Vincent Price, the late actor well-known for his villainous roles in horror movies, was also a noted art historian and avid collector. He believed that the arts were essential for a well-rounded education. During his first visit to East Los Angeles College in 1951, he saw the lack of opportunities for students. As a result, he and his wife, Mary Grant, became frequent visitors on campus to encourage art education.
Price was a popular speaker at the college’s graduation ceremonies and would engage in classroom discussions with students and faculty. In 1957, the Prices donated 90 pieces of their personal collection to the school to create the first “teaching art collection” permanently housed in a community college. In appreciation, the school’s art gallery was renamed the Vincent Price Art Museum.
The original donation included artwork of Mesoamerican cultures of Central America, African and Native American peoples, and European. Over a period of 40 years, Price gave about 2,000 pieces of art to the museum. This inspired other collectors to donate items, making the total collection over 9,000 pieces including paintings, works on paper, three-dimensional objects such as pottery, sculpture and others. This makes East Los Angeles College one of the few in a unique group of community colleges in the United States to have a major permanent art collection.
The museum has three permanent exhibits on display as well as several temporary ones. The permanent exhibit of pre-Columbian artwork contains over 100 objects. Price began the pre-Columbian collection during the 1950s. His total contribution to this exhibit was almost 40 items including Andean artwork. In addition, the exhibit displays ceramics, earthenware bowls, figurines and various materials from West Mexico, Teotihuacan and the Andean regions.
In 2011, the college opened a new Performing and Fine Arts Center. This is made up of three buildings, one of which is the Vincent Price Art Museum. The seven art galleries in the new museum can easily accommodate the permanent collections, rotating temporary exhibits, student shows, community and artist special projects. The museum also has a vault designed for the permanent collection and a lecture hall equipped with multimedia for art history classes.
Price (1911-1993) was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He graduated from Yale University with a degree in art history. While attending the University of London to earn his Masters in Fine Arts, he became interested in theater. He was a versatile actor but best-known for playing dark, sinister roles in movie adaptations of such works as Dragonwyck by Anya Seton, and Edgar Allan Poe’s Pit and the Pendulum, House of Wax, and House of Usher to name a few. He was also a gourmet cook and had several cookbooks published.
The Vincent Price Art Museum continues to serve the students and faculty of the East Los Angeles College and surrounding community. The “teaching art collection” has temporary exhibits already listed on the website through May 2015. For more information about the schedule, please click on the link listed below.
By: Cynthia Collins