Esther Bruton Biography

Esther Bruton




Esther Bruton, painter, printmaker, mosaicist, ceramist, and commercial artist, is best known as a muralist. She was born Anne Esther Bruton on 17 October 1896 in Alameda, California and was raised in the family home with her two artist sisters, Margaret and Helen. After attending the Alameda Public High School, Esther joined her older sister Margaret in New York City where she studied under George Bridgeman at the Art Students League from 1917 to 1918. She studied commercial art at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts and applied her skills as an advertising illustrator for Lord and Taylor Department store in New York.

Esther returned to Alameda in 1921 and began a seven year career working as a fashion illustrator for the I. Magnin department store. During this time she travelled periodically with her family, spending four months of 1924 in Tahiti where she lived with a friend in a grass hut. She traveled again in 1925 this time to Europe with her sisters where they studied at the L'Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. Esther gave up her job as a commercial artist in 1929 to concentrate on her painting and to join her family in Taos, New Mexico where they spent six months living and working in the Taos Pueblo and Santa Fe. As a result of her time in the Southwest, Esther painted two, three-panel wood screens, The Rabbit Hunt and Indian Corn Dance. Later that year, Esther and her sisters gave a joint exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery in San Francisco.

With the repeal of Prohibition, Esther was commissioned in November 1934 to paint circus themed murals for the Cirque Room at the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco. In 1937, she was hired to paint murals for the Golden State Hotel, also located in San Francisco, and she landed the job of painting murals for the new I. Magnin department store in Los Angeles.

During the 1930s. Esther continued to show her work within California where she gained critical praise and earned awards. Esther was selected chairman of the jury for the fifty-seventh Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1937. She remained an active member of the California Society of Etchers and also the San Francisco Art Association in her later years.

The Bruton sisters joined forces and talents to create The Peacemakers mural for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition held on Treasure Island off San Francisco. It took the women nine months to create the 270 hand-carved four-by-eight-foot panels. Their mural was declared “one of the most outstandingly successful mural decorations at the fair.”

In the 1940s, Esther turned to another medium that she first explored in the early 1930s: terrazzo (small chips of marble, granite, quartz, glass, or other material held in a composite mixture).  Esther used terrazzo to create tabletops, countertops, fireplace surrounds, etc. In the fall of 1949, Esther arranged for an exhibition of her terrazzo work at Gump’s Gallery in San Francisco. Ever creative the following decade found her making wood murals for the SS Monterey and a mosaic mural at Buddha’s Universal Church in San Francisco.

The work of Esther Bruton is represented in the collections of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; the Wolfsonian, Florida International University, Miami Beach; the Monterey Museum of Art, California; the Chaffey Community Museum of Art, Ontario, California; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; the San Diego Museum of Art, California; the Fairmont Hotel and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Esther Bruton died in Monterey, California at the age of ninety-five on 31 August 1992.

A must read for all fans of the Bruton sisters is Wendy Van Wyck Good’s Sisters in Art: The biography of Margaret, Esther, and Helen Bruton