Miriam L. Smith
fine art and appraisal services since 1984

Untitled - Don Cecil Totten

Artwork: Don Cecil Totten | Untitled

62" x 72"
circa 1960
Painting, oil on canvas

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American, 1903 - 1964

Donald C. Totten (1903-1964) was a member of a group of artists who quietly began to introduce modernist thought, emanating from Europe and the East Coast, to the Los Angeles art community during the 1920s. Other members of this group were influential artists as Nick Brigante, Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundeberg, James Redmond, and Stanton Macdonald- Wright. 


Born in Vermillion, South Dakota, Totten moved to Long Beach, California in his late teen years. He abandoned plans for a law career to become a painter, transferring from University of Southern California to Otis Art Institute in 1923.


Totten entered the thriving Los Angeles Art Students’ League where he studied with Stanton Macdonald-Wright. While Wright was the Southern California Director of the WPA Federal Arts Projects, Totten worked on a number of FAP (Federal Arts Project) easel paintings and murals, assisting Helen Lundeberg on two petrachrome murals in 1940-1941.


When he began regularly exhibiting his paintings starting in 1959, Totten emerged as an abstract painter who found a style “distinctive enough to put him among our leading artists” according to Los Angeles Times art critic Henry Seldis.


During his final years between 1959 and 1964, when he showed his work repeatedly, Totten participated in at least fifteen exhibitions in Southern California, six of these were solo shows. Totten’s body of work invites a valuable experience for the viewer to reflect not only on the powerful images presented here but the materialization of an enduring, unwavering conviction on the part of the artist, affirming his insistent belief that “painting is a record of experience-outer and inner- activity captured in immobile form.”


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