Chouinard Art Institute

Founded in 1921, the Chouinard Art Institute was a leading professional art school in Los Angeles until it was absorbed into CalArts. It was established by its namesake, artist and educator Nelbert Murphy Chouinard (1879–1969), for the training of both fine art practitioners and commercial artists. The school was located in the Westlake section of L.A., just south of MacArthur Park.

By the 1930s, the motion picture industry was recruiting Chouinard alumni in increasing numbers and in a wide variety of departments, from art direction to costume design to animation. Walt Disney in particular took an interest in the work being carried out at Chouinard, and many of the animators who worked on early Disney classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Bambi were Chouinardians. They included members of Disney’s fabled Nine Old Men.” Animators also excelled at a number of other prominent studios, most notably Chuck Jones at Warner Bros. In time, Walt Disney himself became a financial backer of the school.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Chouinard became known as a progressive fine arts school and its graduates turned up at the forefront of the Light and Space and Finish Fetish movements (Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston). Others explored assemblage techniques (Wallace Berman, Llyn Foulkes, Noah Purifoy) or became early standard-bearers of photo-conceptualism (Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari).

Following the 1961 merger with the L.A. Conservatory of Music to form California Institute of the Arts, Chouinard continued to operate at its Westlake location for the rest of decade until CalArts opened its doors in 1970.

Chouinard Alumni

  • John Baldessari, photo-conceptualist, founding CalArts faculty member — National Medal of Arts
  • Larry Bell, Light and Space artist and sculptor
  • Billy Al Bengston, Finish Fetish artist and sculptor
  • Wallace Berman, collage and assemblage artist
  • Mary Blair, concept artist and designer, imagineer — Disney Legend, Winsor McCay Award
  • Mary Corse, Light and Space artist
  • Alice Davis, costume designer, imagineer — Disney Legend
  • Laddie John Dill, Light and Space artist and sculptor
  • Llyn Foulkes, painter, assemblage artist, musician
  • S. Neil Fujita, graphic designer
  • Joe Goode, painter
  • Edith Head, costume designer — 8 Academy Awards
  • Robert Irwin, installation artist, Light and Space pioneer — MacArthur Genius Fellowship
  • Ollie Johnston, animator, member of Disney’s “Nine Old Men” — National Medal of the Arts, Disney Legend, Winsor McCay Award
  • Chuck Jones, animation legend, director of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts at Warner Bros. — Academy Award, Winsor McCay Award
  • Bob Mackie, costume designer, celebrity stylist — 3 Academy Award nominations
  • Milicent Patrick — designer (created gill-man from Creature from the Black Lagoon)
  • Ken Price, ceramicist and printmaker
  • Noah Purifoy, assemblage artist, creator of the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Sculpture Museum
  • Wolfgang Reitherman, animator, member of Disney’s “Nine Old Men” — Disney Legend, Winsor McCay Award
  • Allen Ruppersberg, conceptual artist
  • Ed Ruscha, painter, photo-conceptualist, L.A. art icon — Time 100 List
  • Ernest de Soto, master lithographer
  • Frank Thomas, animator, member of Disney’s “Nine Old Men” — Disney Legend, Winsor McCay Award
  • John Van Hamersveld, graphic designer, album cover and movie poster maven
  • Doug Wheeler, Light and Space artist

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