Bruce Wallace Ariss, Jr. Biography

Bruce Wallace Ariss, Jr.




Painter, printmaker, muralist, and theater set designer Bruce Wallace Ariss, Jr., was born in White Salmon, Washington, on October 10, 1911. His family relocated to Oakland, California, when Ariss was a a child. After graduation from Oakland Technical High School he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, working as art editor for The Pelican and The Occident, and earning extra cash as a heavyweight boxer. 

After graduating with his B.A. in 1934, Ariss took a job as a heavy machinery operator for a gold mine, pursuing art on his own time. He managed to save $200 (approximately $3,000 today), affording him and his spouse Jean the ability to take an exended trip to Monterey in 1935, where they quickly settled. To make ends meet, the Arises briefly took over publication of local literary magazine The Monterey Beacon, through which they would publish works by John Steinbeck, William Saroyan, and Ed Ricketts, among others.  

Not long after their arrival in Monterey Ariss found employement with the WPA's Federal Arts Project, in both the graphics and mural divisions, creating several works that can still be found in the Monetery Peninsula in California. His lithographs from this time often centered on the working class life of Cannery Row, depicting fishermen and dock workers as well as shipwrecks and other happenings along the coast. Among his many contributions to the city was the execution of a mural in the Pacific Grove High School library, a three-wall project created in collaboration with August Gay, depicting the Monterey coastline from Point Pinos to the Custom House. It took three years to complete; sadly, it burned down in 1946.

In the late 1940s he collaborated with artist Angelo Di Girolamo to design, build, and paint the Wharf Theater, which was completed in 1950 and led to commissions for theater set design on the Bing Crosby Show, I love Lucy, and other Hollywood productions. In the 1980s he designed a massive mural project for Cannery Row from old mural sketches he made for the WPA. Ariss enlisted fifty young artists to execute fifty-two eight-foot wide mural sections, taking a total of five years to complete. The mural remains today and was subsequently the catalyst to rename the street it runs along as "Bruce Ariss Way." 

In addition to public and private works, Ariss taught art at the Defense Language Institute located in the Monterey Presidio. He also wrote his own science fiction novel and illustrated Reginald Bretnor's sci-fi novel Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot (1962). In 1989, a major retrospective of Ariss' work was held at the Pacific Grove Art Center, which included his oil paintings, watercolors, and mural sketches and lithographs from his WPA days.

Bruce W. Ariss died in Monterey, California on September 1, 1994.