The piece Bunker Hill, which is currently on display in the Hilbert Museum of California Art, was made by Preston Blair in 1938. As the title implies, the watercolor shows a scene of Bunker Hill, a residential area in Los Angeles that was characterized by unique Victorian Houses and eccentric characters that began to inhabit the neighborhood when the houses fell into disrepair.

Bunker Hill, by Preston Blair

Preston Blair, “Bunker Hill”, Watercolor on paper, 1938, Hilbert Museum

Due to the unusual nature of the area, it started to attract attention from artists during the 1930’s. Blair’s painting of Bunker Hill does not show a particular location; instead, it is a general representation that creatively captures the essence of Bunker Hill as a whole. In fact, the painting is a compilation of several different locations put together to create one imaginary scene. This is evident when looking at the electric train car that does not have a wire to run on. Most likely, the train car was taken from another sketch and planted onto this street in the painting. The piece has a number of distortions or stylistic elements as well. For example, there are practically no straight lines in the entire piece, giving the viewer the feeling that they are looking through a “fish eye” lens. The hill is dramatically steep, the car going down the hill is impossibly curved, and the telephone pole does not have wires and is leaning to the right. In addition, Blair uses stark white to paint the lamp in the front and the glimmering lights off in the distance. These curved lines and bright white lights give the piece a very whimsical feeling characteristic of Blair’s work.

Preston Blair was born in Los Angeles in 1908 and by the time this work was created he was employed by Disney, drawing for animated films such as Pinocchio and Fantasia. Blair was first and foremost an animator and his works of California scene painting, like Bunker Hill, were side projects he created in his free time. With this knowledge, it is easy to see the influence animation had on his watercolor paintings. The shimmering lights and the stylized appearance of the houses, cars, and trees makes the residential area seem as if it is a scene from a storybook or an animated film and not a typical Los Angeles neighborhood. Overall, with his animation inspired style, Preston Blair brought new life to California scene painting.