the works for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Since the Ruth Stoever Fleming collection of Southern California art was last displayed in Newport Beach in 1966, many of the 56 paintings have sat gathering dust.
"We found them stored in closets and behind filing cabinets," said John McGinnis, librarian at Newport Harbor High School, where some of the paintings are being restored.
Most of the pieces, though, were hung throughout the Newport-Mesa Unified School District's offices and schools, he said.
The paintings now are at the district's four high schools. Many of them need minor repairs to frames. The worst damage was cracked paint on one work.
But a committee plans to bring them together once again for a showing April 23-28 at Newport Harbor High School.
Together, the paintings represent the history of Southern California painting styles from the 1930s to 1960s, ranging from "paintings of the landscape of California right up to pop art," McGinnis said. "You can see the evolution of styles in Southern California art."
The collection began in 1935 when the principal of Newport Harbor High School asked the graduating seniors to donate a painting to the school as their class gift. Eight subsequent graduating classes followed suit.
When the tradition died after 1945, then-librarian Ruth Stoever started the Newport Harbor Art Exhibit, which was considered one of the most prestigious shows on the West Coast.
The contest invited Southland painters to submit their best oil or watercolor work. At times, artists submitted more than 800 pieces each year, while professional judges chose only 60 to 70 for showing, McGinnis said.
From the paintings that were shown, the judges picked one oil and one watercolor, which the school district bought. The district's collection was bolstered during the exhibit's run from 1946 to 1966.